As a primary school pupil in 1970, I was transferred to read Standard One at the Edward Wilmot Blyden primary school. Before its erasure, it occupied the corner piece between Broad Street and Oil Mill Street on Lagos Island. Nobody taught us about him. It was in adulthood that I came to know that the school was named after one of the greatest men the Black race ever produced. With European colonialism in full swing, Blyden (1832-1912)campaigned that Africa must unite. To achieve this, he argued that there was the need to return the diaspora to the continent. He came out to Liberia in 1850 where he authored books like : A Voice From Bleeding Africa (1856); A Vindication of the African Race; Being a Brief Examination of the Arguments in Favor of African Inferiority (1862); Africa for the Africans (1872); and Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race (1887) Although it was treason as far as the colonialists were concerned, but Blyden and other conscientious Africans were already agitating for self- government. These were the pioneers that gave life to Pan-Africanism.
The African people and Africa had been enslaved, brutalized, looted, dehumanized, balkanized and colonized, but the emerging Pan-Africanists were not weighed down by this reality; they were prophets who saw the future and spread the gospel.
The colonialists had suppressed African history and civilization including the fact that Western philosophy, education and civilization were derived from Africa; they had even decreed that we had no history and were in fact, inferior beings. But the writings of people like Oludah Equiano (1745-1797) had shattered such nonsense.
The Pan-Africanist Movement taught Africans to unite and uphold their dignity, and fundamental human rights including the right to govern themselves.
The pioneer Pan-Africanists inspired men like Martin Robinson Delany who coined the phrase “Africa for Africans” This slogan was later popularized by Marcus Garvey. He held that: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Garvey told the Black people: “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, for though others may free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.”
Whereas in 1884/85, thirteen European countries and the United States had gather in Berlin to butcher and parcel out Africa as a booty, barely fifty five years later, the Pan-Africanists convened the first Pan-African Conference which held in London. The spirit behind this 1900 conference was Henry Sylvester Williams. Follow up conferences were organized by W.E.B. Du Bois.
Although we were not taught about Blyden in primary school, but we were taught about another great Pan-Africanist, Dr. James Kwegyir Aggrey from Ghana. We memorized his famous statement: “I am proud of my colour, whoever is not proud of his colour is not fit to live.” He mentored Kwame Nkrumah, perhaps the greatest all-round leader Africa has ever produced. The second Nkrumah mentor was Nnamdi Azikiwe the Nigerian Pan-Africanist whose advocacy frightened the British colonialists so much that they could not trust him returning to Nigeria, so he berthed in Accra where he ran ‘ The African Morning Post’. Nkrumah said the articles written in the newspaper by Azikiwe had fired his enthusiasm for nationalist struggles so much that he decided to follow his footsteps. It was Azikiwe who encouraged Nkrumah to leave his teaching job for further studies in America.
Nkrumah who had said the independence of Ghana was meaningless without the independence of all Africa, had argued in 1956 that the task of African liberators cannot be done “until the last vestiges of colonialism have been swept from Africa” He championed not just the establishment of the Organisation of Africa Unity (Now the African Union) but also argued that the best option for the continent is a union government which: “should be in charge of economic development, defence and foreign policy, while other government functions would continue to be discharged by the existing states grouped, in federal fashion, within a gigantic central political organization.”
The May 25, 1963 date the OAU was established has become known as Africa Day. Like Nkrumah, generations of African youths were mentored and taught to think not just about their individual countries but the entire continent and diaspora. Many of these radical Pan-Africanists were scattered across Nigeria. Having influenced the General Murtala Mohammed government in 1975 to adopt a Pan-Africanist foreign policy with Africa as its centre piece, these radicals influenced streams of Nigerian students.
The Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) and Bayero University Kano had radicals like Bala Usman and Patrick Wilmot. But they produced more radical graduates like Yahya Hashim, Rauf Mustapha, Ntiem Kungwai and Jibril “Jibo” Ibrahim who mentored lots of students. They saw the country as one platform, and their influence spread across.
The radical couple, Edwin and Bene Madunagu had moved from the University of Lagos to the University of Calabar where they mentored lots of students. Benin and its students were mentored by people like the trade unionist and dramatist, Jonathan Ihonde and Festus Iyayi the management lecturer and novelist, and there was T.U Nwala in Nsukka.
The University of Ife (Now OAU) I attended had a large tribe of radical lecturers led by Dr. Segun Osoba who mentored generations. Another centre was Ibadan where there were lecturers for whom, to paraphrase Nelson Mandela, the Struggle was their life. They included Ola Oni, Omafumi Onoge and Bade Onimode. Comrade Laoye Sanda was also mentoring students in the Polytechnic, Ibadan.
When in 1978, the campuses in the country erupted with student protests the government descended on Ibadan and flushed out all these lecturers. However, their mentees rose to their defence so strongly that they were recalled to their jobs.
One of such mentees was Rauf Aregbesola, an Engineering student who two years earlier, had been admitted into the Polytechnic. He was Speaker of the students parliament, a leader of the Marxist Youth Movement and President of the Black Nationalist Movement (BNM) He mentored my contemporaries in the movement including the unforgettable Kunle Bakare and human rights lawyer, Femi Aborishade. The influence of Aregbesola and other Pan-Africanists in Ibadan also spread to other campuses including Ife.
Comrade Ola Oni had in the Second Republic broken from the mainstream radical movement to advocate that revolutionaries should participate in electoral politics. This was known as ENTRYISM. Aregbesola has been the most successful of that concept’s advocates; he has spent two terms as the Governor of Osun State. A number of us who were students in the late 1970s and early 1980s owe people like Aregbesola our political and Pan-Africanist consciousness.
Coincidentally, he was, like the OAU/AU, born on May 25. So tomorrow, as the Africa Day is celebrated, so will Aregbesola’s birthday. Congratulations.