Of Slaves, Slavery and Situations

Penny Wisdom

By Emeka Uzoatu

Not many may have managed to spare the thought, I can swear. But the singular determiner of status in relationships aligns proportionately to the state of personal finances in the union. 

O yes, with this I do bid you welcome to the domain of slavery on which we – you and I – will dwell for some eight hundred words. Or less. Unlike the number of votes bettered by a veto in the United Nations, as recounted by the late Fela Kuti in Beasts of No Nation.

Ab initio, being a slave implied another human being becoming the legal property of another. As odd as this appears these days, it beats the imagination that the practice at a time held sway in the civilized world for more than four hundred years.

It was always a local practice. Mostly following the outcome of local interethnic skirmishes in landlocked grounds. But this was to assume astronomic proportions following the discovery of sea routes to distant destinations. 

Like turned out, following this development in the Americas, African slaves were needed to farm plantations therein. You know, because there were mosquitoes there and these distant cousins of theirs were immune to malaria!

The story of how it fanned out into the European underdevelopment of Africa is better told in the eponymous book on the subject by the late Guyanese historian Walter Rodney. Forget that, like many others, he paid the ultimate price for the effort.

Yes, for whoever thought records of it would easily be wiped away should try and consult the late reggae sage Robert Nesta Marley – via a necromancer, perhaps. The more so now that the abnormalities that followed the atrocious trade are yet being uncovered. 

And please don’t tell me that it was stopped by the efforts of the Yorkshireman William Wilberforce, not minding that a former Senate President, the late Chuba Okadigbo, was elated at being named after him. 

My friend, for you can’t be anythig less having journeyed this far in tow, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade only stopped following the fallouts of the Industrial Revolution. 

Anyway, didn’t our fathers and mothers before us end up slaves in their own land with the advent of colonialism? Force-fed mores different from those of their ancestors, they swallowed everything thrown at them by their conquerors hook, line, sinker and rod. 

A peasant rice farmer: toiling for who?

And even today we are not better off for it. As is easily decipherable from our present ambulations, we have since ‘independence’ internalised the bad manners of neocolonialism. Now people who work even for the government are treated a bit lower than real slaves. As though workers are no longer worthy of their wages

Like our university lecturers are learning the hard way. Concerned about the declining state of education in the land, they arrived at a mutual agreement with once upon a government of the day. Only for a later regime to renege on it: ostensibly because the price of oil has dropped from what it was when the negotiation was held…

Now all the humoured populace rant on is the fact that the dons are making our children, their students suffer. As though there’s ever been even a call for the renegotiation of the humongous salaries our politicians negotiated for themselves upon the return of democracy.

So presently we have all ended up slaves to political power and its acquisition. Because you cannot smell it save your tribal party is in power, it has slowly turned us into rabid tribalists at each others’ jugular at the turn of every electoral cycle. 

Nepotism and such other oddities bequeathed by our colonial masters and mistresses are let off the hook sans restraint. Say it and you are christened a dissident wanting to upturn the applecart of state.

Meanwhile, we had earlier become slaves to our individual emotions. Even those in charge of very precarious aspects of the country see their jobs as sinecures to untold riches. Accountable to none but their tribal leaders, the country has been turned into the world’s laughing stock.

What a shame. All this while our best, like an Irish poet prophesied, now ‘lack all conviction’ while the worst ‘are full of passionate intensity’. Ineptitude has run riot in town and there appears no exit route in sight but to join the rat race.

But to what avail? As old-time slaves we at least knew we were slaves. Yet in our present condition as freemen we end up slaving without proper remuneration. That is when we are even paid at all. 

Thus, it’s worth iterating that except  this condition is altered by Providence, there is no sightable light of human effort at the end of the tunnel. Like some likable cynic pointed out when this topic came up at my neighborhood speakeasy.

Emeka Uzoatu, a seasoned journalist and writer, is the editor of Nairaweb.ng. He writes the occasional column, Penny Wisdom