Tuesday, March 3, 2015 10:39 am
He is African-American. But he has lived in Nigeria long enough to understand her peculiarities, and can be genuinely described as a patriot. Lloyd Weaver, who has extensive knowledge of Nigeria and her historical development recently clocked 77. He tells NKRUMAH BANKONG-Obi about his journey to activism and the project he is currently involved in in Nigeria
Let’s begin from you. Tell me a little about yourself?
I grew up in a place called Harlem. Harlem is an area in New York that used to be the black ghettos of the world. At the time that I grew up, the most famous musicians and stars grew up and lived in Harlem. It was a place where black in American culture was at its heights. Harlem was more or less the home of Africa-American creativity, intellectual exchange, etc. Harlem was the place where people like Malcolm X held forth, people like Marcus Garvey was there. It was the home of a place called the parlour, where artistes that were bound to become stars actually got their first big break and perhaps became stars. It was a place of thinkers, a place of music, a place of the arts and being at the forefront of intellectual and politics fight, here I was living with thinkers, intellectuals etc.
And the movement that impressed me most was the Marcus Garvey movement which was Back to Africa. I grew up in the 1950s where the Back to Africa movement was still fairly strong. People mounted the stage in the evening making speeches telling us about colonialism and the evils that it has done to Africa. They could put us to shame because we have forgotten Africa and for the most part didn’t relate to all the political goings on at the time which was when the independence movement was strong and predominant. But if you went to the streets of Harlem, you would hear about all these things. There were books so you could find African books, you could find African newspapers there. So, I was pretty much enmeshed in that atmosphere.
This was the period that moved into the 1960s and into the civil rights movement. So, the idea of Africa as the motherland as you might call it and the beginning of the civil rights movement were one and the same movement except one I could see, and the other I could only imagine because we were not allowed into African culture and life, just African politics. This was the time in which the Congo was in crisis, this was the time in which Nigeria was struggling for her independence, when Ghana gained its independence.
I was very much part of that movement, I went to university during those times. And the black power movement as we called it in the North, more significantly, I considered myself a black nationalist almost as a religion because I saw racial oppression as being endemic to the whole idea of America which was born at the time when my people were slaves. So, that was my thinking at the time. And anything about Africa was of interest to me, even all the way into the university, when I went into journalism, graduate school and things like that.
As my own part of the movement, since I had read journalism, I was a propagandist for the Black Panther Party and others like that. I would do the pamphleteering, I would do the press releases, I would get some publicity for our leaders at the time.
And one thing I noticed and no matter what I did, the American press always reported us negatively, they told lies. If we sat down, they said we shot guns so that the public would be against our movement. But I recognised that. I got to edit a newspaper of my own, I got to edit a magazine of my own. I was making a bit of a name for myself. But of course these didn’t have broad enough circulation to compete against the evening news which is what the people I wanted to reach watched every evening.
It was more impressive with the pictures than my little pamphlets and newspapers. And then a crazy thing happened: the newspaper that I edited folded, I was doing nothing and then I got offered a job at CBS ‘Television Network Television, (CBS News to be more precise). This was soon after the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, right on the aftermath of that, CBS was doing a nine-part television series called Of Black America. We were being made to explain to America why African-Americans were trying to burn down the several American cities. This was in the 1960s; very volatile period, the height of the Civil Rights Movement as it moved into the Black Empowerment Movement. Our ideology was taken over by the softer ideology of the preachers in the South. They were the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.
And I was curious about national television and how it works, how it operated since they always reported negatively about black people. This was my chance when I was offered a job as a researcher, since I was an analyst who also was active in the movement, so I could get the inside story. They wanted to know what I could do for them and I wanted to know what I could learn from them. So, I took that job and I ended up working for CBS for the next 30 years from 1969 or thereabout to 1982 when I came to Nigeria.
In-between, I went back to school, I went to Columbia University Graduate school. I taught part film making on part time at the University after I had been at the CBS long enough, I had become an expert as a television journalist. I wasn’t the only one of my thinking. There was an African-American correspondent at CBS News named Randy Daniel who used to travel all over the world particularly to Africa. He made a deal with the Nigerian government concerning the development of the Nigerian Television Authority. Randy said to Vincent Maduka that everything that happens in the United States that operate, down inside to the boiling room is usually operated by the black people.
He felt that he could go across the United States, find the best black Americans in every single field, craft of television, get them to get a leave-of-absence from their employers to come to Nigeria as a training company. And because it was Africa, it was an era in which Africa was in all of our hearts, they would give the best training they would give as possible because they would take it not as a job but as a service. So, that is how that company was formed and that was how I came to Nigeria in the first place. I had come once in 1969 out of curiosity. I had done series for Black History for African-Americans and we had Professor E.U. Essien-Udom, it was a lecture series and he invited me to come to Nigeria. That series was done during a leave-of-absence. When it was finished, I had some time so, I jumped on a plane and headed for Nigeria. Full of curiosity, very idealistic, everything I saw was wonderful and beautiful.
You were ready to explore…?
My mission was to explore and to discover what I thought was and I spent two weeks in Ibadan and I went all over the place and up and down. I still have a good memory of that time. Among the things I did was that I visisted the NTA station in Ibadan and having come from the CBS which was at that time the leading network in the world-it was just like CNN now. This was good because at that time people were making the best of what they had. It was a totally African-run television then. It stayed on my mind even when I went back to the US. So, when I was invited to come to Nigeria, I knew where I was going to except that Nigeria television had grown into so many stations and had deteriorated in terms of its idealism and its craftsmanship. So, we came with the idea of lifting everything back up to the international standards.
What was the attitude of the American Pan-Africanists to the black people back in Africa? What was the relationship like?
Let me say this and see if I answer your question. For some of us, the civil rights movement was a failure. We understood what was in the heart of America which was that African people were never meant to be citizens and because of this, we were deprived and in being deprived we were impoverished. And being impoverished, a lot of our behaviour was anti-social. So, the attitude of black Americans was constantly being reinforced in that way. So, we were going nowhere. All the laws that were being changed were for nothing, all the discrimination, denial of goodies ensured that we were very disadvantaged and getting even more so, every single day.
So, the civil rights movement did really nothing. And we looked at gaining more interest in Africa; you won’t remember because you weren’t born; but at that time, the independence movement of African nations was very much alive. So, our own struggles, trials, we understood as one, we weren’t the only black people in the world; there were Africans who were also struggling against another kind of slavery or colonialism. So, the idea of pan-Africanism as far as we were concerned included us and we were very interested in this.
There were conference’s all over the place in West Indies, there was always an African-American represented there. Ghana opened its own lines when it said ‘anybody coming here is automatically a citizen’. Most of these people did the same thing. We felt that yes, it was commonly recognised, there were African diplomats all over the place, we got to know them, we got to dance high-life music all over the place. The best parties were African parties.
So, it was the best camaraderie, at least for the thinking African-Americans. Our biggest hopes and dreams were to one day touch that soil again. And it was a sort of defiance that ‘you took me here, I’m taking myself back;’ you brainwashed me to think that black people were nothing, I will take care of myself, I will go to Africa as you will go to Europe and your own places of origin. I grew up in Harlem when Malcolm X began his own crusade. So, I was very much under the influence of somebody that was bold and thinking. Although, his words like “The white man is the devil” didn’t sit well with me. I never thought that way. That only took you through a kind of breakthrough in your thinking; that the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the colour line. That means that there is a line of competition that is most important, that you shouldn’t feel ashamed to identify with your side of the competition so that you end the game. That other side competes against you, you don’t compete badly. Somebody like Malcolm breaks you out of that shell. Your problem is that guy over there, as he is going for you, you go for him.
And there is nothing wrong with that. It is healthy – human beings are born to compete with each other. So, the idea of shaking up the black word was very laudable and contributed to uplifting it. I worked at CBS and after 30 years I came to understand the nature of relationships. Your father teaches you that that guy is a negative person, you grow up and teach someone else the same thing. When you write your news story, you write it from what you see; what you see is tainted by what you were taught to believe. So, there is no way you can influence a guy who was taught certain things.
And it shouldn’t be strange, it exists in every society at a certain level – you grow as a Yoruba, your parents tell you certain things about Igbos you believe it, that is the truth as far as you are concerned. What you can do is to try to be dispassionate to be able to help people to clean up their own minds. The problem for all black people is that because we were exposed to the same press, movies, educational system, we had no place that was positive for us. We feel negative about ourselves deep in our souls, we yearn to be white because to us, it is only white people who are presented to you as heroes. Being in the US I had to learn how to change people’s minds, how do you write in order to change a person who is negative about himself? My problem in the US was that I didn’t have access to the media.