Heart of Arts

Professor Siyan Oyeweso on the Japa Syndrome

By Abdulkabir Muhammed

An insightful preliminary conference was held earlier last week by the Lagos State University Center for General Nigerian Studies with the theme “Diaspora Gains and the Questions of Modern-Day Slavery in Africa.” As one would expect, a historian seems more befitting as a speaker to such a pertinent theme that has remained at the core of scholarly interventions in Africa for a very long time. The keynote speaker was a professor whom I had heard quite a bit from a Lecturer and mentor, Dr. Boge Faruq. Professor Siyan Oyeweso, was befitting not only for his scholarship or his being a former lecturer at the university but also because he was one of the pioneering chairs of the center. His sagacity is reflected in his paper titled “From Trans-Saharan Slave Trade to ‘Checking out,’ Sapa, Japa, Japada: Interrogating Issues in Brain Drain, Brain Gain, and Modern Slavery.”

His aside that caught my attention most was the background he established about the establishment of the LASU Department of History and International Studies—where he joined in 1984 and had served as head before moving to Osun State University in 2013—and the LASU CGNS: both departments were meant to foster the development of Lagos State. Consequently, he reinstated the fact that the first settlers of Lagos were the Awori, and thus, “Our Kabiyesis are not historians; they are at best traditional historians,” by ascension. The littlest Lagosian would understand the subject matter, especially in light of an event that transpired in Lagos a few weeks ago. His reference to old and contemporary scholars of Lagos history need not delay us. Associate professors Sanni Habeeb and Bashir Animashaun were tasked with rejuvenating research on Lagos’s history.

The Trans-Saharan Slave Trade, or Arab Slave Trade, saw an estimation of about 8 million Africans who were forcefully migrated to the Arabian world as slaves. It was a trade that took place between the North African Berbers and the West African Negroes several centuries before the famous Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade—although commodity trade had existed on the Trans-Saharan routes more than one millennium before. The gold-salt exchanges (among other items) would result in an additional item of trade—the human being who would become the African slaves in the Arab world. Moreover, the more obnoxious slave trade occurred between the 15th and the 19th centuries. The Atlantic slave trade cost Africa most of its brain and human power. A triangular trade, it cuts across Europe, Africa, and the New World (the Americas). There has been no agreeable figure of the people who were enslaved as they ran into millions. Besides, many people died en route due to the torture that befell them: they were chained, padlocked, tied, and flogged severely. It was no cruelty to throw the dead captives overboard. After all, they had been bought from their kings and wealthy merchants, who raided and captured their subjects for materials like scarlets, glass, and guns. Like the professor said, Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa would remain an essential tool for students of history and anyone who wishes to understand the brutality that accompanied the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. It was “an indispensable companion” for a student of history during his undergraduate sojourn and till the present. Can we blame the European slave dealers, who primarily waited at the coast to see the poor Africans do the job since it was unlike the British Bombardment of Lagos in 1851 and the Epe Treaty of 1854? The answer is—for me—not debatable. Professor Oyeweso believes that the trans-Atlantic trade led to the larger black population in America today, especially in South America, with Brazil and, in particular, the State of Bahia having the bulk of it. These Africans are more conservative than those who live within the continent of Africa; “they are more Catholic than the pope.” They practice the African Traditional Religion and worship Xango (Sango) and Yemoja, among other deities. People seem not to be interested in the Trans-Indian Ocean trade perhaps because of the less significant research that has been carried out in that regard. The professor, however, recognized the woes that befell Africa during the trade.

Modern-Day Slavery
Slavery has taken on a new dimension. Modern-day slavery is voluntary and inevitable, in Oyeweso’s view. This was due to corrupt leadership, bad governance, the economic downturn, policy collapses, and what have you. It has taken on a new dimension to include child trafficking, human abuse, and—in the African case—the menial jobs that Africans are subjected to abroad in the search of greener pastures—Japa. Despite the benefits of migration, especially for the able-bodied, the professor preached that citizens travel abroad to return to their home country. He discouraged the use of illegal routes—Libyan, Italian, and Middle East routes—in transborder migration while harping on the vices and persecution that victims face. He detests the activities of those who see Japa as a must: those who are living appreciably comfortably in their home country and traveling abroad to become servants while living in studio apartments. He saw no reason why a 60-year-old man should leave the country. For what greener pasture?

Lack of youth empowerment and citizens’ welfarism disregard for intellectuals and professionals by low remuneration are highlighted causes of the dilapidated Nigerian economy, which continues to witness brain drain. I was disappointed to realize that a professor’s salary at any federal university in Nigeria is not up to five hundred thousand naira! Nigerian medical doctors who have Japa to the United Kingdom in 2023 (only) are more than 1600. Before you blame these doctors, who earn apparently “bigger” than the professors, the value of the naira is not worth it in an economy that suffers from protracted inflation.

What do you expect from an economy with insufficient health specialists? What about the African intellectuals “shining” abroad and contributing immensely to the education sector of their respective host countries at the expense of Africa? These are the questions that the Nigerian government and Africa at large must answer if our state of affairs must be rectified. Enabling environments and policies must be enacted. Then, a country where politics is the only profitable business must be avoided. These are the ways we can convince our citizens of the negative effects of sleeping in cemeteries, as well as prevent our females from becoming objects of sex for fellow human beings and animals alike. As long as the sapa (poverty) cohabits with the average citizen, no Nigerian would use their church and mosques’ minds and stick to the gospel of “there is still hope”; neither could Professor Oyeweso’s sermon change their mindset.

Abdulkabir Muhammed is of the Department of History and International Studies at Lagos State University. He can be reached via abdulkabirm87@gmail.com.

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people.

× Let's Chat!