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Different Different Slavery

AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD TURKIA

In the song, Yellow Fever, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti talks about different kinds of fever. His focus however, was on Yellow Fever. Not the illness but what happens to African women who bleach their skin.

Na you go catch am yourself
Na your money go do am for you

He describes bleaching as a sickness, a kind of yellow fever which you spend your own money to bring upon yourself. Today, we are witnessing different kinds of slavery. And just like Fela said about yellow fever, there is also a kind of slavery which is self-inflicted. You spend your money to bring it upon yourself.

History tells us that Britain passed the Abolition of Slave Trade Act in 1807. That makes it 210 years ago by 2017. Other countries followed suit, including Spain which abolished slavery in 1811. The United States claimed to have ended it much earlier. Even though it passed legislation banning the slave trade in 1808, slavery didn’t officially end until 1865 when the 13th Amendment to the constitution was ratified. The slave auction reported in Libya has rightly drawn global condemnation because according to history, the slave trade ended centuries ago. But that is history. Did the slave trade really end? The reality is simply the unpalatable truth that the slave trade never really ended. It has continued till this day. It is the way and manner of the trade that has changed.

In 2011, CNN launched a campaign titled The Freedom Project. The aim of that campaign was to end modern day slavery and human trafficking. The campaign certainly raised awareness about the various forms of slavery going on around us and encouraged governments and other authorities to take action. In Nigeria, it is still common for people to send under-aged girls to the cities as domestic servants. Those who arrange these housemaids get paid for their services. In many cases, monthly wages are paid directly to the parents, guardians or traffickers of these innocent young people. This is yet another form of slavery.

What I find most disturbing however, is our slave mentality in this country. Decades after we gained independence as a country, we have incorrigibly resolved to remain slaves. The Libya story is just another episode in a never ending submission to wilful slavery. When it was a lot easier to obtain visas to the United States and the United Kingdom, many people gave up everything they had here and went abroad in search of a better life. It was not the option reserved for only the poorest of the poor. Many gave up good jobs and bright prospects to journey into an illusory life of comfort, only to meet a different unpleasant reality and still end up as slaves. The worst kind of slavery is when you don’t even realize you are a slave. Those who spend many frustrating years abroad in search of the elusive Golden Fleece eventually realize their mistake, but never admit it. Rather they amplify the negatives about our country as a way of justifying their decision to flee. This is why Nigerians abroad are a major contributor to our negative image abroad. The most negative jokes about this country are gleefully broadcast by them. We are the leading detractors of our own country, because in our minds the slave mentality reigns supreme. We can blame our governments for everything, from now till eternity. But I do not know of any country whose people are always completely satisfied with the government. We can blame poverty and hopelessness which seem to pervade our country but many of us go abroad and still grapple with poverty.

Several decades of national mismanagement has progressively denied our people any measure of national pride and self-sufficiency. While other nations have problems too, their nationals don’t condemn their countries broad like our people do. Despite the extreme levels of poverty in India, their people here don’t say negative things about their country. At least, not to our hearing. I was jokingly asked one of them ‘How come India has never qualified for the World Cup?’ His response, ‘Muyiwa, you know I never ask you such questions about your country?’ End of discussion.

When President Buhari was a Military Head of State between 1983 and 1985, he launched an advertising campaign to discourage Nigerians from ‘checking out’. The advert featured veteran actor Enebeli Elebuwa who played the role of Andrew, a guy who wanted to check out of the country because he was tired of ‘no light, no water, no good roads…’ In that advert, Andrew was advised to stay back and join hands with other Nigerians to salvage our nation. Since then, no government has embarked on a similar campaign. It is surprising that despite the prevalence of Nigerian prostitutes in Italy, especially in the 2000s, governments in Edo State didn’t embark on massive campaigns to discourage that industry. I was a regular visitor to Italy in those years and I was always ashamed as a Nigerian to see these young women on the streets. It was slavery, but our governments didn’t seem to care. I would be ashamed to be leader in a country with such an embarrassing image abroad. And why our leaders have such disdain for the people they govern remains a big puzzle to me.

While we should score our governments low on performance and in their efforts to lift our people out of poverty, we should also acknowledge our native inferiority complex and slave mentality and embark on national re orientation. Despite the seeming determination of these people to ‘check out’ we must discourage them. Many of them think life is all rosy and nice out there, because those who are there, usually cover up the hardships they face. They pretend to be enjoying over there. This is why many back home are deceived. While the ‘traffickers’ (many of them say they’re helpers not traffickers), could easily arrange visas in years past, improved security measures (due to the rise in terrorism), biometrics and all, have made it extremely difficult to arrange visas as was done in the past. This is why many take the perilous voyage by sea, and devise all sorts of labyrinthine routes just to get to Europe. Our youths should be discouraged from paying their way into wilful slavery, while our governments embark on massive youth empowerment programs as well as orientation campaigns.

•Muyiwa Kayode is CEO at USP Brand Management and author, The Seven Dimensions of Branding. Brand Nation is a platform for promoting national development based on the universal principles of branding.



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