Thursday, August 26, 2010

Preserving the Legacies of Nigeria's Heroes and Heroines Past

Arise, O compatriots, Nigeria's call obey
To serve our fatherland
With love and strength and faith
The labour of our heroes past
Shall never be in vain
To serve with heart and might
One nation bound in freedom, peace and unity.


These are the lines of Nigeria’s current national anthem. Sadly, not many Nigerians, including those who are holding public offices, could recite the national anthem, let alone believe in the words. Nigeria is in her year of Golden Jubilee having got independence on October 1, 1960. There have been series of lectures, seminars, colloquia, conferences, exhibitions, debates etc planned in celebration of the country’s 50th anniversary. There is no gainsaying that Nigeria still grapples with the challenges of nationhood and governance. It is doubtful if this state of underdevelopment; anomie and morass were envisaged or hoped for by the founding fathers and mothers of Nigeria. I mean the political, labour and media bourgeoisie who were actively involved in negotiating the independence of Nigeria from the British colonialist. Nigeria, like many African countries have been unfortunate to be plundered and pillaged for three hundred years under the trans-Saharan and trans-Atlantic slave trade. With the abolition of slavery came the dismemberment of Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1884 or thereabout. At the Berlin Conference, it became the lot of Britain to administer Nigeria through what is now famously regarded as Indirect Rule. Nigeria became a British Colony and a system of administration akin to what obtains in Britain was institutionalised in Nigeria. While the slave trade and colonialism lasted, Nigeria’s human and material resources were exploited not to develop the colonies as it were but to build Western Capitals of Europe and America.

Early in the 19th Century, anti-colonialist elements begin to mobilise to resist the colonial rule of Britain. At the fore-front of the struggle for self-rule in Nigeria were progressives like Sir Herbert Macaulay who established the Nigeria National Democratic Party (NNDP) in 1922, Pa Michael Imodu who led labour movement revolt against the colonialist autocratic and inhuman practices. Chief Obafemi Awolowo who was one of the brains behind the establishment of National Youth Movement (NYM) and Action Group (AG) and later Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Awo also established the Nigerian Tribune in November 1949; late Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe established National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon which later metamorphosed into National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) as well as Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) in the 70’s. Zik was also the brain behind the establishment of West African Pilot newspaper. From the Northern Nigeria, we had people like Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, and Sir Ahmadu Bello who were the arrowheads of Northern People’s Congress (NPC). What all the aforementioned people had in common was that they form part of Nigeria’s depleting genre of heroes.

According to the New 7th Edition of Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, a hero is a person, especially a man, who is admired by many people for doing something brave or good while a heroine is a female version of a hero. Nigeria has been blessed with sizeable number of heroes and heroines. Being from the South-Western Nigeria, I am more familiar with some of Nigeria’s widely acclaimed heroes and heroines from the Yoruba ethnic group. In this category are folklore heroines such as Moremi Ajasoro and Olurombi who sacrificed their children for the peace of their communities. Others include late Chief (Mrs.) Funmilayo Ransome Kuti who led women revolt against the oppressive tendencies of a former Alake of Egbaland, Madam Tinubu and Prof. (Mrs.) Jadesola Akande who was a former Vice Chancellor of Lagos State University and women’s right activist. There are however, longer list of heroes from the South West, ironically, in spite of the cynicism many of us have about Nigeria’s brand of politics, many of our national and regional heroes are politicians.

Leading the pack of the South West national heroes is Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Awo it was who as Premier of Western Region established first television station in Africa in 1959, built the Cocoa House which then was the tallest building in West Africa through proceeds from the sale of Cocoa, established farm settlements across the length and breadth of the South West region, instituted the Free Education programme for the entire region in 1955, built the University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University, established several industrial estates including the Wemabod Estate, Lagos as well as Oodua Investment Company. Awo was a visionary, a principled and selfless politician, human rights activist and a nationalist of note who as Federal Commissioner for Finance under the Yakubu Gowon administration helped Nigeria to prosecute the 1967-70 civil war without any external borrowing. I have been privileged to visit the Awo Mausoleum erected within his private residence in Ikenne, Ogun State and also knows his house where he lived in Ibadan along Oke-Bola road, these are modest residences compared with earthily paradises our contemporary politicians now erect for themselves. Awo served Nigeria in his life and times selflessly and is an all time hero of the Yoruba race. Other South-West Nigeria heroes include, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, a music icon who used his brand of music to fight oppression and promote human rights; Chief MKO Abiola, a business mogul, philanthropist and politician; Chief Gani Fawehinmi, human right crusader, lawyer, philanthropist, publisher and politician and Prof. Wole Soyinka, 1986 Nobel Laureate in Literature and Human Right Activist. Of all the aforementioned, only Prof. Soyinka is alive.

There are other pockets of heroes across the Nigerian landscape. There was J.S Tarka from Benue State in the Middle Belt, the South-South has produced heroes and heroines like King Jaja of Opobo, Isaac Adaka Boro, Ken Saro Wiwa as well as late Chief (Mrs.) Margaret Ekpo. In the South East, apart from Zik of Africa, we have heard of heroes like Chief Alvan Ikoku and Dr. Sam Mbakwe. North Western Nigeria has also produced heroes and heroines like Alhaji Aminu Kano, Hajia Gambo Sawaba and Queen Amina of Zauzau. These are just to mention but a few of Nigeria’s heroines and heroes.

Even though successive governments have deemed it fit to name one monument or the other such as universities, streets, airports, stadia etc after some of these fallen heroes and heroines, whether while alive or post-humously, the best way to preserve the legacies of these great men and women is to better their performance in areas of their excellence be it politics, philanthropy, governance, human rights advocacy, commerce and industry, music, journalism etc. Government, particularly, federal and state need to mass produce literatures on the heroic deeds of these people and circulate them widely so that many of the present generation of Nigerians who know little or nothing about these fallen heroes and heroines can deepen their knowledge about their great works and learn or perhaps model their lives after theirs. The heroic deeds of these great Nigerians also need to be thought in our schools from primary to tertiary institutions as part of History, Politics and Civics. Learning about these past legends and working tenaciously to implement their ideals, ideas and principles is one broad way we can ensure that their labours are not in vain.

This article was first published in The Ethics Magazine (Third Quarter 2010)

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