IT was one of those stories that might have been missed in a newspaper. But there it was in Vanguard newspaper of Tuesday, June 4, 2013.
According to statistics of the World Health Organisation (WHO), 77 percent of women in Nigeria are said to use skin-lightening products; the figure compares with 59 percent in Togo, and 27 percent in Senegal.
It then stated that the Nigerian figure is “the world’s highest percentage”! The WHO report said there was a variety of reasons why Nigerian women BLEACH (stripped of subterfuge), “but most people said they use skin-lighteners because they want ‘white skin’.
This incredible report said that in many parts of Africa, lighter-skinned women are considered more beautiful and even believed “to be more successful and likely to find success in marriage”.
If this report had stayed with the women who abuse their skins and “blackness”, we might be given the pause about the subtle chauvinism underlining it, but it correctly noted also, “that some men too are involved in the practice”.
The investigation stated that these skin-lightening creams are not effectively regulated, especially in Nigeria “where even roadside vendors sell tubes and plastic bags of powders and ointments from cardboard boxes stacked along sidewalks in market districts.
Many of the tubes are unlabelled as to their actual ingredients”. The Vanguard report also quoted Aljazeera as saying there is booming business in these products, with a vendor stating that “about 90 percent of my clients come asking for skin whitening products” and in turn “I sell it to them and give advice on what product is best for them and how to use them”.
I have travelled in several West African cities, from Conakry, Dakar, Bamako through to Accra and those in Nigeria, and it was often frightening to see how much our women (and men in some cases too), coming from almost every section of society, have abused themselves and endangered their health, in that bizarre effort to become light-skinned.
The WHO report had also underlined the hazardous health consequences associated with use of these products and it listed some of these to include “blood cancers such as leukemia and cancers of the liver and kidneys, as well as severe skin conditions.
It said hardcore bleachers use illegal ointments containing toxins like mercury, a metal that blocks production of melanin, which gives the skin its colour, but can also be toxic”.
Yet, our bleaching population of women and men are either oblivious to these dangers that they confront in their lives or just would not be bothered because, the end of becoming light-skinned justified the means of arriving at the destination.
And when top society women, governors in Nigerian states and politicians bleach their skin, then they become associated with glamour and success; they are the movers of society that even working women and the poor will see as models to copy!
There is a deep-seated form of inferiority complex to this practice and in my view, it must be located in the encounter with slavery and colonialism and their consequences. These phases of human history not only rejected the humanity of Africans, they also set out an elaborate ideological justification for the domination of African and black peoples in a virulent and racist rejection of our contributions to the stock house of human civilization. Even great philosophers of history like Hegel, helped to justify these racist positions!
Africans reacted to these by always revolting against the injustices that slavery and colonialism represented, but by the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the Pan-Africanist, Garveyist and other movements of racial and continental renaissance and pride began to assert the need for liberation. Pride in being black and African underlined these movements and Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora, began to acquire confidence in their blackness.
By the time of the struggle for independence in the middle of the Twentieth Century, racial pride and confidence had found intellectual justification in the researches done by pioneering African historians such as Prof. Cheikh Anta Diop; Professor Kenneth Dike; Prof. Ki-Zerbo,Ben Yochana and many others all over Africa, and in the Diaspora. The whole edifice of colonialism was dismantled along with its ideological prop of racism and notions of African and black inferiority.
We grew up within these sensibilities and found consciousness within the ferments of the 1960s and 1970s, with the Civil Rights movement in the USA, when even star musicians like James Brown sang “I’m black and proud”!
Yet, there were survivals of that slave mentality within the popular culture of African society; as philosophers say, even though the material basis of a phenomenon might have disappeared, yet the consciousness will stubbornly retain the elements learnt almost by reflex! So a tendency to want to “become white” somehow has survived and those who made skin-lightening cream knew there was a market for “Ambi” “Tura” and such creams.
The advertisers of these products would present beautiful, light-skinned models as having used these products to achieve their beauty.
Those who consume media uncritically are sucked in, oblivious of the consequences of their actions and the danger they constitute to their own health and the overall health and social advancement of our societies.
Those who have stayed within these frames of self-hate and longing to become white cannot be part of a serious effort at fighting underdevelopment because deep down, they have even rejected the essence of their own beings as black people! It was not surprising, therefore, that those who bleach their skins and somehow found their ways to leadership have not covered themselves in worthy records of achievements.
It is remarkable that this phenomenon has not only persisted into the Twenty-First Century but seemed to have continued to spread as our society has become even more desperately polarised. The economic policies of the past three decades have deepened the poverty of the majority of the Nigerian people.
The globalised world of neoliberal capitalism offers all forms of glamour; delusions of wealth and a consumerist longing, which has sucked in people all around the world. In neo-colonial peripheries like Nigeria, a radical tradition of critical education has gradually withered and in its place is the deepening of obscurantism and mumbo-jumbo of often, eclectic varieties.
This ambience has deepened the process of open and clandestine prostitution with women and young ladies who want to be part of the consumerist culture all eager to look attractive and beautiful and as the WHO report we have been quoting said, 77 percent are now using these creams of humiliation and potential ill health and death! It is almost as if Fela Anikulapo-Kuti never sang in this society.
Alarmed at the rate at which women bleached their skins in the late 1970s, he did the very popular song, YELLOW FEVER! I think this is a good time to re-issue that classic song as part of a process to re-conscientise our people. It is incredible that the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Prince David Agboola Abegunde: Teacher, administrator and leader
IT was my old friend and classmate, Olayinka Olarewaju, who sent a text two weeks ago, announcing the passing of Prince David Agboola Abegunde. Olarewaju lives in London and he is guardian to Niyi, Prince Abegunde’s son.
Abegunde was our principal at the Government Secondary School (GSS) Ilorin, between 1972 and 1974. And those were some of the most remarkable years of our lives. GSS Ilorin under Prince Abegunde was certainly one of the best secondary schools in Nigeria at the time and the quality of education was very high.
The 1972 set of students such as Salmonu Olakanye; Segun Ajuwon; Angulu Ismaila; Sulyman Age Kareem; Ibrahim Aremu, all had outstanding WASC results and would all go on to make major contributions to Nigerian and other societies.
The education was total and under Abegunde’s guidance, GSS Ilorin became a leader in sports. Our football team was remarkable and many of the players like Frank Odiachi; Anagor would be part of the famous Kwara Academicals of the 1970s.
The relay team of “Bravo”; “ALL-Afro”; “Rochester” and Auwalu Aliyu (my college brother) was one of the best in Nigeria and they travelled far and near, winning laurels for the school and inspiring the younger generation of students like us, and showing that education was never complete without the element of sports! Abegunde ensured an ambience which allowed the students to flower; and the level of discipline was incredibly high.
We even elected a Students’ Representative Council and living through a period when schools today are not properly equipped, it was remarkable that we have very well equipped science laboratories; crafts workshops where we learnt trades: wood work; metal work; technical drawing and we even had a geography laboratory! As for sports, things could not have been better.
GSS Ilorin as one of the old schools of Northern Nigeria, established in 1912, had facilities for football; track and field; table tennis; lawn tennis; badminton; volleyball; basketball (there was always a team of American missionaries coaching the team); hockey; cricket; squash and fives! The variety was breathtaking and no student passed through without involvement in a variety of games.
I think that Prince D.A. Abegunde’s era was arguably the most successful. He was noticed on the national level because he was made team manager of Nigeria’s team to the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich and he returned home wearing the lovely, green Nigerian blazer emblazoned with the Olympics rings on its pocket during the first assembly he attended on arrival.
We all felt very proud of that remarkable man manager and administrator and all felt very sad the day he announced that he was leaving. It was as if a part of our sureties collapsed. Luckily though, he was succeeded by Mr. Oshatoba, an equally remarkable principal, who also died a couple of months ago. Prince Abegunde became my friend, many years later, when I worked as General Manager of KWTV.
He was humble enough to regularly visit with me in the office and we would re-live those remarkable years that he moulded our lives to become useful citizens of our country. May God rest his soul and give his family (near and extended) the fortitude to bear his passing.