L-R: Mrs. Christie Ade Ajayi, Vice Chancellor University of Lagos, Prof. Rahamon A. Bello, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Vice Chancellor University of West Indies, Prof. Hilary Beckles, during the inaugural J.F. Ade.Ajayi Memorial Lecture titled, ‘History and the Pan Africa Nation’ held at UNILAG’s Main Auditorium, Akoka, Lagos…recently

With the concerted efforts of the governments of the Caribbean countries, the push for reparation in Africa is gradually gaining momentum, writes Ugo Aliogo and Chidinma Okonkwo

In the midst of the myriads of challenges facing the continent of Africa, reparation struggles is one of the vital issues which has not been given the full attention by government of African States. For centuries, Africa has faced various forms of deprivations, resulting from slavery, colonialism, and neo-colonialism.

The human and material resources of the continent have been the pillaging field of the West. Political commentators have viewed reparation as an issue that is at the heart of social harmony and justice essential for man’s survival. Some commentators feel that the issue has continuously been slept under the carpet by government of nations and the African Union (AU). While others are optimistic that the issue is receiving commendable attention despite some hindrances.

At the JF Ade Ajayi Memorial Lecture held in Lagos at the University of Lagos recently with the theme; ‘History and the Pan Africa Nation’, the issue of reparation was brought to the front burner of debate. Stakeholders at the lecture were quite optimistic that the reparation struggles were receiving remarkable progress, but much concerted efforts need to be put in place.

Speaking at the lecture, the Vice Chancellor of University of West Indies, Prof. Hilary Beckles, stated that the reparation struggle is making headway on a global scale, adding that in the Caribbeans, they people are now in the vanguard of reparation, and the government has established reparation commissions to carry out national public education and to organise historical information in order to make a compelling case.

He explained that currently, they have completed their work and submitted the findings to the government, stressing that the government is in a vintage position to make a claim to the governments of Europe on the issue. “The government of the Caribbean has written formerly to the governments of Europe calling for a summit to discuss the crimes that have been committed against the African people in the Caribbean and Africa.”

Beckles expressed confidence that as advocates of the reparation struggles, they will not relent in pushing the boundaries, adding that they are expecting the government of Africa to come onboard, in spite of the divided stance of African governments over the issue.

He said African leaders are not sure what position to adopt on an issue which has caused tremendous damage on the continent’s human and natural resources, “Nigeria was the largest exporter of people, who were carried across the Atlantic Ocean. Therefore Nigeria was a country that was ravaged and victimised by this crime.”

As Africa’s Big Brother, Nigeria is expected to play a lead role in arguing the case for the black continent at the United Nations, but she has not fulfilled this mission yet, “reparation is an issue that ought to be settled in a diplomatic fashion. United Nations has to provide the leadership; it will make a huge difference, so in the Caribbeans we are waiting on Africa and Nigeria leadership,” espoused the Vice-Chancellor.

Despite being a small cluster of nations, the Caribbeans has played its part in persuading the UN to declare the next 10 years as the decade for Africa descendant people. The effort took a lot of global diplomacy to announce. In this decade, one of the objectives is that advocates of reparation are pushing for global justice for the African people for the crimes committed during the era of Transatlantic Slave Trade.

“Brazil has now come onboard and established a reparation commission. The U.S. has also established a national reparation commission. We are waiting on Nigeria and African government to come onboard regarding this issue.” Beckles noted.

Beckles added that there is an alliance between North America, the Africa America, the Caribbeans, Brazil and the Africa, expressing optimism that there will be a global transformation, “the Europeans believe that they can treat the Caribbeans in a certain disrespectful way because we are small countries and we don’t have the global power on the international community.”

Despite their (Caribbean countries) efforts to push to work as a united front on the issue before the global community, Beckles explained that they have received lots of disappointments from government of West African countries and Nigeria especially, in the area of support and commitment.

He said: “In 2001 in Durban, South Africa, Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo did not support us. Also most of the government of West African countries did not support us as well. We felt wounded that the governments of Africa were supporting the European nations, instead of pitching tent with us. In the Diaspora, we believe that we have played an important role in the liberation of Africa. When African countries were fighting for their independence in the 50s, we played a vital role through our intellectuals, musicians, and political leaders.

“We fought the apartheid regime, thousands of people from the Caribbeans died fighting the liberation struggles in Southern Africa, though the Cubans were in the majority, but there were soldiers from other countries. But to organise the Cubans to fight in order to bring down apartheid, the Caribbeans had to be mobilised to enable those soldiers travel across the Atlantic Ocean and reach Southern Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Namibia.

“For the last 60 years, before the days of Marcus Garvey, who started the process of Africa liberation struggle in an organised way, we have been fighting for the liberation of Africa and now we have called on the African governments to support us and our political struggles for reparation. We were disappointed that we didn’t get the necessary support from the government of African countries, but the citizens of Ghana and Nigeria were supporting us.

“We had full support from the academics, trade unions movement and civil society organisations in Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, and Zimbabwe. They were fully in support, but the government was not. It was a case where the people of Africa and West Africa were on different pages. Though, we were disappointed that we could not get government support. But it was cheering to know that the people were with us. We are hoping that the government and the people will join together to support us.”

When the issue of reparation struggles were brought before African leaders, a number of arguments were raised, regardless of efforts to persuade the governments to agree to those positions, President Obasanjo at that time expressed concerns that the reparation issue would create a policy of confrontation with the West, therefore, he didn’t wish to be part of the confrontation issue. Though they tried to convince him that reparation is not about confrontation; rather it is about using the diplomatic channel that is available to you, since the UN was concerned about dialogue and diplomacy.”

He added: “We tried to talk to the African governments that the history has been confronted and addressed, there was a view that many of the African countries were negotiating with International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan and there were concerns that if they have taken stance in support of reparation they will be blackmailed by the IMF and the World Bank.

“It was clear to us that many of the African countries were being intimidated by the IMF and the World Bank. There was no doubt that IMF was involved in the intimidation of Senegal because Senegal was negotiating with World Bank for loans. The important thing is for us to recognise that many of the governments of African countries were being intimidated by the IMF and the World Bank.

“Since Durban, we have been able to move the matter unto the agenda of the AU. We have urged the AU that they must reverse their position on the issue, because what was done to the people of Africa and the Caribbeans was wrong. We have told them that they need to reverse their position. The matter has come to the AU and they have given us their support. The AU has stated that they will treat the Diaspora as the zone of Africa and in principle they are in support of reparation.
“The government of Gambia has stated that they will be the champions of reparation movement in Africa. I am involved in negotiations across Africa to persuade many African countries to take a stronger position and to use the AU as a platform to strengthen the case. Also, move towards the United Nations General Assembly.

“We already have the platform in the UN General Assembly because they have endorsed the two things; slavery and slave trade which were crimes against humanity. The UN has also endorsed the next decade to look at the damages done to African people as a result of these crimes. Therefore the United Nations has done what it can do, it is left for us to do the rest.”

In another development, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, lauded the commitment of the African Union (AU) to continue the fight against corruption in the continent, while calling on Africa leaders to support the anti-corruption war.
Osinbajo stated that the AU has been playing a leadership role in its efforts to curb illicit financial flaws and corruption, adding that the organisation has displayed a strong commitment to promoting transparency and anti-corruption campaigns in the continent.

The Vice President charged African leaders to understand their responsibilities and the needs of their people in the rural communities, adding that the administration of the President Muhammadu Buhari is highly committed to tackling corruption in the country and it will not relent in its efforts.

“In addition to the AU’s convention of preventing and combating corruption, however the fight against corruption in Nigeria must continue. The challenges before us as a nation are the insurgency in the North-east and the environmental challenge in the Niger Delta. Over two million people are internally displaced in the North, and Borno State has over 49,000 people with over N10 billion lost due to the insurgency. Considering the amount of money voted into the Niger Delta region in the past 16 years, we will ensure that the region earns higher than most African states. It is time for the AU to correct and characterise corruption as a crime against humanity,” he stated.

Osinbajo lauded the legacies of the late Prof. Ajayi, stressing that he was an epitome of hard work, uprightness and selflessness, while urging the public to emulate the values of Ajayi in their service to the nation.