In 2018, I gave a presentation at The International Student Conference for Africa (TISCA) at the University of Leicester. The focus of the presentation was broadly on the legal implications of fundamental constitutional change on the continent of Africa – not constitutional change in individual nation-states, but a wide-ranging reinterpretation of what the continent looks like, how it operates… essentially what the meaning of Africa has been, is and could possibly be. One of the things I touched on in my presentation was the concept of ‘tribe’ in Africa. My contention was, and is, that the sociological space the word ‘tribe’ occupies is problematic in its historical origin and contemporary use. Therefore, it remains an inherently flawed unit and tool of analysis of African realities (or indeed any reality in which ‘tribe’ is deployed as a unit of intellectual examination).
On the 13th of September 2019, I convened a conference at the University of Bristol titled, ‘Decolonising the Law School.’ (The conference was sponsored by the Society of Legal Scholars as well as the Law School at the University of Bristol.) The purpose of the conference was to contribute to a process of accurate practice and theorisation of decolonisation which forces us to confront the history and effects of imperialism upon our academic practices (i.e. research and teaching) in law. This, I think is vital, because in a lot of the contemporary discourse on epistemic decolonisation, there is a focus only on decolonial practice and teaching, to the detriment of decolonial theory and research. Without decolonising research, I believe that we decolonise our teaching in vain.
I have written elsewhere, and much more extensively about my driving thoughts behind convening the conference. This is a process which for me continues to continue. Watch this space. In the meantime, below is the text and video of my welcome address at the conference. A programme of the event also follows.
Since I wrote the essay ‘Finding My Africa, Finding Myself,‘ I have continued to reflect on the elusive concept of home, especially in this global moment, where children of Africa continue to be caught up in violences of non-belonging through neocolonisation, racism and environmental injustices, among other things. And African states capitalise on this non-belonging through an inadequate conceptualisation and bringing to fruition of possible return. In my earlier essay, I explained how I can remember my first real experience of an African country because I returned to Nigeria from the UK when I was young. But I have no memories of being in Nigeria before then. I only have memories of return. I also talked about the racism that formed part of the reasons why my parents decided to return to Nigeria. But this return home comes with its own burdens, burdens not exactly divorced from the reasons for return. And so for children of Africa, I think, the search for belonging feels eternal, as historical un-mattering results in present and future separation from the earth. This separation may be a slow process, it may be quick, but for children of Africa, home is always a dangerous spirit, yet home is still this restless soul.
2019 has been, globally, a year of ups and downs, trials and triumphs – a year of troubled skies. A number of key elections happened across the world and particularly on the continent of Africa. World politics continues to march onwards on the road to perdition in the UK, USA, India, South Africa, Nigeria, Brazil, Germany, Spain etc. And every area of life, sports, entertainment, education, finance, trade, the environment…demonstrates quite clearly that the personal is always political and the political, personal. If we do not get better at understanding how our yesterdays have brought us to today, our world will have no tomorrow. We, humanity, will have no more skies above us, no land on which to stand, as the waters rise up and cover us all.
This post is a reflection on my ‘decolonial’ work in 2019. I think of myself and my work as always having been decolonial, though I was initially focused mainly on what decolonial theory meant for African law and politics. As decolonisation became more ‘trendy’, especially within UK Higher Education, me and my work have been increasingly drawn into the scope of conversations on ‘decolonising the curriculum/university’. I continue to be concerned about how superficial these conversations sometimes are in UK HE and how much they are being co-opted by managerial diversity and inclusion initiatives within the neoliberal university. In UK HE (and elsewhere), the uncritical ‘decolonising’ of everything that requires change has become rampant. e.g. ‘decolonising assessment’, ‘decolonisng teaching space’, or as I saw somewhere recently (I suppose a bit less seriously) ‘decolonising academic gowns.’ There seems to me a profound lack of understanding, firstly, of what decolonisation entails. This despite the challenges faced in other jurisdictions that have gone far ahead of UK HE in decolonisation e.g. Canada and South Africa. Secondly, and maybe more importantly for this context, there is such a deep-seated unwillingness within UK education sector to engage with what [de]colonisation means. This is important in the context of a country that was an empire and in many ways continues to be so. [Parts of this essay were included in a talk given at the SRHE annual conference in December 2019].
I have always been fascinated by museums. Even in Nigeria, where the existence of museums sometimes feels elitist, acultural and ‘foreign’, I would wander for hours, lost in thought, around any museum I could find. During my days at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, I would often drag my friends along to the Natural History Museum. From the moment I heard that such a thing existed, I would find any excuse to go into it and stare at the rocks, butterflies, leaves and the exceptionally tiny stuffed lion. (It was really tiny folks!) Being in a museum often feels like being given a short-term passport into a lost and forgotten fantasy world. This fantasy world is slightly fuzzy at its edges, kept apart from the harshness of reality. It is somewhat fitting, therefore, an emblem of a dying world, that the museum I knew in Ife no longer exists and has been replaced by a new-fangled shiny museum.
During my undergrad, I woke up once to my roommate and very dear friend, making Amala first thing in the morning. I was flabbergasted. It was exam time so we had all planned to get out to do serious reading. But she had made enough Amala for everyone, so we all ate. The Amala was hot. Hit the Amala spot. So now, one by one we said, let us relax and let the Amala digest small before we go and read. This was about 7 am in the morning. Small small, relax turned into lie down. Lie down turned into sleep. Before you know it, it was 4pm!!! Yeepa. Money burn! Next morning, my Amala friend said, Oya, let us go to class jeje. Nobody is eating anything this morning!!! This blog post is a tribute to friends like this who help you create unforgettable (Amala and other) moments!
I am sometimes called a poet, though I don’t self-identify as a poet. I am a person who likes the feel of words… in any language. I love how words trip out of the mouth, how they express and conceal, how they can sound like noise and music, love and hate. I often wake up in the morning and write short verses for myself, to express, to feel and to conceal. Here are a few I have written over the years… some have titles, some do not. Enjoy.
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.