By Odua Clement T. Ofuani
TUE, JUN 23 2020-theG&BJournal- Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in their book ‘Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty” attributed the global disparity in wealth among nations to “historical currents and critical junctures that mold modern polities: the processes of institutional drift that produce political and economic institutions that can be either inclusive — focused on power-sharing, productivity, education, technological advances and the well-being of the nation as a whole; or extractive — bent on grabbing wealth and resources away from one part of society to benefit another.” One of those critical junctures in history was the Black Death caused by the Bubonic Plague, a pandemic that claimed an estimated 200 million lives globally between 1346 and 1353.
The after effects of the pandemic resulted in huge institutional drifts that altered the balance of power and development trajectory of global regions almost forever. For the regions in Western Europe where it produced more inclusive economic and political institutions, it resulted in huge leap in productivity, education and technological advances that placed it at advantage over the rest of the world.
The advantages that this brought laid the foundation for the domination of the world by Europe ultimately leading to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonialism and neocolonialism. The negative effects are still with the world today.
When I read the book in 2018, little did I know that we may have been headed to what might become another critical juncture in human history. 2019 was quite tumultuous but in retrospect, it now appears like it was the calm before the storm. There was already palpable fear on the eve of the second decade of the millennium with whispers about an outbreak of a human to human transmitted coronavirus in China which appeared like a localized epidemic.
The momentum turned rapidly in 2020 to a global pandemic such as had not been seen in the world since the Spanish flu of 1918-1920. As if the pandemic and the global economic disruption it caused were not enough, the Minneapolis Police in the US finally reached the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back with the gruesome murder of George Floyd practically streamed in real time by the video recording of a brave 17 year-old girl.
The spontaneous global outrage has continued to reverberate across the globe focusing attention to the systemic racism not only in the US but in Western Europe and across the entire globe. The symbols of slavery and systemic racism are being toppled in every major city, as the world is forced to review the insidious history of western domination of global politics. And in doing this, there are no sacred cows. The UK government had to cover the statue of Winston Churchill to protect it from being toppled in the light of his well- known racism. In the US, the equestrian statue of President Theodore Roosevelt in the New York Museum of Natural History is being pulled down because of its racist symbolism.
Even President Abraham Lincoln who championed the emancipation of blacks from slavery is not spared in this new awakening. According to a report by ABC7, “a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Park Square in Boston has drawn particular ire from residents there. The statue depicts Lincoln standing over and freeing an enslaved Black man.” The report further quotes Tory Bullock who started the online petition as stating “I’ve been watching this man on his knees since I was a kid,” Bullock writes in the petition description. “It’s supposed to represent freedom but instead represents us still beneath someone else. I would always ask myself ‘If he’s free why is he still on his knees?’ No kid should have to ask themselves that question anymore.”
The various statues and memorials of Confederate leaders in the US that have long symbolized slavery, segregation and white supremacy are now being removed from public places. All the US military bases like Fort Bragg, Fort Hood, Fort Beauregard among others named after Confederate Generals are being considered for change.
Even then, these cataclysmic movements of 2020 seem to have been presaged by the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement of 2015 that led to the removal of the statue of arch-colonizer Cecil John Rhodes from University of Cape Town, South Africa. The message is loud and clear. We cannot be celebrating people who achieved fame or infamy by enslaving and colonizing other people, especially the Black race.
But, these global events do not seem to have made a bleep in Nigeria, a major theatre of the slave trade and colonial misadventure. All around our highbrow capital cities of Abuja, Lagos, Kaduna, Kano, Port Harcourt, Calabar among others, are memorials and streets named after slavers and colonial agents such as Lugard, MacPherson etcetera. These should have no place of honour in Nigeria anymore. They belong to the Hall of Infamy.
In the light of the global events, there is an urgent need to review all street names and monuments that celebrate these slavers and colonialists and remove them from our public arena. And while we are at it, the entire street names in Abuja Municipal must be urgently reviewed too. We cannot be celebrating African dictators in Asokoro with street names or military coupists in Apo and Jabi etcetera. It is time to honour only those that deserve honour by celebrating liberating values.
Odua Clement T. Ofuani writes from Abuja, Nigeria.