|SHILGBA: FROM MY HEART|
|Leonard Karshima Shilgba||Friday, December 10, 2004|
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THE BLACK RACE:
MYTHS, COMPLEXES, AND COMPASSION
looked and the color of my skin with a heavy heart filled with questions about my black race. Everything about my people seems to be as dark (or black is it?) as the color of our skin. I thought about the location of horrid squalor on earth; it dawned on me that poverty can truly be defined as a black man full of remonstrance without action. The black man would easily blame another for their woes; everyone could be culpable but themselves. The white man is more often a convenient scapegoat any day, and their antecedents make them easily a plausible target anyway.
Take a look at Africa, inhabited by both white and black populations. The most undeveloped and backward part of Africa is not white but black (sub-Saharan Africa); and the part of black Africa that has made the most significant progress in development has an equally significant proportion of white population that controls the economy and leads in technology and modern agriculture.
South Africa, with a significant white population that controlled political power for many decades and now wields enormous economic power, has established a strong culture of development. As inappropriate as the reference to South Africa by Nigeria's late dictator Sani Abacha, as a "white country with a black head (then under Nelson Mandela)" was/is, it is indicative of the achievement of the white man in South Africa.
The economy of Zimbabwe was vibrant with a rich agricultural sector facilitated by the managerial skills and capital of the white Zimbabweans until Robert Mugabe decided to put an end to this alien culture. Now, life expectancy in that country is sub-forty with worsening poverty.
There is the myth that the black race came from the lineage of Noah's cursed son Ham (in particular Canaan, one of his four sons) who was cursed by his drunken father. Thus was he cursed by Noah: "Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brethren (the rest of the world-descendants of Shem and Japheth)". Even if this were not true, if a curse visited on a people could fetch worse misfortune, then such must be very grievous indeed.
No black nation in memory has colonized other races. But the whole of black Africa was colonized by the whites. In fact, it seems that the black race was eclipsed in some geographical locations in the world. Take for instance the etymological discovery that the word "chemistry", which means "the black man's science", was derived from the name "kemet" (meaning "land of the blacks") - which is where present Egypt is. The population there is now generally white. What became of the vase black population there? Although the black race has been at the receiving rather than the giving end of colonialism and distorted history aimed at hiding their historical intellectual contributions to the world, it can yet "colonize" itself-they can assume full control of their destiny. The black man can now make their environment, true history, mind, and energy serve their purpose. The history of the black man has been stolen and concocted to destroy our credit and contribution to the world.
Abraham Lincoln once said, "There is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man (white man, of course) am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race." And one might ask why he felt the white man should take the superior position. Maybe his predecessor, Thomas Jefferson (the 3rd President of the USA) gave him the ammunition when he said in "Notes on the State of Virginia" (1874) about blacks: "Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous. It would be unfair to follow them to Africa for this investigation." We now know that the greatest Mathematician Euclid was born in Africa, studied in Africa, taught in Africa, lived in Africa, and died in Africa without traveling even once out of Africa. If, as Jefferson put it, the white man is superior to the black man because the black man could not understand Euclid's work (The Elements), how then could that be a realistic yardstick since the works he referred to belong to a black African (irrespective of the illustration of Euclid as a white man in circulation today. He was born over 2330 years ago in Africa)?
Why have we lost respect so much and our story seemingly lost? No one can tell your story for you if you don't. Your glory is in your story. Now, we have certain stereotypes slapped on the black man. It should be understood that the black man will never gain the respect of the world with accomplishments by blacks under white-controlled systems or sovereignties. No matter how rich, well-educated, and talented individual black people may be, their collective dignity is tied to the measure of the African continent, nay black Africa on every relevant scale of development. Africa was a Mecca for scholars from other parts of the world, where many Greek scholars, to whom the world now credits the origin of many frontiers of knowledge, studied. But has the world remembered and celebrated that? We now know that the oldest Mathematics texts (over 4000 years old)-The Rhind, Berlin, and Moscow papyri were all excavated from Africa. But do they bear the names of either African cities or persons? No! In fact, the Rhind papyrus was named after a Scottish traveler Alexander Rhind who bought it in Africa; but the author was a black African Mathematician called Ahmes, while Mr. Rhind, after whom the papyrus was named, knew next to nothing about Mathematics.
African sons and daughters are making wonderful contributions to the Western world which is the beneficiary of the scientific groundbreaking of our forefathers, but if we don't learn from our past mistakes, those contributions will be equally lost without due acknowledgement. The black man (In the USA, Europe, Latin America, and Mother Africa) must know that irrespective of the individual accomplishments of blacks all over the world, the situation in Africa is our shameful deformity that cannot be hidden.
Just 53 years ago in 1947, an American Senator from the State of Mississippi Senator Theodore G. Bilbo, in his book titled, "Make Your Choice - Separation or Mongrelization", called for repatriation of the "negroes" back to Africa. He said that race was America's greatest problem. The Asians are respected, not because of their individual accomplishments in Europe and America, but rather because of their accomplishments in Asia. Africans in the Diaspora will know no genuine and enduring respect while the continent is scared by poverty and generic incivility. Why will blacks not be treated as second-class citizens in different parts of the world (including where they claim citizenship) when global television channels show daily the pictures of wily starving black children and their mothers, squalor, dirty environment and the brutal wickedness of blacks against themselves? Why has today's black man chosen the part of being the fan of the white man rather than the confident actor in control of his destiny?
Can today's privileged Blackman see a need and do something about it without asking "what is in there for me?" Have we lost the natural African compassion? We have a wrong concept of "government". For long the average African has blamed the woes of Africa on "bad leadership", echoing the distracting position of his white model and hero. This is true to a point-only to a limited point, and no more; we are the architect of our fate, and we Africans are the ones to do something about it. And if I may be blunt, we the black African elite are to blame. The mind of the average white man asks, "What can I do?"; "why can't it be done?" The mind of the average African today asks, "What are they doing about this?"; "why is no one doing anything?" The white man can stick with a task patiently without minding how long it takes; the average black man lacks the patience that promotes growth and development. Today, we also seem to be losing the basic trust in and compassion for our fellow man.
Where do our seeming ineptitude and social incapacitation in the midst of so much potential flow from? There could be long theses on this theme; but I will address what I consider to be the primary problem-a sick mind. The holy scriptures say succinctly, "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he". In other words, you are the product of your thought life. The Founder of the Negro History Week (1926), Carter Woodson said, "When you control a man's thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his (proper place) and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary." This kind of slavery is what Bob Marley called "Mental slavery" as he informed us, and rightly so that "none but ourselves can free our minds". "You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free", says Jesus Christ.
Angry thoughts produce angry actions and an angry character; hopeful thoughts produce a confident lifestyle that solves rather than creates problems; selfish thoughts corrupt our actions as we frequently ask, "What is in there for me?" Thoughts of self-pity reduce a man to a slave; accusatory thoughts produce an "impeccable" and priggish character that sees nothing wrong in them but everything wrong in others. Worst of all, thoughts of inferiority destroy the man-he becomes an ape trying to be, look, and behave like another. The average black African elite looks at the white man as his hero; he wants to be like him; he appreciates awards and honors from the whites- however obscure- above those from their Black Africa; he believes more in the ability of the whites than his; he teaches his children to forget black Africa and claim a white heritage; he values what the whites value and considers everything black African primitive; in fact, he teaches his children to change their identity because he is himself ashamed of his roots. He then turns round to blame the shame on "African leaders". But who are these African leaders? A society that has the preponderance of people with defective thought life as I attempted to describe above will make little or no progress. If a particular breed or specie consistently produces deformed offspring, then the sensible conclusion should be that there is a serious problem (genetic?) with the stock. If Africa has consistently produced bad leaders, then shouldn't we take a look at the mirror and say, "We black Africans have a serious problem"? All the hackneyed statement "Africa has not developed because we have bad leaders" is a confession of failure of the African. We have had flashes of brilliant leadership in Africa once in a while. But the gross failure is the failure of the African elite who usually turn into accusers; they are the fountain supplying those grotesque leadership styles in Africa for decades.
I maintain that African elite-both at home and in the Diaspora- are the problem of Africa. We have been manipulated and used to destroy our hopes every so often. We have either contributed to an evil propaganda against Africa or caused her deplorable state. All fingers point to the "bad leadership"; but do we know that other races secretly laugh at us, calling us a "confused bunch of Negroes"? We run to them to "help us confront and rein in oppressive African regimes". So, long as they are benefiting from those regimes, they do not oblige. But once they fall out of favor, they use us as tools; they give us publicity in their biased news media and brand us "opposition leaders" or "freedom fighters", or "human rights activists". And how we bask in the attention from the white man! Then, we get to the throne and do worse! Worse still, when they are done with us, they throw us away.
About a fortnight ago, during the "Diplomatic license" program on the CNN, the host Richard Roth, asked Nigerian's Ambassador at the UN why Nigeria should be granted permanent membership of the UN Security Council (SC) given that there are incessant strikes and unrest in Nigeria. This was very unfair, insulting, and misrepresentative of facts. Is there any UN law that requires absence of strikes and unrest in permanent members of the SC? Have there been no incidents of strikes and unrest in the five permanent members (France, USA, Britain, China, and Russia)? These white elite start building a case against black Africa from a seemingly innocuous position before they finally put a damper on our goals. We the black elite then catch this to destroy our black pride when we have not got our selfish gains from the "bad leaders" in power in black Africa. We rob Africa of its rights when we fight for our personal pecuniary interests.
If you watch frequently "Inside Africa" by the CNN anchored by black Africans, you may be disappointed by the kind of activities they cover. Is Africa a continent of only wars and conflicts, wild animals and poverty? This kind of reporting gives a bad impression about the continent. I remember when last year I met a young white American soldier in a train car; when he learnt I was from Africa he excitedly expressed the hope of visiting Africa one day to "see animals". Africa is not correctly reported, or rather under-reported. The young and old from outside Africa have a wrong impression of Africa. We need to tell the true African story. Sometimes, unfortunately, African journalists rely on the misinformation from foreign news media for "correct information" about happenings in Africa.
Nigeria is the biggest black nation on earth, but not the oldest. Haiti, which is the first politically independent black nation on earth in modern history, is a classic example of the failure of the black race in self-governance. In Africa, Liberia and Sierra Leone founded for (not by) freed black slaves by the white man have often needed the intervention countries like Nigeria to remain in one piece. Since it is estimated that one out of every six black persons on earth is a Nigerian, let me shift focus now to Nigeria. Nigeria bears on her young shoulders great expectations-expectations from blacks both on and outside the African continent. Nigeria is a foreign-made country, created by the British. Different nationalities were put together for the administrative convenience and profit of the British. With over 300 nationalities that make up Nigeria, many of whom had no recognizable systems of government before 1914, it is inconceivable the political and administrative configuration that would have resulted apart from this British-induced fusion. Irrespective of the reasonableness or otherwise of this joinery, the fact remains that the African cannot seek and emphasize division in this age and at the same time hope to survive. What happens in Nigeria has a great effect on the rest of black world. The gap between the white and black world is too wide; there is need for a bridge. But in seeking to do this, it would be delusive to expect solution in unilateralism rather than multilateralism.
In Nigeria, there is set of necessary reforms being pursued by a team of committed reformers. These reforms, as necessary as they are, have caused enormous suffering on the populace. How can the pain be reduced without doing damage to the soul of the reforms? The natural African compassion is necessary here. I listened in on the internet to a group of discussants on the Africa Independent Television (AIT). Someone could not see any reason why Nigeria's external reserves keep growing while suffering continues. Another does not see any wisdom in increased prices of petroleum products while crude oil is got from "beneath our soil". The more I listened to these learned brethren of mine, the more I became convinced that the Nigerian elite need some re-educating on economic, political, and social issues (This is a subject for another article). We are the ones to explain to the uninitiated those issues about which many have exhibited surprising ignorance.
Well, as necessary as those reforms are, I would like to highlight certain issues which government (local, State, and federal) should consider:
1. Health: The national health insurance scheme has been in the talk shop for too long. We talk, we set up committees, but nothing has come out of this issue yet. Since Prof. Ishaya Audu was made the Chairman of the national health insurance committee, and I saw him in a new Peugeot car for that office, I have not heard of any cheery news about the scheme. Health insurance schemes are very necessary since the healthy pay for the sick. If a poor Nigerian falls sick and has no money for medical treatment, he is gone. The health of the nation is not cared for today. If the government can put together a health scheme which I believe we are rich enough to do, the unemployed and the poor will have their bills defrayed by the government while those working (both healthy and the sick) pay monthly premiums. The national assembly could pass a bill that a certain percentage of earnings from crude oil should be paid into a National Health Insurance account. Nigerians can have yearly medical check-ups and know that their nation (the government) cares for them. A healthy nation is a wealthy nation. But now, many sick Nigerian brothers and sisters can't pay for their medical treatment and no one cares. You could be dying in the hospital, and there is no compassion on you if you can't pay for treatment. I hope the government officials and our legislators will read this. 2. Social Security: Is Nigeria not rich enough to have welfare programs for the jobless and weak in the society? We have different funds like those for ecology, emergency etc. But there is no fund for poor Nigerians. Does anyone care? After graduating from the University, I cannot even find a menial job that can fetch me enough to pay for the basic necessities of life. I take to crime, maybe as a protest against society. That is what is happening today. The reforms are nice; we have saved and are saving government tens of billions of naira from our fiscal discipline now. But can't we invest part of what we are saving in welfare programs for Nigerians? We can start somewhere; we can start with college graduates, for instance. These have endured and spent many years to obtain a University degree or college certificate or diploma. Now, they have no jobs. Is it only the white man that is nifty enough to come up with welfare programs? Nigeria, as the biggest black nation on earth can show that blacks care for themselves. We don't have to do it because the white man does it, but because black people deserve the best. What can encourage patriotism more than knowing my country cares for me?
The above are just few examples of areas that governments at the local, state, and federal levels can make Nigerians willing to die for their country because the country can take care of those that will survive them. I expect the NLC, instead of reacting to stimuli, to initiate actions. If the NLC mobilizes Nigerians to force the government (including the legislative arm) to give Nigerians a health insurance and social security, and threaten strike, it would be wonderful. But what I see is government taking the NLC for granted because the NLC puts its foot the wrong way.
Until 1834, the British government through church parishes helped support working people during times when they were out of jobs. This kept many poor folks from starving and allowed them the dignity of returning to work as soon as they found one. But the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 stopped this in government's bid to save money; in its place, unattractive Poorhouses were built for the poor. They were very unattractive and life there was like in a prison-deliberately to keep off people and slough off a responsibility. Suffering, dirt, diseases, and death set it. Many children became orphans. Why would a responsible government do that?
At a time like this, one man, a Prussian preacher, married to an English woman, decided he should do something. George Muller thought it would be a good idea to build an orphanage in Bristol. Many people thought that was a ridiculous idea. In the whole of England then there were only ten or twelve orphanages, all but one of which were private-owned and admitted only "children whose parents had been of some means, but now found themselves without sufficient funds to care entirely for their own needs".
A cynic told Mr. Muller, "If you were an Englishman, Mr. Muller, you would know that this thing is not possible in England. It is not the way we do things here. Perhaps asking God to supply all your needs is the way things are done in Prussia, but not here." Muller got some encouragements too; a lady told him, "I'm not much with book learning, sir. But I know how to cook and clean, and goodness knows, I have mended a thousand socks in my day. If you can use me in your new orphanage, I'm ready to be put to work. And don't worry about paying me. The good Lord's never let me starve yet, and I don't think He's about to now. If you have faith for those thirty girls (Muller had decided to start with this number), I can have faith for myself". George Muller is best known for this work than for any other. Real changes are brought about not by a crowd yelling "move on, move on", but by a focused conviction. There will always be a vase support for a novelty when its initiators refuse to be discouraged no matter the daunting circumstances at the beginning. Compassion is a naturally African.
We know by the huge assets of Nigerian churches and mosques that they control billions of naira. As a Christian, permit me to talk about the church in Nigeria at liberty. What programs have Nigerian churches put in place for the jobless and poor in their midst? What have the church Bishops, Overseers, Superintendents, Pastors and leaders done to make their members feel God never made a mistake making them Nigerians? Over 90% of Nigerians are said to be worshippers at either church or mosque. Besides, about 50% of Nigerians have some affiliation to a local church in Nigeria. What these statistics indicate is that not less than 70 million Nigerians (that is out of a population of 150 million) are under the leaders of Nigerian churches. Could you imagine the positive difference that would be effected in the standard of living of Nigerians if Nigerian churches had special welfare programs for the poor in their midst? Can you imagine the "revival" that could take place in Nigeria?
Nigerian churches spend millions of naira on crusades and television and radio preaching. There would be no room to take "worshippers" if a huge chunk of that money were used to take care of the poor members. Who would not want to be a member of a local church? The beggars, Area boys, and the Agberos could see active love and join. We advertise "healing for the sick and miracles for the barren", but don't talk of "food for the hungry". Jesus said, "Give them something to eat"; Apostle Paul was told by the elder apostles, "not to forget the poor", about which Paul wrote "something I was prepared and ready to do". We are so spiritual, we just need to pray for the jobless, and homeless, and sick. The bible says, "Bring the tithes into my store house that there will be food in my house". The saying "as poor as the church rat" is unscriptural. The church is a place where there should be food-not just for the priests- but for the worshippers too. Many churches in Nigeria have higher monthly income than our local governments; some of them earn monthly more than what some State governments earn. There are many States in Nigeria that earn less than N2 billion monthly. Could any discerning person fail to observe that many churches scoop in more than that monthly?
If those mega rich churches in Nigeria introduce well-organized welfare schemes for the poor in their midst, it would be an example for other organizations in Nigeria. "The goodness of God leads to repentance", so the holy scriptures say. They don't have to screen members "to be sure they are born again". When millions of naira is spent on television and radio preaching, the messages are targeted at those who are not born-again. So, if those who are not born-again are attracted to the churches in droves because of those welfare programs, such expenses would be cut. God added to the early church so many converts, as the church showed concern for the needs of members. The bible said that none among them lacked since they shared what they had together. We don't need to make members feel guilty because they don't have to give big wads of money as offerings. The opulence of mega churches in Nigeria should translate to improved standard of living of all members, and not only of the Bishops, pastors, Overseers and Superintendent.
The church can even move further and trust God to provide for them to do good works. Love in action is stronger than good wishes and sweet prophecies; this is the teaching of scriptures. May we be the "light of the world" as Jesus urged. We should teach the government that it can be done just like George Muller took upon himself when the English government was sloughing off its responsibility in 1834.
Our mosques can do the same. The amajiris can be organized to desist from begging and be enrolled in formal schools. Part of the money generated by the mosques should be used to take care of the poor and jobless in their midst. Who knows, when both the Mosque and the Church in Nigeria demonstrate the man is more important than domestic animals, then religious leaders can have the moral strength to preach to the government to be compassionate and remember the weak and poor. Both Christianity and Islam teach the practical virtue of doing good deeds to the less privileged. Instead of Christians and Muslims in Nigeria fighting each other and dragging the name of Nigeria into the mud, let them make Nigerians rejoice they are Nigerians after all. As far as I see it, all of us have a stake, and if everyone does their portion, we shall make the black race proud in the world.