BBC Feature: ‘My Nigerian great-grandfather sold slaves’

Yvonne Owens, PhD
4 min readJul 19, 2020


Source: Getty Images

Nigerian journalist and novelist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani has recently written that one of her ancestors sold slaves, but argues that he should not be judged by today’s standards or values: “My great-grandfather, Nwaubani Ogogo Oriaku, was what I prefer to call a businessman, from the Igbo ethnic group of south-eastern Nigeria. He dealt in a number of goods, including tobacco and palm produce. He also sold human beings…My great-grandfather was renowned for his business prowess, outstanding boldness, strong leadership, vast influence, immense contributions to society, and advancement of Christianity.”

When patriarchal warrior caste ideology, that positioned lower ranking people (women, children and Alien Others) as chattel (which is to say ‘property’) and elevated male elites as absolute hierarchical rulers and ‘owners’ usurped the great and ancient egalitarian (collective, prosperous, thriving, cultured and artistic) matrifocal societies — an ideological shift that occurred across Africa, Oceana, the Americas, Eurasia and worldwide — slavery became a human institution. It is ideologically constructed and maintained to this day, and can therefore be ideologically deconstructed and eliminated.

As human institutions go, it is a relatively recent construct and can be handily undone, but as with all significant change such a social renovation requires a mass, collective revolution of heart, spirit and mind. If the World Wide Web, the Internet, was not created for a noble mass-mind transformation such as this, then what the hell is it really good for? Surely not merely to fuel the increased mercenary trafficking of weapons and people as goods in ideologically supported illicit trade, as is its current main profitability spectrum? Surely not to merely constitute the newest platform of the problem, and not the cure?

Patriarchal cognitive culture (one may as well say ‘Rape Culture’) is a universal problem, along with its institution of slavery, nothing more than social male-dominant-ranking elevated to the status and legitimacy of a religion. The worldwide shift to patriarchy took several thousand years, and is still not complete in some parts of the world. It doesn’t need to take that long to eliminate and deconstruct it and its toxic institutions of person trafficking — a few generations only. Or even just one. Change happens exponentially faster in the Information Age.

There is no context but the human context. The human context is the African context, the universal ancestral land, where and how we all began, despite contemporary Chinese revisionist science, history, and supremacy ideology to the contrary. DNA doesn’t lie. Patriarchal cognitive culture (one may as well say ‘Rape Culture’) is a universal problem, along with its institution of slavery, nothing more than social male-dominant-ranking elevated to the status and legitimacy of a religion. For the author to cite her great grandfather’s “advancement of Christianity” as partial justification for his abduction of and trade in persons, alongside of him being “renowned for his business prowess,” is disingenuous, if not grotesque in the extreme, and only proves the point of patriarchal institutions, like Abrahamic religion and slavery, working hand-in-hand to guarantee the masculine hegemony.

That Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is severely male-identified is apparent, and it may be that she is a Christian, like those “advanced” by her great grandfather. But the slavers of the past, even male ancestors “with vast influence,” that “even the white people respected…,” do not get a pass. Another feature of the institution of slavery that the author neglects in her treatment of her great-great-grandfather’s case is that of institutionalized rape as an indelible feature of slavery, to the extent that it is addressed, with approbation, in both the Koran and the Old Testament. With precise instruction on how and in what circumstances rape of captured female slaves (juvenile ones, “girl children who have not known a man, these you keep for yourselves,” in the case of Numbers 31, which is to say according to Levite/Mosaic Law), rape is approved in these holy texts.

This sad fact alone provides ample demonstration of how patriarchal Abrahamic religion essentially constitutes Rape Culture, with the institution of slavery being a vital element of that toxic ideology/theology. Because of this unfortunate foundation, the tendrils of slave/owner-master relationships will be difficult to extricate from the dominant ideologies of Judeo-Christian society, as we currently see with the resistance an apparently self-evident statement, “Black Lives Matter,’ is currently facing with the American Evangelical ‘moral majority.’

Today, in the immediate wake of the passing of the great American Civil Rights pioneer, John Lewis, universally accessible on the Internet, is the information: ‘On “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, some 600 civil rights marchers headed east out of Selma on U.S. Route 80. They got only as far as the Edmund Pettus Bridge six blocks away, where state and local lawmen attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas and drove them back into Selma.’ Another site informs us that, ‘the bridge is named after Edmund Winston Pettus, a lawyer, judge, Confederate brigadier general, head of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, and U.S. senator. Because of Pettus’ role in supporting slavery and racism, a movement is aiming to rename the bridge.’

If ‘even the White people’ can reassess and fairly judge their patriarchal, Christian, slave-taking, male heroes and ancestors in light of our thankfully evolving contemporary values, then surely this Nigerian journalist and novelist can find it within her heart, mind and spirit to reassess her own.



Yvonne Owens, PhD

I'm a writer/researcher/arts educator on Vancouver Island and all round global citizen who loves humans even though we're such a phenomenal pain-in-the-ass.