Just a few days ago, I recalled that it was quite a number of Novembers ago that I was called to the Bar to practice as a solicitor and Barrister of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Studying and practising law in Nigeria is quite a unique and often bizarre experience. Our insistence on speaking Latin in our Nigerian English accents, the wearing of a pound of horsehair over our very contrastingly dark afros, while being weighed down by a kilo of black clothing as we swelter in 35 degrees Celsius heat… these are just some of the practices that make legal practice in Nigeria seem out of kilter with the realities on the ground.
Preface: I have been trying to get this published on one of the university’s pages for a while. As you can see from the text, I wrote it over a year ago. I have decided to publish it on the blog for a couple of reasons. One of which is this: the EHRC’s report (Tackling racial harassment: universities challenged) came out quite recently. It misses the opportunity to dig down into exactly what constitutes institutional/systematic racism and how that manifests. The University of Bristol has also released a response to the report. This post, the EHRC’s report and the response should also be read in conjunction with my earlier post exploring how and why universities in the Global North should acknowledge and act in the face of evidence of their entanglement with the history of the trade in enslaved persons and imperialism. All the above should also be read in conjunction with the university of Bristol’s own pages as to how that history is being acknowledged (it is estimated that 85% of the wealth used to found the University depended on the coerced labour of enslaved people). It seems at the moment that the content and focus of the EHRC report (i.e. racial ‘harassment’) is being considered something separate from that history.
On the 8th of June 2019, we held the 2nd annual conference of Forever Africa Conference and Events [FACE 2019] at the university of Bristol. The theme of the conference was Building the Pan-African Inspired Multiversity. A short vision statement can be found here. The gist of the vision is that the Pan-African inspired multiversity appreciates that the particular history, experience and intellectual thought of Africans and people of African descent are necessary and essential to creating a different world. The outcome document from the conference is forthcoming. However, at this time I would like to share the opening address.
It’s the middle of UK Black History Month and I am returning from an extended blogging break. To be honest, it was not my intention to take this much time away from blogging. I have always loved to write, and the freedom blogging gives me in what and how I return is in itself reward enough for blogging. And people actually read and cite what I write?!!! I am beyond blessed. Considering that I have been blogging for about 10 years [5 on African Skies] it was actually quite a big thing for me to take such a long break.
I wrote this in reaction to oft heard utterances that suggest that those who live/lived under dictators somehow were sleepwalking as the dictators took and held power and thus were deserving of those dictators… I have been writing and re-writing this for such a long time now, because it is painful to see the world repeating the same mistakes, over and over and over. But we are children of time… And we forgot that monsters often come with smiling faces. They come offering us gifts. Monsters that come snarling and foaming at the mouth only exist in children’s fairy tales. Most monsters come to us with honeyed tongues and only gradually draw back the mask to reveal their faces. But we should know when we see them. Because we have seen them before. And I think… we will see them again. We see them now.
Over the last few years, I have been thinking of what decolonisation should mean for legal academics in UK HE specifically. This essay reflects some of my ‘initial’ thoughts on where we are now, regarding decolonisation and law, and what we must think about as we chart a path forward. As part of my reflections and work on this, I am also convening a conference holding on the 13th September 2019: ‘Decolonisation and the Law School.’ Attend if you can.
‘The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie.’ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah
I have often written about freedom, about what it means, how it is distorted, when it comes, how it almost always feels like it is out of reach, how we are deceived into believing it has arrived, how we continue to yearn for it. This short poetic piece is a reflection of my feelings about how resistance and agitation for all manner of freedoms are generational and transnational struggles. We stand where we are, pushing for freedom, being able to imagine it, only because of those who came before us, who fought for the same freedoms we fight for now. And our cross-continental, cross generational struggles are connected. And so, we also draw strength from those fighting similar battles elsewhere in the world. And those who will come after us draw strength from all who have lived before them. We become unstoppable across time and space. Together.
I keep trying to explain to people why I prefer that we refrain from the use of the acronyms BAME/BME. Often I am asked to give an off the cuff statement about it – in the middle of other business, while passing by, on the way to somewhere else, and I am never entirely satisfied with my answer… so I have decided to write a short-ish essay on it. Next time I am asked I will just send the link to this. I will also like to know what people think about the acronym and this essay, so please drop a comment. Ese pupo.
I don’t like writing about rape and sexual assault. It is deeply traumatising. Not just to me who is doing the writing, but to those who may read it. I am conscious in my writing to, as much as is possible, do no harm. Furthermore, on the issue of rape in Nigeria though, if I was to begin to write all I know, all I have experienced and all I have heard, there will not be enough space, enough heart and enough forbearance for me to write. Also, there are many experiences which are not mine, or not mine alone. Each person should be able to control how, if and when they tell their stories. And in the case of sexual violence, where we are talking of a fundamental seizure of bodily control. At least we should be i control of our stories. At least we should have that.
When I wrote this, I was thinking about the many arguments made against social justice movements, movements for climate justice, movements for political and epistemic decolonisation and such. The arguments are often based on the utter falsehood that the past has nothing to do with the present. This fallacy presupposes that we wake up each morning, fully and newly formed, unencumbered by yesterday’s ideologies. This fallacy is predicated on not realising that humanity’s children are locked in time, doing yesterday over and over and over and over and over… just with better gadgets.