Home Africa REMINISCENCES: FOLLOWING IN THEIR FOORSTEPS, MEET THE NIGERAN IGBO MAN WHO...

REMINISCENCES: FOLLOWING IN THEIR FOORSTEPS, MEET THE NIGERAN IGBO MAN WHO ALMOST BECAME PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA

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Nigeria has a brilliant record with regard to decolonization and democratization of colonies of foreign nations in Africa.  The feverish struggle by the then newly educated elites in Africa for the management of the affairs of African nations by Africans earned several African countries independence from their colonial masters shortly before and until about 1960, which has been described as the “Year of Africa.”  Colonialism was finally demolished in the continent with Namibia, the last colony in Africa gained independence on March 21, 1990. South Africa followed suit in 1994, with the freedom granted Nelson Mandela, who became the first black personality to rule the country. If the contributions of nations to decolonization, democratization, global peace, stability and development count as the major yardsticks for according nations their due recognition at the global level, then Nigeria should have no problems with her attempts to represent Africa, as one of the Permanent Member on the United Nations Security Council. Similarly, there should be nothing like xenophobia in South Africa, given Nigeria’s brilliant efforts and literally chasing Britain out of South Africa.

THE FATHER OF PAN-AFRICANISM: EDWARD WILMOT BLYDEN (1832-1912)

The fire of nationalism resulted in a feverish struggle for the “control of our own affairs by ourselves” with a stiff opposition to colonial rule. Brilliant and spirited moves were made by the early African nationalists to free their countries from the shackles of colonialism. Modernization and the swiftness with which the world changes, coupled with the exposure of the earliest nationalists brought about increased awareness on the part of Africans. Largely, it is not known that the personality recorded in history as the FATHER OF PAN-AFRICANISM was a Nigerian. He was Edward Wilmot Blyden, who lived from 1832-1912, a has been described as a foremost African intellectual of the 19th century. He had his roots in Iboland of Nigeria, thus making him one of the first generation of slaves whose parents were captured and forcibly transported abroad to develop foreign nations. Records of the Caribbean Radio Network indicate that: ‘’Blyden was born in the Virgin Islands in the West Indies as a descendant of Ibo slaves from Nigeria. He found his way back to Liberia in the 1800s as became a strong Pan Africanist and cultural nationalist. A gifted student, Blyden was not permitted to enroll in a Theological College in the United States; but was in 1858 ordained a priest of the Presbyterian church in Liberia after resettling in the country in 1850. While in Liberia, in which he sojourned for more than 30 years, he became highly visible and influential and served as the Liberian Commissioner to Britain and the United States, with the huge responsibility of inviting Africans in the Diaspora back home to their countries.  He also served as Liberia’s envoy to France.  where he was at various times a Presbyterian minister, a newspaper editor, a professor of classics, President of Liberia College, Ambassador to Great Britain, Minister of the Interior, and Secretary of State. Blyden was so much in reckoning that he vied to become president of Liberia in 1885; but was unsuccessful.

Blyden had distinguished outings in various careers. He first set his feet on the soil of his native country, Nigeria, in 1890; and visited again four years later in 1894. Between 1896-1897, Blyden worked as Agent of Native Affairs, Lagos, Nigeria. Edward Blyden’s contributions to societal development was also felt in Sierra Leone, residing in Freetown where he worked from1906-1912, before his retirement. The compilation cited earlier states that Blyden ‘’campaigned against the indiscriminate adoption of European culture. ‘’He told the Krios that they were “de-Africanized,” scolded them for holding themselves aloof from the upcountry peoples; and advised them to remember always that “you are Africans.”  Blyden’s sensitization of the people led Sierra Leo to adopt African names, and even to emulate traditional African dress. In particular, he directed his campaign at Krio people, who are descendants of freed African American and West Indian slaves, who are in significant minority. As early as 1872, Blyden called for an independent West African University to be run solely by Africans, teaching African languages, cultures, and values. Blyden urged the British to allow Africans more autonomy in political and church matters and argued against the imposition of European culture.

Easily one of the best attributes of Blyden is his description as: ‘’one of the most original thinkers of his time, and although some of his ideas seem archaic today, he was a major force for the defence of Africans and of black civilization. Blyden looked forward to the rise of an independent West African nation, and he encouraged British colonial efforts as a means of uniting this vast area. At the same time, Blyden regarded Africans as having a unique “personality” and a distinctive culture equal to, but different from, that of Europeans.’’