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Examining Uju Anya’s vitriol on Queen Elizabeth II by Festus Adedayo

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Like a prude confronted with sexually explicit images, the world didn’t hide its shock at Nigerian-born American professor, Uju Anya’s negative comments last week on the late British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. The world had waited with bated breath at manifest indications that Elizabeth’s last hours had come. Amid this apprehension, the associate professor of Applied Linguistics, Critical Sociolinguistics, and Critical Discourse at Carnegie Mellon University launched her salvo. It came in the form of a tweet that brimmed with bile and hate. She had tweeted: “I heard the chief monarch of a thieving, raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating”. It was a bazooka that upset and shook the world out of its sanctimony.

Billionaire Jeff Bezos, the world’s third richest man, had an immediate riposte for Anya. “This is someone supposedly working to make the world better? I don’t think so. Wow,” he had written. Not one to be cowed, Anya launched another diatribe at both Bezos and the now-confirmed-dead 96-year-old monarch. “If anyone expects me to express anything but disdain for the monarch who supervised a government that sponsored the genocide that massacred and displaced half my family and the consequences of which those alive today are still trying to overcome, you can keep wishing upon a star,” she tweeted. Uju was apparently making reference to the 1967–1970 Nigerian-Biafran war during which time the British Empire, supporting Nigeria, supplied arms and ammunition that helped Nigeria vanquish Biafra. About one million people reportedly died in the needless war. For Bezos, Anya had a harangue: “May everyone you and your merciless greed have harmed in this world remember you as fondly as I remember my colonizers”.

Uju is apparently an against-method academic. Born of a Nigerian/Trinidadian origin, her parents lived in Enugu, Nigeria and her father’s embrace of the African polygyny fractured the wedlock, necessitating her Trinidadian mother to flee to America with her siblings. A self-confessed lesbian, Uju got legally separated from her husband in 2017, even as she publicly announced her against-the-grain sexuality.

While Uju may be considered to have stepped off the borders of humanity by wishing another creation “excruciating death,” the facts of her grouse are in the public domain and need not be glossed over. An analysis of Anya’s tweet reveals three key elements in her accusations against the British Empire, viz theft, rape, and genocide support. There is none of these allegations that historical renditions, especially by African and Africanist scholars, have not levelled against British colonizers.

Apparently, because of her vested interest in Nigeria, Britain overtly supported Nigeria in the civil war and indeed supplied arms and ammunition to Nigeria. Thousands of Igbo had been killed in the 1966 pogrom with Britain, the immediate past suzerain, lifting no finger. The Harold Wilson government, through its lackey high commissioner in Lagos, David Hunt, was unapologetically against Biafra. As the war raged, 1.8 million refugees sprang up in Biafra, many of whom were living skeletons, kwashiorkor-stricken kids. Karl Jaggi, head of the Red Cross at the time, had estimated that about a million children were killed by hunger and bullets but Red Cross saved about half a million through its intervention.

With the help of BBC correspondent, Fredrick Forsyth, the terrifying pictures of skeleton-like children appeared on British TV and unsettled Britons, leading to a lack of appetite as those figures disrupted the flow of their dinner meals. The hitherto covered grim situations of the war, which Wilson had shielded from the British people’s view, sparked outrage and revealed Britain’s complicity in the genocidal war against the people of Nigeria. Queen Elizabeth was so powerful that if she indeed desired that the war should not be fought by both youthful soldiers, Yakubu Gowon and Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, no blood would be shed by both parties.

Before Anya, Forsyth had revealed this complicity and connivance by Britain’s top echelon of power. He had written, “What is truly shameful is that this was not done by savages but aided and assisted at every stage by Oxbridge-educated British mandarins. Why? Did they love the corruption-riven, dictator-prone Nigeria? No. From start to finish, it was to cover up that the UK’s assessment of the Nigerian situation was an enormous judgmental screw-up. And worse, with neutrality and diplomacy from London, it could all have been avoided”. The truth is that, if Britain and her monarchy had insisted that the Aburi Accord, struck by the two leaders in Ghana, be observed to the letter, there would not have been the bloodshed that eventually occurred.

Britain was stung by allegations of vicarious complicity in the multiple deaths. It became clear that it either did not seek an armistice between the warring countries or it failed in its peremptory bid to reconcile them. Dr Akanu Ibiam, former governor of the Eastern Region, disclaimed the Knight of British Empire (KBF) bestowed upon him by Queen Elizabeth in protest of the UK’s biased involvement in the war. To further show his protest, Ibiam reportedly renounced his English name, Francis. So many other people protested the British complicity in the deaths of the people who later became re-assimilated into Nigeria.

What in Harold Wilson and David Hunt’s actions showed that they did not mirror the mind of Queen Elizabeth and her desire for the deaths of a people who, a few years before then, were her subjects, under the British colonial umbrella? A people who had now taken on the new name of Biafra? If the debonair queen didn’t stop Wilson from supporting the war on Biafra, why does anybody want to spare her of history’s unkind jab for the colossal deaths during the Biafran war?

Facts of history do not see Britain and ipso facto, Queen Elizabeth, as benevolent but cruel conquistadors. Till today, Britain’s foundational roles in the socio-political woes Nigeria currently faces have not ceased from jutting out of remembrancers’ lips. The 1914 amalgamation was done by Britain for the business pleasure of the empire without any regard for the future of Nigeria. The Royal Niger Company, a mercantile company formed in 1879, was chartered by Britain in the 19th century for this purpose. It became part of the United Africa Company which was used for the purchase and formation of colonial Nigeria. Through the activities of the company, Britain fenced off Bismarck Germany from the acquisition of Nigeria and it enabled this colonial empire to establish firm control over the lower Niger.

In Kenya, Britain’s conquistador role was no less benumbing. Between 1952 – the year Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne – and 1960, a revolt of the Kikuyu tribe against British rule reigned. The war was fought over three issues – the expulsion of Kikuyu tenants from settler farms, white settlers taking over lands and Britain’s failure to ascribe political representation to Kenyans in their own land. In the uprising, 32 white settlers and about 200 British police, as well as soldiers were said to have been killed. More than 1,800 African civilians were also killed. The number of Mau Mau rebels killed was put at around 20,000. When Britain hunted and captured the leader of the uprising, Didan Kimathi on October 21, 1956, it signalled the beginning of the move to grant Kenya its independence. Kimathi was executed by hanging in the early hours of February 18, 1957, at the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison.

Many of the empires under British suzerainty will also remember Britain and the Queen with grim-laced hearts.

Thus, while we stricture Anya, we should not gloss over history. By our human convention and norm, Anya tripped over the borders. The convention is for us to beatify fellow residents of this human space who transit mortality for immortality and their earthly sins are forgiven them. Our laws are no less guilty as even criminals undergoing trial have their cases discontinued. But should we allow the dead to escape that easily?

Britain dealt unkindly with her empires like merchandise and forcefully and unjustly expropriated their natural endowments as mercantile do. In the process, many lives were lost and futures railroaded. While many of those Mephistophelean activities of Britain took place before Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne, as the monarch that the rest of the world has known in the last 70 years, she should be a recipient of the assets and cruelty of her recent forebears. Methinks this was what Anya tried to say but which, either due to her unbridled anger and lack of diplomatese, she failed to pad with niceties – as the world wanted. Attempts at suppressing the angst against the past, rather than placating offspring of those whose kindred blood was spilt by African rulers, in connivance with colonial authorities, have boomeranged. Treating them dismissively and dressing them in derogatory words like “dot in a circle” has led to the metastasis of the hate and curated angry characters like Anya and Nnamdi Kanu.

The culture of not speaking ill of the dead is ancient and perhaps spans the whole of humanity. Africa has carried this culture on its head, probably more pretentiously than the rest of the world. History has however not allowed us to close our eyes to the evils perpetrated around us, even by ancient African monarchies who are the precursors of the current kings. From Sunni Ali Ber, the first king of the Songhai Empire and 15th ruler of the Sunni dynasty who conducted a repressive policy against the scholars of Timbuktu; Askia the Great, emperor of the Songhai empire; Shaka the Zulu; Idris Alooma; Benhazin Bowelle of Dahomey; Menelik II; Mansa Musa of Mali and down to some of our ancient Alaafins of the old Oyo Empire, as well as their chiefs like the wicked Bashorun Gaa, Africa too does not have a sparse supply of despots. Today, we paper over these excesses in history, just as we are doing with the kings and queens of England.

The British monarchy and some monarchies in the world are realizing that modernity may make it hard for them to continually assert the fiery powers of their fiefdoms as they did in times past. This, I think, is the most enduring manifestation of the monarchy superintended over by Elizabeth II. Under Elizabeth as queen, though the monarchical power is huge and awesome, it was dressed in a ceremonial robe. The political power, on the outward, was then made to look like the decider of the destinies of Britain and its erstwhile colonies. This however does not remove the fact that the monarchy was an umpire of bloodshed and tears in colonial territories some centuries ago.

The realization of this wave shift in power was espoused by the author of the celebrated Yoruba classic, Igbi Aye Nyi – Life swivels like a wind – Chief T. A. A. Ladele. Written in 1978, Ladele, an Okeho, Oyo state-born history teacher at Durbar College, Oyo, and pioneer headmaster of Baptist School, Iwere-Ile, was one of Nigeria’s early writers. In, Igbi Aye Nyi, the 1920-born writer sought to teach us all about the ephemeral worth of political power and the un-enduring texture of raw brawn. Set in a town called Otolu at the outset of colonial incursion into Nigeria, Oba Bankarere, the Otolu king, in concert with his sons, inflicted huge terror on his subjects in his excessive wielding of power. He flaunted the wealth that accrued from power and defied all known societal norms. Two of Oba Bankarere’s subjects however rose to save the sanity of the traditional institution and the lives of the people. In the end, the colonial government waded in to curtail these excesses in a manner that rubbished the king and curtailed his outlaw sons.

That culture of defending the dead, even when we know their excesses while alive, is what the rest of the world seems to be espousing with Queen Elizabeth’s transition. While I agree that wishing evil on the living as Professor Anya did was not tidy enough and sounds very inhuman, I am not against her dwelling on the perceived soft landing for the genocide that Britain, under the Queen’s watch, gave the Nigerian war. By not treading this path of beatifying the dead, in spite of themselves, Professor Anya and travellers on her kind of boat have received flaks on their persons. Some even went to the extent of deploying Anya’s sexuality to attack her and a queer character said that because she tweets positive comments on LP’s presidential candidate, she epitomizes the negative character some online rats ascribe to the candidate. Yes, Africans cannot stand same-sex relationships, but the fact of our global existence is that the biology of some people is misdirected towards such sexuality, in spite of themselves. There are so many citizens of the globe who share our admirable opposite-sex biology but whose minds are as odious and repugnant as the sewer. So why beatify the latter and incinerate the former?

To my mind, the culture of beatifying the dead with a blanket of “a life well lived” is self-serving. Most of the time, we spread this omnibus blanket as a shawl on the disreputable lives lived by the dead simply because we all dread what the world would say when we too exit the world. This was aptly explained by the late Ilorin, Kwara state Dadakwada maestro, Odolaye Aremu, who sang that no one can predict who will be free of being drenched by rain that is yet to abate. He had expressed it in his lyrics: “Ojo ti nro ti o da, Olohun lo mo iye eni ti o pa”.

The way to go is to let whoever lives their lives miserably be apportioned strictures commensurate with their measly lives and those who live life as puritans be so accorded at their departure. We have taken this apportioning of blanket beatification on the dead to such an absurd level that it encourages evil doers to bask in the warmth of their evil broths. This does not discourage the living from evil. While it is nice to beatify Queen Elizabeth as it is being done all over the world for her recorded great footprints while alive, let non-conformists like Anya freely dwell on the misgivings they have about her too. They should not be made victims of unfavorable censoring or censure.

Strictly Personal

Independence, Whose Independence? By Festus Adebayo

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Yesterday, it was 62 years since Nigeria got her independence from colonial Britain. While some countrymen say the October 1 celebration rituals are worthy of flinging the cymbals, some others say it is a day to drench ourselves in sack clothes and ashes reminiscent of mourning moments for biblical Israelites. For decades, until the October 1 saturnalia began to lose its savour, successive governments made a good job of conflating the frills of the rituals as a representation of our national joy and unity. Children looked forward to the symphony or National Day orchestra, the perfect chemistry of matching feet at stadia across the country, and the arresting drums of police bands.

A musical rendition of this October 1 ritual that succinctly captures its mesmerizing glee is in the 1971 recorded vinyl of Ligali Mukaiba, Yoruba Apala musician. Mukaiba, widely known as Baba L’Epe, having been born in the riverine Epe area of Lagos, was a musical petrel of the 1960s, through 1980s. Mukaiba had a mellifluous and almost effeminate voice that singled him out among his peers. He was a social crusader, commentator and musical prodigy, serenading Nigerian fans and the west coast with his very sublime, penetrating Apala music. I am yet to listen to a more penetrating account of the Midas touch, arresting power, and talismanic power of the female gender as evocatively delivered by Mukaiba in the track he entitled Kurukere. He sang that when a woman enters the head of a man – bo ba nwuni, to ba njaraba eni, he called it, she destabilizes all his organs of reasoning and he begins to act in dissonance to his actual person. Sorry, I digressed.

In his song entitled Eyi Yato (This is different) wherein he had the particular track, Ominira – independence, Mukaiba narrated what transpired on October 1, 1971, at the Race Course. It was where the Union Jack was lowered and was eventually named the Tafawa Balewa Square, after the murder of Nigeria’s mercurial first Prime Minister.

October 1 celebrations, which have become perennial rituals in Nigeria, respect for the Nigerian flag, the national anthem, and many more, are some of the totems that successive governments use as objects of nation-building.

Nigeria’s fragile togetherness has since worsened. Two very instructive fables speak to what led us to the precipice we are in today in Nigeria. In those fables, we are covertly told that when more than one people come together, with recognized differences, there must be mutual respect for one another, equity, and a sense of rightness. The absence of these factors has led Nigeria’s disparate peoples to go their separate ways in spirit. The two fables got promoted in the songs of Ibadan-born Awurebe music singer, Dauda Akanmu Adeeyo, popularly known as Epo Akara.

The first fable, as narrated by Epo Akara, happened in the animal kingdom where both the Partridge, a bird which the Yoruba call Aparo, and the Crab, Alakan or Akan, held occupied territories, with each controlling his own resources. While each was doing well in his own sphere, they both reckoned that there was the need to forge togetherness so that their lots could be better catered for and they could grow stronger in shared resources. The Aparo superintended over a government bountiful in yam resources and the Alakan’s government had abundant water resources. Hitherto, each and their children required what the other had.

Coalescing their thoughts, one day, they held a conference of the two nationalities. Aparo and Alakan sat on the table to discuss theirs and the futures of their offspring unborn. Aparo spoke first. He recognized that each of them had limitations in resources. After consuming the barn of yams located within his borders, Aparo said, he would need water to wash down the meal. Could Alakan open up his borders for him and his children to have access to his aquatic territory while he too would open his barns for his children to have easy access to yams?

They both saw the shared opportunities in this coming together. The deal was sealed and delivered, the next day, Aparo flew into the Alakan territory with his children and they fetched gallons of water. They did this for weeks. However, in the third week, Alakan sent his children to go to Aparo’s farm to harvest yams for the family’s consumption. At the farm, Alakan’s children shouted his name and he replied garrulously, in the words of Epo Akara, “Ta ni np’Aparo?” – who is calling Aparo? And those ones replied, “Omo Akan ni” – we are the children of Alakan. Then Aparo flew into a rage, calling their father unprintable names. Alakan, in the expletives from Aparo, was unevenly shaped by the Creator, with hands and legs shaped like pincers, a boulder for chest, deceptive strides such that he walks awkwardly – “O s’oju hati-hati, o s’ese hati-hati, ab’apata laya, owo meji bi emu…”

Incensed by this sudden flouting of relational terms of agreement by Aparo, Alakan’s children went back to their father and reported their encounter with him. Convinced that they had misrepresented what transpired, Aparo himself left the river bank where he was busy with some aquatic assignments and went into the forest to meet with Aparo. The partridge repeated the same excoriation. In anger, Alakan and his children came back home and that was the end of this attempt to forge a nationality from their disparate territorial leanings.

The other allegory as told by Epo Akara in another song was the consort of four animals who came together in mutual understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. They were Lion, Hyena, Cobra, and Tortoise. At the conference they held, each confessed his weakness to the others. The Lion was the first to speak. “If I am in the forest hunting, no one must dare behold my face,” he charged. Anyone who dared this, said the Lion, would have died as recompense – “enikeni to ba dan wo, Asalailu ni o si mon lo,” said Epo Akara.

For Hyena, no one must spill sand on his sacred body. The Cobra cleared his throat and said, “You could step on my head and I will keep mute; step on my back with no blowback but anyone who steps on my tail will die.” The Tortoise on his own told his fellow conferees that backbiting was his major put-off. Anyone who does this to him provokes the beast in him.

For decades, they lived in amity and hunted games collectively. However, one day, they sent Tortoise on an errand. Assuming he was without hearing the shot, the Hyena cleared his throat and began to speak. He bemoaned the Tortoise’s self-righteousness, stating, in that deep Yoruba aphorism, that everyone could haggle with the launderer but not an Ato’le – one stricken by incontinence of bedwetting.

The next day, as they were hunting in the forest, Tortoise then provoked discord. He looked straight into Lion’s face. Enraged, Lion spurted sand up which hit the Hyena and who in turn stepped on the Cobra’s tail, with the serpent spraying his lethal poison on all of them, leading to their mutual deaths.

The two Epo Akara fables speak to the Nigerian so-called togetherness. While our colonial heritage is the bane of our overall crises, there has been an internal re-colonialism of our own people by our own people. As foremost Political Science scholar, Prof Eghosa Osaghae said, the colonial heritage of states soldered together by force bequeathed on them a contested state. Africa is a good example. Flakes that naturally flow from this forced togetherness are the crises of corruption, violence, terrorism, economic dysfunction, and many more that we face today.

Today, what can bring Nigeria back from the brink of collapse is for her rulers to stop seeing Nigeria as an ethnic commodity, a conquered territory of the feudal North. In place of this, they must start empathizing with the people under their watch because transiting from statehood no nationhood can only be actualized when people start perceiving their president as the president of Nigeria and not the President of Fulani people.  To proceed from here, Nigeria has to re-negotiate her foundation. Proceeding from here is not about throwing saturnalia on October 1 and wriggling like maggots inside the sewer of celebration that Ligali Mukaiba painted in that 1971 vinyl.

We must first acknowledge that the independence we got from Britain in 1960 is pseudo independence, which has failed calamitously. The second is for us to begin to put in place the machinery for a Second Independence, as canvassed by Prof Osaghae. We must begin to decolonize our minds, preparatory to giving ourselves authentic Independence.

If Rwanda, a country riven by ethnic crises, could rise to become what it is today, Nigeria, with good leadership, can rise from the ashes of this hopelessness.  Like the animals in Epo Akara’s fables, the nations that makeup Nigeria have differences. Let’s recognize them. The northern part of Nigeria has over the decade behaved like the Aparo. Moving forward, let us come to a discussion table and agree on how we want to proceed from here.

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Strictly Personal

The likes of Dadis issue orders that people dare not oppose by Jenerali Uliwengu

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Captain Moussa Dadis Camara — remember him?—is back in Conakry, Guinea, claiming that he has chosen to come back to “clear my name which has been dragged through the mud.”

Does this kind of action depict a man so full of bravado that he can come back to a place that is literally his crime scene and claim innocence, or does he want to tell us something we have not been told as yet?

Three years ago when Dadis was head of the military junta ruling over Guinea, hundreds of men and women gathered in that stadium in Conakry at a rally protesting military rule that has plagued the country since the founding president of that country, Ahmed Seku Ture, was overthrown after his death in 1989.

Yes, I am saying that on purpose, for Ture had been such a terror to his people that they had to wait until he was taken sick and then flown to Morocco where he died, and his people could now overthrow him! That is how a military coup d’etat was carried out on a dead president!

Relinquish power

Now, this Dadis had come to power courtesy of another military coup and had shown no sign he was planning to relinquish power any time soon, and his people had gathered in the stadium to tell him he had to leave.

Instead, he ordered his soldiers to open fire, and a bloodbath ensued; more than 150 unarmed civilians lost their lives. Apart from the deaths — themselves horrendous enough—the soldiers unleashed a raping spree in which tens of young women and girls were gang-raped, tortured, and maimed — many dying on the spot or shortly thereafter, succumbing to the ordeals they had suffered.

According to many eyewitness accounts by even people who had become inured to the barbarousness of West African military thugs, that day had not been experienced before.

After that horrific incident, Dadis fled to neighbouring Mali, where he has been living in soft-cushioned exile until he decided to come back home “to clear my name”.

It certainly will be interesting to hear what he has to say in his defence, and it will certainly be a riveting story as prosecutors lay down the charges and call to the stand as eyewitnesses those who saw and experienced the massacres and the rapes first-hand.

We all know what a bloodbath looks like, or we think we do. We have recollections of Sharpeville in 1961 and Marikana in 2012, for instance, two incidents in one country, perpetrated by forces supposedly diametrically opposed but unfortunately bound together by a shared callousness where black lives come into collision with the interests of capitalism.

Onto the bloodbath in the Conakry case, add the scenes of mass rape, and a scene emerges that is hard to visualize.

Some of the women who have gone on record have shared stories of untold brutality and suffering which have had repercussions on their reproductive health ever since, heart-rending narratives that would make a brute monster break down and cry bitter tears.

Law and order

I am intrigued and want to know what this Didas will want to say in his defence.

Was it a case of trying to re-establish ‘law and order’ as we hear our rulers say so often, that people were threatening to sow chaos and disrupt normal lives? Had the military junta at that time received intelligence suggesting the protesters were enemy agents sent to bring their (itself illegitimate) government down?

Hardly. Neither of these feeble excuses would hold water, because there is no evidence to suggest there was interference from outside, and clearly indiscriminate shooting of unarmed civilians and rape is no way to establish “law and order”.

But Dadis could benefit from an unstated defence that would be understood in some quarters, even if not spelled out. That he gave orders to shoot because he saw a threat represented by the demonstrators in the stadium as an attempt to reinstate so-called civilian regimes are in fact all military except in name.

Any time

They have given up any attempt to persuade their people to approve their policies, of which they actually have none; they have ruled by issuing orders that their people dare not oppose; all too often when their people showed signs of wanting to rebel, they were kept in check by the same brute military force that the likes of Dadis and others are now using. Morally, there is no justification for castigating Dadis and his boys.

But all that does not explain the overkill in civilian body counts, and the rapes. Dadis will still be up shit-creek without a paddle.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: jenerali@gmail.com

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