The concept of Pan Africanism came to the fore in the late 19th century due to the efforts of Marcus Garvey and William Edward Blyden Du Bois, the first black man to graduate from the highly prestigious Harvard University. Through their fiery lectures and prolific writings, they helped light the spark of the movement which would later engulf the United States in the 20th century and provide the pivot for which the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, Rev Jesse Jackson etc anchored their voices on.
Two names stand out as firebrand Pan Africanists and they both passed on to eternal glory on this day in 1996 and 1981. They are Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Bob Marley and it is necessary to appreciate their efforts on their post humous birthdays.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe a.k.a Zik of Africa as his comrades in arms in the nationalist and Pan Africanist movement fondly called him caught the bug when he heard about the Ghanaian educationist and Pan Africanist, Reverend James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey while in his final year at the Methodist Boys High School. He got a book written by his mentor and his father warned him to read it in secret as the colonial authorities wouldn’t find it funny if they caught him with the highly censored book. The decision to proceed to the United States rather than the United Kingdom which was the more popular educational tourist route was fired on by the writings of Aggrey. He spent nine challenging years there in the pursuit of the Golden Fleece and survived a suicide and deportation attempt. He had the distinction of being the first Igbo graduate and motivated many of his fellow Igbo brothers to go to Uncle Sam for their higher educational needs. He also inspired Dr. Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah to go to the US for his higher education while serving as the Editor of the widely read African Morning Post. He returned to the country in 1937 and set up the Zik Group of Newspapers with the West African Pilot as the flagship. He revolutionized journalism practice in the nation through his hybrid of a nationalistic newspaper that was a commercial success that stood the test of time for three decades before it was forced to stop publishing as a result of the Nigerian Civil War which broke out in 1967. His Pan Africanist ideals saw his opposition to the war as he was miffed that his close to three decade struggle as a nationalist was being thrown up in flames in less than a decade of political independence. His support of Nigeria was viewed by his tribesmen as an act of betrayal but he was undeterred in his quest for a united Nigeria. His Pan Africanist stance was well reflected in his numerous writings and support for many African States that were under the yoke of colonial rule. He was extremely sacrificial as he deliberately allowed the northern part of the country to delay independence by three years so that they could catch up with the more progressive southern part. When independence finally came, he turned down an offer which Chief Obafemi Awolowo proposed to make him the Prime Minister while he served his government as the finance minister. He did the unthinkable by agreeing to be the ceremonial Head of State despite the fact that the north which produced the Prime Minister in the person of Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa wasn’t part of the independence struggle.
Robert Nesta Marley a.k.a Bob Marley was mixed race son of a British Naval Officer and a Jamaican mother. He grew up in Jamaica and lent his voice to the Pan Africanist movement through his revolutionary songs that gave the verve to the black man to rise above racial discrimination. His songs spread like wildfire all over the world and he had the status of a living legend and was the pride of the black man the world over. His songs gave the much needed confidence to the emotionally battered and scarred African to hold up their shoulders high and walk with confidence. He died at the tender age of 36 after being diagnosed with skin cancer at 32 and some of his songs were released post humously and went on to greatly top the charts.
It is a shame that the successive governments have played nauseating politics with the building of his mausoleum which is supposed to be a tourist attraction to greatly preserve his legacies. Despite his heroism and the sacrifices he made for this nation, it is tragic that there is no place that students of history can congregate to learn first hands about what made him to be of sterner stuff apologies to William Shakespeare during his lifetime where he had a larger than life image.
Marley was luckier as he got a state funeral and some monuments have been built to keep his legacies evergreen. His songs will also remain eternal as his contributions to the reggae genre of music can never be forgotten.
As we are currently enmeshed in the battle against the deadly covid 19, let us spare some time no matter how miniscule, to commemorate these two sons of Africa that did the continent proud both at home and abroad. Their contributions to the development of the African continent would be an interesting subject of study by the generations yet unborn as they live in the hearts of Africans both domiciled in the continent and in the Diaspora.
11th of May would forever be a red letter day.
Tony Ademiluyi wrote from Lagos and edits www.africanbard.com