Monday Column By Emmanuel Yawe
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I have always given America the credit for my early education. The Reformed Church of North America established the Primary and Secondary schools I attended. As a result, all my life I attended private schools until I got admission to the government owned University at Ibadan, the first university in Nigeria and considered the best up to date. Miss Geraldine Vandenberg, the American Principal at the American funded and managed Bristow Secondary School Gboko which I attended left a permanent mark on her students.
“Shame on you” was the ultimate punishment you could get from her. Managing a school of youthful boys and girls that we were was a tasking job for her. Often we fell out of line and broke the laws that were designed to regulate our lives. At Bristow there was a hierarchy of punishments for offenders. The lowest was for the offender to be made to do some menial jobs – clean toilets, cut grass/trees etc; if you still went ahead to commit a more serious offence, you were flogged on the buttocks with a cane in the Assembly Hall in full glare of the students. “Shame on you” only came as the punishment of the last resort.
You were summoned to the Principals office, subjected to a long sermon on how the offence or offences you committed qualified you for Hell fire on Judgment day. The Principal would then scream “shame on you” and break down and cry profusely. This queer punishment rarely happened but what every student at Bristow dreaded was that it should happen to him/her. It was a form of a curse on students who did not turn a new leaf even after the ordeal of watching an old woman cry. They have never amounted to anything in life. I will not mention names.
Even at the University of Ibadan, the teacher that made the biggest impression of political science students at the time, Dr Joseph Richards was an African American. Young at the time but very erudite, he managed to make his mark in a star studded political science department of the university, made up of intellectual giants, the likes of Billy J. Dudley and Bolaji Akinyemi. It is little wonder that he wrote a much acclaimed book on Prebendal politics in Nigerian soon on leaving Ibadan and has been a Professor at the Jimmy Carter Foundation.
It was not only in my little world that America was so much admired. All over the Africa continent, America was admired even by those the country wrongly considered adversaries. Look at the great Nelson Mandela, considered a Communist and therefore an adversary of America and the West in the cold war era. At his Rivonia trial in 1964 that led to his being incarcerated for twenty seven years, he said “The American Congress, the countries concept of separation of powers, as well as the independence of its judiciary, arouses sentiments of admiration in me”.
I share Nelson Mandela’s sentiments today. As the mob descended on the US Congress (which he expressly admired in that speech) with blood and fire trailing them on January 6 2021, I felt sad. But even then I agreed with one of the anarchists on that expedition. He told the BBC at the venue of the bloody invasion that their mission was to carry out a revolution to take their country back and that their revolution was like the American Revolutionary War (1775 – 1783). He was honest enough to confess that what they embarked on was a disorderly thing which could not be achieved by law and order.
The problem with America is that after they revolted against the British and established the first modern constitutional liberal democracy in the world, it has become the world’s biggest revisionist country and stumbling block to new ideas. At their declaration of independence, those five pot smoking renegades rightly declared that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The American civil war of 1861 – 1865 occurred because after making this pious declaration in 1776 and going ahead to fight and defeat the British, America continued to be the greatest slave holding nation in the world. Some patriots felt this was contradictory – to make loud declarations on the equality of man and continue to hold black men as slaves. This contradiction was not resolved until America went into a civil war that remains the central issue in the historical consciousness of the country.
Today, there is no other issue that causes so many problems in America as much as the racial hatred against African Americans. Majority of white Americans still do not just understand why the people they used to hold as slaves not too long ago should raise their profiles, become law makers, judges and even governors and for once a President. For when America was demoralized and broke, they found a fresher Senator, an orator who moved the nation’s morale with speeches and got its economy on its feet in four short years. Immediately Barak Obama did that, Donald Trump started questioning his American citizenship. Thus the old hatred against blacks was reborn.
The problem in America today is not that Donald Trump has been voted out of office freely and squarely in an election he disputes without evidence. The problem is that America allowed a man who had evidence of racial bigotry in his DNA to take over the highest office in the land during which he bullied and intimidated many people into his line of thinking. His views on black men all over the world, before he was elected in 2015 should have convinced Americans that this was another Adolf Hitler in the making. What he did in four years was to try and recreate the atmosphere in the US that allowed white men to treat black men on the streets as game by lynching them publicly.
We are just praying that he does not use the few days he has in office to start another crisis that will plunge the world into an avoidable war and another nuclear holocaust. The shame he has brought to America should be enough for him.