In the recently released documentary “Journey of an African Colony,” executive producer and narrator Olasupo Shasore captivates his audience by physically visiting many of the locations discussed in this seven-part series on the colonial history of Nigeria.
Facts in this documentary and the release Sept. 30, coincided with the 60th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence from Great Britain. The information comes fast and with much substance. But, for the viewer there is never a sense of excess.
Moving seamlessly one episode into the next, these stories about what helped mold Africa’s most populous country are a treasure trove of visual imagery, direct quotations from principals, eyewitness accounts and informed commentary.
If any commentary sets the tone of this Netflix aired documentary series—and the common denominator that has plagued Africa and the African Diaspora—it’s the narrator’s reference to the “trauma” experience, a result of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
During the series’ initial installment, Shasore, author of “A Platter of Gold: Making Nigeria” and “Possessed: A History of Law and Justice in the Crown Colony of Lagos 1861-1906,” uses this source material. He mentions those taken into bondage from the “point of no return,” and raises the question, “Did they return?” He answers: “Only time will tell.”
Giving the definition of Diaspora, he says, “It means the dispersal of human beings.” He then reminds the viewing audience that the world’s “greatest human dispersal in the history of mankind has been the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, which has dispersed Black Africans to every corner of the world.”
He cites how racial and ethnic groups from “other parts of the world (have had) a permanent connection to (their) homeland.” “Whether it’s Italians to Italy, Indians to India, Lebanese to Lebanon … it has meant a permanent connection,” he says.
But the trauma of African experiences, including the Diaspora, via the slave trade meant the absence of that homeland’s permanent ties. “You’ve had Black Africans feeling assimilated to different parts of … the world in a way that they no longer looked at Africa as a homeland,” he observes.
He asks if persons like Michael Jackson, Magic Johnson, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., etc., had a greater appreciation and knowledge of the wealth and important role Africa could play on the world stage, how much of a “powerhouse that Africa could well have been?”
According to the former attorney general, who now operates a leading commercial law firm in Nigeria, some 4,803,000 slaves were exported between 1501 and 1867 from Nigeria’s areas of Benin and Biafra alone. This represented 2.5 percent of Africa’s entire population of less than 90 million in the year 1800.
Shasore notes the last slave cargo ship to enter the United States was “The Clotilda” carrying Yoruba-speaking cargo from modern day Nigeria, including Cudjoe Lewis (Oluale Kassola) and 109 others from a port between Badagry and Whydah to Alabama in 1860.
The series’ beginning came with clips of the former colonial government handing over the reins of power on September 30, 1960. Viewers, especially female viewers, will be thankful because it opens with interviews with two women who firsthand witnessed Nigeria’s first Independence Day celebrations.
“I can still remember I was watching that flag. It was the British flag I was watching coming down, coming down, and the Nigerian flag, going up, going up,” said Francesca Emmanuel, a former federal permanent secretary, in the documentary. “When the Nigerian flag got to the top, the whole of the racecourse lit up and then they shouted—and then the fireworks! It was a memorable early morning.”
The series goes on to include the involvement of women even devoting an entire episode, “Protest and Women’s War,” to the contribution of Nigerian women.
One of these great women, who this author first became aware of in Broadway at a musical called “Fela,” which brought each audience inside the seething, incandescent and precarious life of the Nigerian musical genius and political revolutionary Fela Anikulapo Kuti. The musical recounts the actual throwing out of a second floor window, by government troops, of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (1900-1978), Fela’s mother.
Ms. Ransome-Kuti was a leading activist during Nigerian women’s anti-colonial struggle. She founded the Abeokuta Women’s Union, one of the most impressive women’s organizations of the twentieth century with a membership estimated to have reached upwards of 20,000 women, which fought to protect and further the rights of African women.
Her children Beko, Olikoye and Fela would all go on to play important roles in education, health care, the arts, and political activism.
Ms. Ransome-Kuti strongly opposed the arbitrary taxation of women by the colonial government. Women from the beginning rejected taxation, including the iconic Nwanyeruwa Oleka-Okpo, who inspired other women of her province to do the unthinkable, “challenge the authority of the British government, opposing their move to impose new taxes on women.”
This started in the Eastern Province of Nigeria in a series of protests that would prove critical in shaping Nigeria and would culminate in the death by police action of 54 unarmed female protestors with 57 wounded.
The Times of London reported: “… the trouble was of a nature and extent unprecedented in Nigeria in a country where the women thought the center, have remained subject to the men, this was essentially a women’s movement organized, developed and carried out by the women of the country without either the help or permission of their men folk though probable with their tacit sympathy. The casualties resulting from the conflict with the forces of the Crown were almost entirely women. Fifty-Four were killed or died of wounds and 57 were wounded. One man was accidentally killed.”
No officer was ever punished for the massacre.
In 1930 Governor Graeme Thompson was removed and summoned to London’s Downing Street where Secretary of State Lord Passfield declared his actions “injudicious and premature.”
On that historic day in 1929, Aba women stood firm and undeterred. Displaying strength, courage, character, and unity in their worth, they locked horns against the oppressive colonial administration which was trying to demote these activist sisters to the back seat of the society, and on top of that charge them equally with taxes. This protest included over 10,000 women and was one of the first revolts made in a quest for freedom from the hand of colonial masters and a warrant chief led by Sir Fredrick Lugard.
Note: Aba, Nigeria was the headquarters of the colonial government and British commercial activity. Women attacked the government’s infrastructure and commercial activities of Europeans. During these demonstrations, women had every opportunity to kill Whites but choose not to. This was a protest, or civil disturbance, designed to give voice to the plight of women being unjustly taxed by the colonial administration.
Presiding over the colonial government, Lugard was responsible for the deliberate underdevelopment of the territory and making sure no industrial development, along with no educational opportunities, happened inside the northern territory. In addition, he installed a deliberate policy of racial segregation. And to his reign of brutality add the tens of thousands of lives lost in his bid to acquire the northern territory now called Nigeria.
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