BEING KEYNOTE ADDRESS DELIVERED BY HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY, OLUWO OF IWO,
OBA ABDULRASHEED AKANBI AT THE COMMONWEALTH AFRICA SUMMIT 2019 ON 11th MARCH 2019, LONDON
THEME: “INVESTING IN OUR COMMON FUTURE”
Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, let me start by thanking the organisers of this summit for giving me the honour of delivering the keynote of this year’s Commonwealth Africa Summit with the theme “Investing in our Common Future” in this historic and contemporary city of London.
There is no better place, in my view, to have this conversation about our common future than the great city of London. Indeed, while many generations of Nigerians and Africans have found home here in the United Kingdom, our historical linkage with the United Kingdom and by right the Commonwealth of Nations has remained and has not ceased to generate great debate since our destinies collided over two centuries ago.
This debate is steeped in cultural, socio-economic, political and interracial interactions which have brought us to the present realities that still face us today as global citizens of common humanity. To this reality, I find your theme sitting delicately in the intersection of global history, culture and commerce.
For want of a better title, I will like to title my brief keynote “Healing the Black race” as my modest contribution to this vision of “Investing in our Common Future”, as captured by the theme of this Summit. Yet, I speak to this vision as a cultural ambassador and a Royal father whose legitimate duty is to speak the truth of our historical and cultural journey, bringing a better appreciation of our shared past in order to forge a common future that will benefit all of us and our generation yet unborn.
Therefore, I will take a peep at the past to understand the present for us to invest in the future. When we speak of investing in our common future as is the theme of this summit, it is because we know that we live in the present and have a common future and that future is guaranteed and sustained by a deeper understanding of our shared experience over the centuries. This is why I speak to our people of the diaspora primarily before our fellow British, Europeans and American compatriots.
From the earliest European contact with what has become the geographical entity known as Nigeria in the 15th century by Portuguese explorers, our common future has become irrevocably bound in political, cultural and economic adventure or should I say misadventure including the famous or should I say the infamous slave trade. In retrospect, the slave trade evokes painful memories of our past history. It evokes deep pain in our hearts today.
Historians have used the term ‘slave trade’ and ‘slavery’ almost interchangeably as two sides of the same coin to describe the relationship between the colonialists and the colonised. We learnt in the history of exploration and economic exploits of Europeans in the heartlands of Nigeria which had already established kingdoms and dynasties which had long predated that period, notably the Hausa and Borno in the North, and Oyo and Benin in the South, all indigenous civilisations steeped in their respective culture, agriculture, art, commerce and political systems. How could we then say Western civilisation was better? It was only different. Our homestead was not vacant and desolate land, rather it was vast and rich in human and natural resources. It was industrialised to the amazement of our Western guests.
The commercial relations that ensued through trade by barter (in the valuable materials such as copper, brass, cowrie shells, even clothing) extended to the slave trade in a transborder transport of Nigerians and other Africans to Europe and America with the active participation of both parties. This is where I must pause and render an apology on behalf of our forefathers who voluntarily sold their sons and daughters to the Europeans in exchange for Western goodies. This is a sad episode of our history.
While I am making this point which may appear self-indicting, I am not by any stretch of imagination passing the Europeans as innocent. Slave trade was barbaric and perhaps one of the worst expressions of degenerate humanity ever known to mankind. It was mutual but the resulting forced slavery of our sons and daughters in a foreign land was not. The point is that our own participation in the slave trade is part of our dark history that we cannot rewrite. Volumes have been written on what became of us in the hostile harems, plantations, construction sites and rail tracks of foreign lands.
Of course, the European slavery of Africans was not the genesis of human slavery or man’s inhumanity to man. Today, centuries after the horrendous human trafficking across the oceans, we are witnesses of the consequences of what has become of us in the cities of Great Britain, Europe and America. The descendants of our sons and daughters sold into slavery in foreign lands are today British, Europeans and Americans. But after many generations, we have not healed largely because the forces of racism and discrimination that once ruled have not completely thrown away notwithstanding the abolition of slavery.
Over 500 years of global history has come to a full circle. Humanity has come a long way. Slavery and its abolition, industrial revolution, the rise of universities and modern science, colonisation and imperialism, racism, wars and more wars, promotion of human rights, globalisation, the advent of information and communications technology, all have attended the trajectories of human civilisation.
Now it is time to forge our common humanity. Before I come to how we as the black race can heal and why and how our people in the diaspora across UK, Europe and North America should heal, let me quickly underscore why certain aspects of our cultural heritage must change. After all, in the definition of culture, our social scientists tell us that, among other attributes, culture is dynamic. I am careful in making this point because we often speak of our culture in absolute terms.
To be clear, African culture is rich, magnificent and full of beauty and splendour. I cherish my culture of celebrations, of our art and crafts, of our traditional attires and dishes, of our tenets of moral uprightness and what is more. Our kingship, our Obas who are the paramount political leaders, now relegated by Western democratic institutions. Our culture of the African spirit, resilient and irrepressible.
However, our culture of pagan worship and witchcraft that has promoted wickedness, human ritual and murder, which was never compatible with natural law in the first place, is no longer sustainable in this era of human civilisation. As a traditional ruler, I, Oba Adewale Abdulrasheed Akanbi cannot endorse religion and creed that gives false hope to our people, that seeks to worship humans no matter how ancient and dreaded they were in the name of promoting our cultural heritage.
The truth is that in human history, every civilisation, from the East to the West, is full of tales of savagery, conquest and valour of warriors and war-mongers, that have brought misery to mankind. Every race is guilty of that past and we cannot revel in that history, rather we must deride it for what it was – man’s inhumanity to man.
That is why I join every progressive and civilised voice to condemn every remnant of racism, oppression and inordinate territorial ambition anywhere and everywhere. I believe in our common humanity and diversity as the order of creation. I believe that God has endowed every race with its own distinct nativity, creativity and identity that can be brought to bear in this great crucible of humanity. We must understand it, embrace it and live by it.
Today, globalisation has dawned on us with the full complement of the technological and digital revolution that has made the world a global neighbourhood. ICT has ushered in the 4th industrial revolution and we are all part of this revolution. We are all citizens of this new and ever dynamic world of infinite possibilities. This revolution does not know tribe, tongue and colour.
The demands for better education, good health, better life and eradication of poverty and disease have become the living aspirations of every civilised nation. They are both the hopes and aspirations of today’s world. This is the universal truth that every race is a partaker and as I have said, must embrace. Why and how should we do this? How can we invest in this future that holds great promise for us all?
First, we all and certainly our diaspora must heal themselves of a slave mentality even in the midst of the contradictions we see around. We are no longer slaves, literally. There are debilitating social and economic conditions in every society, whether in Africa, Asia, Europe, America or Australia. We cannot call ourselves slaves of the society we live in. We must rid ourselves of that mentality that because our forefathers were once slaves, hence we are always slaves.
Our historical circumstances can no longer define us in today’s world. It is true that African leaders are worse off in the way they lead their people and the deplorable conditions in which they have left most of the African people since Independence. Leadership across most of Africa is most deplorable and uninspiring, and our people continue to suffer for this. In response, what have we done? We have made heroes of these bad leaders. They are the new kings we worship.
When our forebear kings sold us into slavery, our modern day political ‘lords’ took their place to oppress us. Even we ourselves continue to enslave our poor children in modern-day slavery and cheap labour of the Omo Odo practices that is so prevalent in our cities and communities. In Middle Eastern homes, we find our young girls trafficked and abused as domestic servants and slaves. This is the African predicament when the rest of the world is marching forward in the journey of development.
What does the future hold? What is this common future we should invest in? As I have said, it is the future we are all going to be part of no matter what we see or where we live today. For example, as the largest country colonised by Great Britain and the most populous black nation in the world, Nigeria is important to the world. But what are we doing about this strength? What are we doing about over 15 million out-of-school children?
What are we doing about over 70% of our population mostly children, youths and women unable to access health care? What are we doing about the welfare and future of the teeming and productive population that will make us the most populous country in the next 25-50 years next to China and India? How can we invest in the future with illiteracy and poverty?
In this era of rapid advances in technologies, we must find our niche. Only in the worlds technological highways can we find our new identity that racism took away. Only in technology can we reinvent our cultural heritage and identity in order to partake in the world’s new prosperity. The world where only the strength of your vision, not the colour of your skin can guarantee you a place among leaders. It is in this knowledge-intensive and technology-driven world that we are all connected. In this steadily shrinking world, we can be in more than one place at the same time, virtually.
Notwithstanding, all the imbalances and contradictions, it is evident that it is not the same world a century ago or 50 years ago, even 20 years ago. It is a brave new world where the descendants of slaves are occupying the commanding heights of the world’s economic and political powerhouse and where we are dreaming big dreams and seeing great visions everywhere we find ourselves.
I hereby call on all our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters who are in the diaspora to understand that they are not foreigners in the diaspora. After many generations in the UK, America and elsewhere, that is their home. Immigration will largely become artificial and the last attempt to separate one another. For the recent generation who have lived the most part of 30, 40, 50 years in the diaspora, it is unrealistic to call Nigeria your home. You have become part and parcel of the society with your children, your career and your contribution to that economy. You pay your tax, your mortgage, your bills, your retirement plan here and you have become acculturated. This is your home, though it may be away from home.
Nevertheless, it is your home, no matter the deep ties back home. It is important to accept that Nigeria is only your country of origin and no longer your home. This is why our shared humanity must prevail no matter where you live or the place you call home. This explains why our Nigerian and African leaders back home must begin to change with the changing global realities – investing in people especially the young population who holds the future for our countries and Continent.
These young ones are looking for those who will lead them to fulfil their God-given talents, leaders with the strength of character who will provide the enabling environment for the flourishing of the society. This future we talk about lies in the hands of this generation who are more than ever the emerging global citizens, who are devoid of prejudice and who sees or knows no boundaries and limitations to their dreams and what they can become. They are our greatest investment for the future. They are the gladiators and the real champions of the future. Let us educate them, not with hatred and prejudice but with love, culture and purpose for the good of humanity.
That is our own legacy for the common future. Ladies and gentlemen, for this cause that I have expressed in this keynote, you can see why this conversation on the imperatives of securing our common future in this rapidly changing information world particularly under the auspices of Commonwealth Africa is so germane and I am especially thankful to the organisers of this Summit and the honour of having me be part of this historic initiative. I bring the blessings of our great Ancestors and our Royal Institution.
Thank you all for listening to me. I remain your royal father.