Nigeria marks International Day for Remembrance of Slave Trade

By Okwuchi Jim-Nnah

UN set August 23 as the International Day for the Remembrance of Slave Trade and its Abolition.

Nigeria has joined its counterparts across the globe to mark the International Day for the Remembrance of Slave Trade and its Abolition.

Slave Trade gives people a chance to think about the historic causes, methods and its consequences.

This is why the United Nations set aside August 23 every year to commemorate the Day.

Monumental tragedy
Slave trade was no doubt a monumental tragedy which has an indelible and horrifying impact on the African continent and the history of the people as a whole.

Nigeria however, is not an exception.

The Trans-Atlantic slave trades were the two major slave trades that occurred in Nigeria at different times, within different locations and with different characteristics.

The impact on the history and people of Nigeria was also unique.

Professor Femi Mimiko of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State says “the trans Atlantic slave trade disrupted the prevailing socio-economic system that functioned in Nigeria just like in other parts of the world.

”There was also a massive cultural influence; the indigenous political order was uprooted and in its place a foreign, western-oriented political system was entrenched.”

The major slave trade routes in Nigeria were Badagry, in the present day Lagos State of Western Nigeria; and Calabar, in Cross River state of Southern Nigeria.

Slaves were gathered from the hinterlands and then taken to where they would be shipped out of Nigeria, popularly known as Point Of No return’.

Pains direct victims
The cries, agonies and different horrifying experiences of the direct victims of this trade were heard of by Nigerians, who passed the stories from one generation to the other.

On his part Professor Akinkunmi Alao of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, attributed the mass enslavement of Yorubas to the collapse of the Oyo empire, which dominated the region.

“In the 19th century, the Yorubas had a very difficult time due to the outbreak on warfare. The Yorubas were faced with the challenge of maintaining a political structure, which in turn led to a collapse of political authority. There was also the fight for the control of slave routes and access to the slave ports of Whydah and Badagry…This led to the emergence of new entities who took over the control of the slave business, especially Ibadan and Abeokuta,” Professor Alao explained.

The Eastern region of Nigeria was also affected by the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Through the ports of Calabar and Bonny, several Nigerians from the hinterland were brought to the coast for onward export to the Americas.

Anne Iroegbu an indigene of Uzuakoli, a major slave trade route in the present day Abia State, Eastern Nigeria said a variety of reasons were responsible for the slave trade in this part of the country.

“There are five villages in Uzuakoli. The Eke market was very popular both for normal business transactions and the slave trade,” she said.

“Some people sold their children as slaves in this market because of poverty and debt; criminals were also brought there and sold off to slave traders; while others out of jealousy and malice set up fellow residents to be captured. For instance my mother told me the story of how a member of our community, an only child of his parents was kidnapped and sold into captivity because some members of his family were envious of him.

“In some cases, the intended target would be asked to escort others to Eke market only to be kidnapped on arrival. It’s an enduring legacy of that dark period,”Iroegbu stated.

Helen Chapin Metz, in her book: Nigeria: A Country Study,” noted that through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, Nigeria alone supplied more than three million slaves to the Americas from 1471 to the 1800s; with most of these slaves primarily of Igbo and Yoruba ancestry.

Abolition, Legacy
History has it that trade in slaves thrived because these captured men and women were used in plantations and for other economic and social purposes. But the official storyline of the abolition of slave trade has it that men like William Wilberforce and David Livingstone, due to their humanitarian nature and religious affiliations, rose and spoke against this inhuman practice.

The advent of the industrial revolution meant machines, not humans were needed in the new emerging manufacturing entities.

By 1807, Britain championed the abolition of slave trade and sent out anti-slavery squadrons to crush the trade in humans across the Nigerian coastal areas.

Abolition of slave trade
Professor Mimiko said the abolition of slave trade in Nigeria took time, but it left some positive legacies.

“After the abolition, many ex-slaves from Yoruba land returned especially from Brazil. This led to the emergence of a strong Yoruba-Brazilian community in Lagos. These returnees brought with them new cash crops, craft skills and also Christianity.

“One of the most famous returnees was Samuel Ajayi Crowther, who was responsible for not only the spread of Christianity in Yoruba land and beyond, but also for the translation of the bible from English to Yoruba language,” he stated.

Professor Mimiko also said that the transatlantic slave led to a movement of cultures and traditions from some parts of Nigeria to North, Central and South America.

This can be seen in traditions such as Santería, Umbanda, Trinidad Orisha, and Candomblé.

“As evil as the slave trade was, it must be observed that the activity led to the mass movement of Africans into the new world. In Brazil for instance, the Yoruba culture, tradition and religion is very strong amongst the Black population.

“The slave trade opened up the Yoruba religion to the African diaspora in the Americas. The Yoruba religion of Ifa is widely practiced in South America and the Caribbean islands. It is recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization  (UNESCO) as a source of knowledge,”Professor Mimiko said.

UNESCO commemoration
International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition was first celebrated in many countries, in particular in Haiti, on August 23, 1998, and in Senegal on August 23, 1999.

Each year the UNESCO reminds the international community about the importance of commemorating this day

Despite the impact of slave trade on its history, Nigeria has continued to played a credible role in the UN system as touches post Slave Trade reconstruction which is still ongoing.

This covers the inclusion of Nigerian History in its educational curriculum and much more.

Through the commemoration of the International Day for the Remembrance of Slave Trade and its Abolition, UNESCO helps Nigerians recall the crucial importance of the transmission of history, to shed light on the fight against all forms of oppression and racism.


Mercy Chukwudiebere