Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Is There Slavery in Nigeria Today?

Slavery in Nigeria Today?

Sahara Reporters, a Nigerian online publication, had an article about slavery. The story led with comments by Priti Patel, the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development.

Priti Patel, UK Secretary for International Development

Priti Patel, UK Secretary for International Development

During a recent visit she announced increased funding to help end slavery in Nigeria that exploits women and girls.

She said, “Nigeria is the fourth largest source of human trafficking to the UK.” She added that the “International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that approximately 80% of girls arriving in Europe from Nigeria are potential victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.”

“According to latest figures, 875,000 Nigerians are living in modern slavery worldwide, including in the UK,” she said.

Really? I find these figures difficult to believe. I wonder how they define slavery.

A Different Take on Slavery

As I work on my second book, about Igbo culture and customs, I think about a very different meaning of slavery in Nigeria.

I knew about “slaves” from early on, but it was not people in bondage. Rather the “slaves” were people whose ancestors had been dedicated to a life of serving a deity, often at a village shrine.

I first heard about “osu” from Johnny, a friend. He told me he could not marry the woman he loved because she was “osu,” from a slave family.

His family would absolutely not accept her.

Then I learned that my parents-in-law had friends who lived on the same street in Onitsha and were “osu.” They were also from Nanka, as my husband’s family is. I got to know them during the civil war when we had all relocated to the town.

And I know the practice of ascertaining that a prospective spouse is not “osu” continues today. Amazing how prejudice lives on!

Black Lives Matter at Unitarian Church in Westport

Shanonda Nelson, worship associate

Shanonda Nelson, worship associate

I told you about the church service last week with Dr. Amanda Kemp. I included a photo of Shanonda Nelson who was the worship associate. But I forgot to include Shanonda’s important comment about the Black Lives Matter banner.

Before the service started she and I were talking about the Black Lives Matter banner and how it had been vandalized. She said, “When I first drove by the church and saw that banner, I knew that I would be welcome here. It was a real beacon for me.” I loved hearing her say that.

I think the banner has been replaced, but I was late this morning and forgot to look as I drove in for a memorial service.

Celebration of the Life of the Tea Importer

Today’s memorial service was a celebration of the life of Joseph Wertheim, a very early member of The Unitarian Church in Westport. Joe came to the U.S. from Germany in 1938, I learned today. He spoke no English and had not finished high school. He worked as a delivery boy for a deli.

Soon he found employment in a company involved in tea, and discovered his passion. He set up the company Tea Importers Inc. After years in the industry, he was invited by the government of Rwanda to establish a tea plantation.

The ACE award ceremony with Hillary Clinton and family members. Marion on left, daughter Susan in center.

The ACE award ceremony with Hillary Clinton and family members. Marion on left, daughter Susan in center. Photo from The Redding Pilot.

By 1978 Sorwathe was producing tea, and has been in operation ever since, except for the period of the genocide. You can read about his company and the plantation here.

He believed in sustainable use of the land, support for his workers, and providing healthcare and education for the people of the area. I heard about awards he received during this morning’s service, and on the website I found this: “In 2012, the U.S. State Department presented its annual ACE Award to Tea Importers, Inc. and SORWATHE in recognition of their commitment to social responsibility, innovation and human values.”

The service was lovely. It included amazing music from our own Rev. Dr. Ed Thompson and the violinist Margaret Cooper. Rev. John led the service, two of Joe and Marion’s children gave eulogies, and several others spoke lovingly about him.

Congressional Delegation to Nigeria

John Campbell, in a recent blog post that I saw from Ghanaian media, noted that the current administration ignores Africa.

He said however, “the relationship between the United States and Africa is more than the Trump administration. A sign of that reality is the very large Congressional delegation (CODEL) that is visiting Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and The Gambia just before Labor Day.”

U.S. Congressional Team Begins W/A Tour in Nigeria

The delegation is led by Sen. Christopher Coons (D-DE) and includes Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Rep. Terry Sewell (D-AL), Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL).”

I included all the names in case one of your senators or reps is in the group and you want to contact them!

Campbell said, “The agenda is long on substance. For example, in Nigeria, ‘the giant of Africa,’ the CODEL will be looking at the fight against Boko Haram, the terrorist group in the northeast, and the humanitarian disaster in the same region.”

He said, “The CODEL is meeting with the most senior Nigerian leadership, including the vice president, the senate president and the speaker of the House.”

I’ve been hoping for a note about the delegation in the Nigerian press but so far haven’t seen anything. If you do, let me know!

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

Comments are closed.