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Forced slavery and self imposed slavery in Nigeria and beyond

By Afe Babalola

We think this trade must go on. That is the verdict of our oracle and the priests. They say that your country, however great, can never stop a trade ordained by God himself”

In mid November CNN broadcast a video showing how black Africans were being auctioned at slave markets in Libya. Since then there has been a global outcry against what many see as confirmation of a gradual decline in global values. However, as noted by the New York Times, the reaction has been muted partly because there is a general consensus that the recent events are due to the hardline policies of the European Union against migration across the Mediterranean sea from Africa. To combat the endless waves of migrants that daily attempt to reach Europe from across the sea, European Countries have assisted Libyan authorities to intercept and return such migrants to Libya where they are kept in detention centres and subjected to numerous abuse. As alarming as this is, blaming the Europeans is not the solution. To combat this development, African leaders must go beyond rhetoric. To dares it effectively, they must however understand the underlying factors that have brought it about.

Origin of slavery

Slavery is as old as mankind itself as it is referred to in almost all religious and historical texts known to man. Prior to the transatlantic slave trade in which millions of Africans were shipped across the Atlantic ocean to the Americas, slavery was reported to have been rife in almost every ancient civilization and society including Sumer, Ancient Egypt, Ancient China, the Akkadian Empire, Assyria, Ancient India, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Hebrew kingdoms of the ancient Levant, and the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas. In the course of the transatlantic slave trade however, Africans who in most cases had been captured by fellow Africans and sold to the Europeans, endured harrowing journeys by sea to various destinations. The slaves were chained and denied of the most basic of amenities such that an estimated 2.4 Million slaves did not survive the journey by sea. Such was the depravity of it all that the king of the then empire of Kongo, in a letter addressed to the King João III of Portugal stated as follows:

“Each day the traders are kidnapping our people—children of this country, sons of our nobles and vassals, even people of our own family. This corruption and depravity are so widespread that our land is entirely depopulated. We need in this kingdom only priests and schoolteachers, and no merchandise, unless it is wine and flour for Mass. It is our wish that this Kingdom must not be a place for the trade or transport of slaves…As soon as the captives are in the hands of white men they are branded with a red-hot iron.

ABOLITION OF SLAVE TRADE

With growing opposition to the trade, the UK Parliament in 1807 passed the Bill that abolished the trading of slaves. However, not unsurprising some did not welcome the abolition. The King of Bonny was so horrified at the abolition that he reportedly exclaimed that:

“We think this trade must go on. That is the verdict of our oracle and the priests. They say that your country, however great, can never stop a trade ordained by God himself”

Over 200 years later, it appears that the oracles and the priests of the King of Bonny were right after all. It appears that despite the advent of modern religion in Nigeria as evidenced by the existence in Nigeria of virtually all denominations of the Christian faith and spread of its Islamic counterpart, that the “God” mentioned by the King of Bonny has maintained his ordination of the slave trade. How else can one explain the fact that after over 200 years of its abolition, Africans, and particularly Nigerians appear determined to continue the slave trade in one form or another? As reported by the U.S State Department, modern slavery takes several forms including:

“….the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion…using a number of different terms, including involuntary servitude, slavery or practices similar to slavery, debt bondage, and forced labor. Human trafficking can include, but does not require, movement. People may be considered trafficking victims regardless of whether they were born into a state of servitude, were exploited in their home town, were transported to the exploitative situation, previously consented to work for a trafficker, or participated in a crime as a direct result of being trafficked. At the heart of this phenomenon is the traffickers’ goal of exploiting and enslaving their victims and the myriad coercive and deceptive practices they use to do so.

However the difference between slavery as practiced then and the modern variants of it is that while slaves were formerly captured and sold into slavery against their will, people who in modern times end up as slaves do so out of actions taken willingly of their own free accord, either out of ignorance or out of sheer desperation. This is mostly applicable to Nigerians. For decades Nigerians have been plagued with the “check out” syndrome by which many Nigerians felt a need to flee the country in pursuit of greener pastures in foreign lands. In the 80s it was so profound that the authorities came up with a popular TV advertorial admonishing Nigerians to remain in the country and work towards its development. However what makes the Nigerian situation peculiar is not really the fact of migration to other countries, but more of the means and objectives of the said migration. Nigerians have been known to exploit any means available including outrightly illegal ones to migrate from the country. Nigerians have been known to dare great odds including long and perilous foot crossings of the sahara desert to dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean in unseaworthy vessels. In October 2016, the European Union reported that 22,500 Nigerians had crossed the Mediterranean into Europe between January and September 2016 while in 2015 a total of 23,000       made the crossing. As at October 2016, the UNHCR reported that 3,740 migrants had lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Africa into Europe and the said figure was just short of the 3,771 reported for the whole of 2015. That Nigerians were part of the dead is without doubt.

Account of two brothers

In February 2016, the Sun Newspaper published an account of two brothers who attempted the journey leading to loss of one of them. The publication read partly as follows:

“The two brothers from Edo State – Monday and Osas Amanmien – had embarked on the deadly voyage across the angry Mediterranean Sea, intent on hitting Italy where they hoped to make a better living. But the trip turned sour midway, leaving Monday dead. He drowned in the sea following a boat wreck. Although Osas miraculously survived the disaster, he had to endure one hellish hour, hopelessly floating on an empty keg and being brutally buffeted by the bullish, restless waves. And now, he lives with the eternal trauma of the last words of his brother. Monday had said, in a desperate tone: “My keg dey leak ooo,” before he finally went down. Osas says his brother drowned so that he might live. He recalled that when it became obvious that the boat was destined to go down, Monday summoned courage and seized two empty water kegs beside him. One was good, the other was bad. He gave his younger one the better keg so that he would be afloat and live while he struggled with the bad keg. He eventually drowned, Osas said. Not even his dead body was retrieved.”

 

To be continued.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.