19th October 2022
A call for action…
We hear from Civica’s Gabriel Obaseki as he explores his mixed feelings about Black History Month and how our institutions could act on this year’s theme ‘Time for change: action not words’.
“My name is Gabriel Obaseki, I joined Civica in May 2022 as a Business Development Manager in our HR & Payroll team. I was born and raised in Tottenham, London to Nigerian parents who came to the UK in the 1960s.
“Black History Month draws up mixed feelings for me if I’m being honest. On one hand, I understand the importance of recognising black people’s contributions to our country and society, with a month to celebrate, acknowledge, and recognise achievements that in many cases have been ‘kept quiet’ until recent years. For example, Walter Tull was one of the first black outfield players to appear in the English Football League playing for (the greatest team in the world) Tottenham Hotspurs. He gave up his footballing career to fight in World War I, including in the Somme in 1916, and became the first British-born black army officer and the first black officer to lead white British soldiers into battle. On the other hand, formally recognising the contributions of black individuals such as Walter Tull, their achievements, inventions, and efforts should not be confined to one month in a year and should not have been kept out of public sight in the past.
“Despite my mixed feelings, I believe it’s especially important to recognise Black History Month in schools to ensure more accurate portrayals of black contributions through history are taught to current and future generations. In my history lessons at school, we were never informed that black and Asian soldiers fought for or alongside allied soldiers, an education that may have had a positive impact. I was aware of it only because my Grandad fought in the Second World War and took part in celebrative marches in the UK after the victory, though he never received his war pension as promised.
“My heritage has impacted my current position as it’s made me a determined person, with an understanding of the importance of advancing my own, and my family’s lives. I carry the baton from my mother, my greatest inspiration, who worked incredibly hard to support both her family in the UK, and her parents back in Nigeria; she worked seven days a week as an accounts clerk, cleaner, and auxiliary nurse.
“I’m a descendant of Chief Agho Obaseki, Chief in the Benin Empire (now southwestern Nigeria) from 1898-1914 before his death in 1920. He participated in the defence of Benin City in 1897, when 1,200 Royal Marines, sailors, and British protectorate forces were sent to Benin on a punitive expedition.
“Today, if you visit the British Museum you can see the Benin Bronzes on display, elaborately decorated cast plaques which were looted, and to this day there’s been significant campaigning for their return, including by the Governor of Benin, Godwin Obaseki (another of my relatives, and his younger brother and I share the same name Gabriel), and the Nigerian Government. And it’s not just the Benin Bronzes, the British Museum’s website states: ‘There are over 900 objects from the historic Kingdom of Benin in the British Museum’s collection’. In line with this year’s Black History Month theme ‘Time for change: action not words’, I believe that returning the Benin Bronzes would be a significant step. Unfortunately, the Benin Bronzes will never be totally returned, as some of the artefacts were dispersed through other countries, including Germany, or kept by British soldiers who’ve passed them down through their families or sold them to individual collectors.
Business development manager,
I appreciate the opportunities here at Civica for sharing our experiences, discussing new possibilities, and driving real positive change as we champion diversity and inclusion.