Agonies of Nigerian slaves

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 8 April 2007

Rosemary is a 19-year-old Nigerian girl. At the bicentenary celebration of the abolition of slave trade in Cardiff on Sunday, 25 March, there was an account of her sorrowful life in what one may call a semi jungle. The story, in case you have not heard, was that she ran away from her stepmother on her 18th birthday. The woman had beaten her and burnt her thighs with hot iron for refusing to be circumcised.

Somehow, Rosemary (not her real name) found herself doing some menial jobs at a brothel just to survive. It was there she met a man who promised to send her to the UK to study and do some part-time work. She did get to the UK on a false passport. And she was forced to live with two men and a woman in a house. As she put it, “They made me watch pornographic films, telling me that’s why I was here. They raped me again and again and I was kept locked in a room 24 hours a day. I had to have sex with five to 10 men everyday, in the bed I slept in at night. If I disagreed or tried to refuse, they beat me up.” Rosemary managed to escape and went to the police. Now, she is free. But this freedom is punctuated by depression, fear, nightmares and hallucinations.

Thousands of young women from Africa and some other developing countries go through similar experiences every year. At the earlier-mentioned event to mark the abolition of slave trade, the plights of these women were highlighted. Saddened, the Chairperson of the African Community Centre, Wales, Mrs Uzo Iwobi, urged everybody to join hands and stamp out modern day slavery in all its ramifications. The First Minister for Wales, Mr Rhodri Morgan, implored his audience to guard against complacency and pledge their support to promoting equality, justice and dignity among all people. Some other government functionaries in the UK added their voices in condemning slavery in every form. One Toyin Agbetu spiced the celebrations with some comic relief. He told the Queen at a service at Westminster Abbey on 27 March to be ashamed of herself, and asked Prime Minister Tony Blair to apologise on behalf of their ancestors.

These are all good and commendable. But while we condemn and point a finger at some real and perceived slave masters, we must also realise that the other four fingers are pointing at us. In many parts of Igboland, for instance, some people treat their fellow citizens as Osu (outcast). These segregationists may not have used iron chains and horsewhips. But by their discriminatory attitude, they have chained and whipped the souls of their victims. These souls cry to heaven everyday for help.

Besides, there are employers who exploit the unemployment situation in the country to exploit their workers. Surely, many of them are facing economic difficulties because of the downturn in the economy. But does that justify the rape on workers rights as we witness in Nigeria today? Why will somebody work for six months or even one year in some cases without receiving any salary?

We also live in an age of ethnic and religious bondage. Or how else does one describe the pupils who killed an innocent teacher in Gombe on the flimsy excuse that she desecrated the Quran? They are nothing but slaves living in bondage. They sold their conscience, sold any human feeling in them and murdered Oluwatoyin Olusesan because she tried to stop them from cheating in an exam. In spite of the frequency of this type of zealotry in the North, the government has not done much to protect innocent citizens who live in constant fear in that part of the country.

In any case, most government functionaries don‘t seem to be bothered. All they are after now is to win elections. They woo voters with the promise of giving them fish, but eventually, they end up giving them scorpions. Nigeria has been too unfortunate to have this type of leaders in its history as a nation. And the hope of having a redeemer to set things right appears forlorn. A people who cannot afford two meals a day; a people who do not have access to potable water; citizens who die daily on death traps called roads are in worse form of slavery.

The landlord who arbitrarily increases house rent is a modern day slave master. In major cities such as Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt, these shylocks make their houses unaffordable to a good number of people. Consequently, some tenants live under inhuman conditions in what Nigerians call face-me-I-face-you apartments. Some sleep under bridges. This, clearly, is living in bondage.

Also living in bondage are those housemaids who risk their lives everyday hawking in our streets. The housewives who send such girls out but send their own children to school are slavers. In advanced societies, such women usually face the full wrath of the law. Just for hitting her maid on the head with a mobile phone, supermodel, Naomi Campbell, was sentenced to a five-day community service in New York recently.

No less a slaver is a father who forces his under-aged daughter to marry a man old enough to be her father. This is common in most parts of Northern Nigeria. Some of these girls agonise everyday because they don’t have anybody to fight for them. Some end up having such diseases as vesico vaginal fistula. The society that forces this marriage on them later abandons them to their fate. One can cite many other examples.

The fact is that living in Nigeria today, for the majority of the people, has become a daily experience in slavery. For the corrupt ruling class, however, things are getting better. As the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, reportedly put it, “They (corrupt politicians) have private jets and houses all over the world. The system is working for them to remain there and every one of us is a slave.”

But, we have a choice to disentangle ourselves from this chain of slavery. We can do this by moving against every form of injustice we see around us. Recently, the UK media reported the story of a 29-year-old woman who fell off a garage roof after a night of binge drinking. Anna Mayers, who sustained injuries from the fall, decided that the best way to get justice was to sue her landlords. According to her, they should have warned her not to dance on the roof after drinking. This, perhaps, is laughable and amounts to taking freedom too far. But if Nigerians could imbibe some lessons in Mayers’ legal action in their dealings with their oppressors, things will surely get better.

Enjoy your Easter!

1 Comment »

  1. 1

    Hi Casmir,
    I’d heard about that girl’s story (hey! I suppose SHE refused to be EXCISED) and many others – often coming from east Europe. Medias talk every day of similar stories, but nothing’s up yet to stop this.

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