By Femi Olugbile
If, and when, the Queen died, in Buckingham Palace, a well-defined set of actions – Operation London Bridge, decided since more than half a century ago, and regularly updated since, with the Queen’s active participation, was to take place. It would be kick-started by the code ‘London Bridge is down’, whispered in the ear of the British Prime Minister of the day.
There was a related contingency – Operation Unicorn, prepared for the possibility that the monarch might expire in Balmoral Castle, Scotland, a favourite haunt of hers.
The whole arrangement was to ensure a smooth succession for the monarchy. It was emblematic of the penchant of the country for pomp and ceremony, honed over several centuries of Empire and colonial rule.
Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom, and other Commonwealth Realms died on 8th September 2022, at the age of 96. She died at Balmoral Castle, in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Her death immediately activated the prescriptions of Operation Unicorn.
Elizabeth, apart from all else, was a deliberate, intentional lady. This trait shone through from the first day of her reign, which began while she was on a royal visit to a ‘pacified’ Kenya where the worst excesses of British imperialism were still being perpetrated to suppress the nationalistic agitation of Kenyatta, Kimathi and the Mau Mau, and to make possible the fairy tale exotic African safari experience enjoyed by Elizabeth and her handsome new Consort Phillip.
It was not by coincidence that early in September 2022, she willed her dying body to Balmoral Castle, to receive the fifteenth and final Prime Minister of her long reign on Scottish soil. By that action, and her dying breath two days later, she was welding the Scottish Unicorn and the English Lion firmly together, for all time. Or so she hoped. Scotland held an Independence referendum a few years ago. Secession was narrowly defeated. The government of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had made no secret of its intention to hold another referendum, soon. If it were to succeed, it would be the end of the United Kingdom in its present form, a possibility that was anathema to Elizabeth, and contrary to what she stood for all her life. She deliberately set the full psychological weight of her last few days on earth against it, in a final sally against impending chaos and disintegration.
The unicorn is the national symbol of Scotland, a mythical white horse-like creature with a magical powers. It is emblazoned on the Scottish flag. Elizabeth was the longest reigning monarch in British history, and in the whole world. She was also one of the most respected and most admired figures in modern history, and a favourite grandmother and great-Aunt to people in many parts of the world. Therein lies the dilemma raging in many hearts as Great Britain prepares to bury her Monarch. Is it possible to love a winsome Monarch, while deriding the notion of Empire and the horrors and bitter-sweet recollections of Colonialism she represented? Many former colonial subjects – Indians, Nigerians, others, are caught up in that dilemma.
Expressions of affection and messages of condolence have come in from all over the world since her death. So many Heads of States are planning to attend the burial next Monday that managing traffic and security will be a nightmare for London police. Incidentally, in a rare departure from the ‘London Bridge’ script, there will be a bank holiday on the Monday, after all, in addition to the two minutes silence nation-wide at midday.
A crass, disgraceful, and insensitive message has been published from Abuja by one ‘Shehu Garba’, purportedly representing the condolence of all Nigerians to Britons on the passage of Elizabeth. And one Uju Anya, a Nigerian professor in the United States, has been raining curses and directing an equally absurd diatribe against Elizabeth, blaming her for her own family’s travails in the Nigerian civil war. In Nigeria, people routinely unload ill-considered thoughts and ridiculous notions on their long-suffering countrymen.
Ownership of the civil war in Nigeria, warts and all, belongs squarely with Nigerians, who need to learn to take a 360-degree view of history and not hold on to a one-sided picture and an aggressive victimology that antagonises everyone in sight, and makes it impossible to learn useful lessons, and to move on.
The relationship of Nigeria and the British Monarchy includes both Slavery and its Abolition. The facts and the sentiments aroused are hopelessly and inextricably entangled, as are the lives of the people of the two nations. A Nigerian is a Senior Minister in the cabinet of Liz Truss, who Elizabeth just appointed Prime Minister. It is not inconceivable that a Nigerian will be Prime Minister of the UK in the not-too-distant future. At the same time, Nigerians are prominent among the ‘woke’ and the left, many of whom abhor the Monarchy and wish to see a Republic in the UK. There are more Anglicans, who are effectively members of the Church of England, headed by, yes, Queen Elizabeth and her successor, in Nigeria than in the United Kingdom. Ajayi Crowther, the first African Bishop of the Church, translated the Bible to Yoruba, penetrated the Niger-Delta, and probably did more to spread Western education and British culture in the Nigerian space than any colonialist or missionary. Paradoxically, he was himself a victim of that very British disease – racial injustice, and he was forced to resign his job. He died in disgrace. The Archbishop of Canterbury only a few weeks ago issued an official apology for the wrongs inflicted on Bishop Ajayi Crowther.
Perhaps there are no saints and sinners here, only History.
A beautiful soul driven relentlessly by a sense of duty has just died, thrusting the impossible job of preserving a dwindling realm and a disappearing empire on her son, Charles.
May the soul of Elizabeth Alexander Mary Windsor rest in peace, at last.