“Asari: If slavery were glamorous”

It is not today that Nigerians began to regret the abolition of slave trade. When an extraordinarily stupid opinion is expressed on social media, you would often see people regretting abolition. The holder of such opinion, if the ugly trade was still in vogue, would be sold outright. A man, in one of such outrages against public stupidity, was valued at a good bottle of whisky. Another would have gone for a head of tobacco. The brutal wisdom running through this line of reasoning is that the transatlantic slave trade enabled a community get rid of its worthless and senseless sons. It was not altogether bad after all.

Asari Dukubo, at present, is the loudest jester in President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s court. In his remarkable exertion for recognition, Asari has been over-passing himself, to borrow from Warri boys. After a visit to Tinubu, he ensconced himself and launched an unbridled tirade against Nigeria’s military. He charged the army with stealing oil and other high crimes. Asari took credit for the return of peace to the Kaduna Highway. A friend in whose company I watched that “press briefing” had laughingly wondered if Asari is angling to be appointed head of the Nigerian army. You better not laugh this off.

Asari has always been a loose cannon but the sidelining he suffered under former President Muhammadu Buhari may well have gotten the better of him. He has shown super-interesting contradictions and done shameless about-faces, typical only of men who are a little queer in the head. In a viral video, now very popular among Nigerian comedians, he opined that Biafra was the only choice for Southerners. It was not long before he tried to steal the leadership of IPOB. The resistance he met would again make him renounce his citizenship of Biafra. The moment Tinubu was announced flag-bearer for the APC, Asari got a new lease of life. He was not only prepared to be friends with the government, he bent over backwards, unashamedly ingratiating himself to Tinubu. Hindsight compels him to let go of the offensive. The old gimmick of badgering the federal government and threatening to burn down the Niger Delta has demonstrably ceased to be effective. Bum-sucking is the new magical trick.

And how best do you announce your loyalty to the Nigerian power? Certainly, by showing thorough-going contempt for the Igbo. Asari, of all the political jobbers trying to deploy this trick, has been the nastiest and the least intelligent. Before the inauguration of the president and his vice, Asari went to Abuja with a collection of famished urchins, purportedly to fight off some Igbo people who were preparing to disrupt the ceremony. The purpose of this opinion is not to chronicle Asari’s contradictions and half-insane eccentricities. You should nevertheless be worried that such a character gets audience at the highest level of government. It is a moral disgrace.

Now to my story. It is curious how Africans are in the habit of taking pride in olden-times atrocities.They gleefully own them as part of the glorious exploits of their illustrious ancestors. Loud-mouthed Asari, I would come to this, would be over the moon if it is historically accurate that his ancestors sold human beings during the slave trade. As bad luck would have it for him, it is the other way. Here, in taking pride in evil, he does not stand alone.

The other time, Joe Igbokwe, waxing belligerent against his IPOB traducers boasted that he belongs to a village in Nnewi which says to others; “Get out, you are Osu,” and threw his head sideways, like a proud turkey. I remember that I was the only one who called for outrage. Reno Omokri peddled a pseudo, error-ridden, grossly inaccurate, and intentionally dishonest history where he said his Itsekiri people sold Igbo during slave trade. Behind the veneer of pseudo intellectualism, was a doubly criminal attempt to take pride in slavery. This attitude among seemingly educated Africans is despicable. You don’t want to think of what would happen if a German, as an example, openly takes pride in what Hitler did, or a Briton in the looting and carnage committed by the British Empire all over the world.

I have read many reactions to Asari’s preposterous rambling. An excavated old interview of his showed him freely confessing that his great grand father or suchlike ancestor was sold by Arochukwu slave-dealers. I was disappointed that all the opinions were united in rather strenuously trying to prove that Asari is a descendant of slaves. One columnist called him a second-class slave, since his great grand father was not sold by a free a man, but by a man who was himself a slave. In all, I did not see any of them condemn slavery. They were all fighting for the place of their fathers in infamy.

This is no longer the tradition across the world and for good reasons. Christopher Hitchens told a story of how he was forced to stop using the word, “niggardly.” He had used it in an academic conference, and as he said, “It hung in the air.” He would subsequently go for its synonyms like parsimony, illiberal or stingy. Scholars and writers no longer use the word, “Nigger.” When it is completely impossible to avoid, it is represented as the “N-Word.” The word, modern wisdom judges, is offensive and insensitive. It is redolent of the dark time in human history when innocent black people were enslaved and tortuously labored by white owners.

Two centuries ago, or even later, this caution was not necessary. Writers freely used these historically poignant words. They even called people savages, barbarians or heathens. A work of Joseph Conrad, the chapter three of which has been called the summit of English prose by academic assessors was titled; “The Nigger of Narcisus.”When it was to be republished in America, the publishers struck out the original title. The world is clamping down on practices and expressions which appear to honor memories of old injustices. If your ancestors enslaved people, you should be ashamed and sorry, not chest-beatingly proud.

When the monuments of Robert Lee and Stonewall Jackson, two notable Confederate Generals who fought to keep slavery in America were being thrown down and removed from public places, white supremacists kicked viciously. They bemoaned it as an attack on the history of America. Donald Trump was in the vanguard of the protest to keep the odious legacies of slavery. But the question which intelligent people asked was why monuments should be built in honour of remorseless slave-dealers. As a storm brewed, a descendant of Robert Lee spoke to the media and admitted that his ancestor was on the wrong side of history. “We are not proud of him,” he said, almost teary. In this important journey to a more just world, victims of historical injustice need empathy and reparation where necessary, not further inferiorisation. No friend of progress and education should take pride in acts which amounted to man’s inhumanity to man. Asari deserves our empathy.

Barrister Ezugwu Okike writes via [email protected]