We have heroes in all walks of life — men and women with unique achievement in sports, medicine, and music. We have the unsung heroes in our classrooms, marketplaces and on the boulevard of life. We have men and women who inspired us as children and as teenagers to strive for the stars; men and women who impacted our daily lives and without whom our lives and joy would have been limited, our dreams stunted and our imagination blurred. Without these everyday heroes our lives would have been unfulfilled. And then there are the heroes who are ever present in our lives: our parents who are the faces of God.
In addition, we have our national heroes: men and women who are noted for their great courage and strength. Here, I speak of men and women of extraordinary political achievements. I speak of men and women who risked their freedom and their lives in the services of their country. I speak of men and women who answered the call of their people and their land and in so doing sacrificed their lives and desires and comfort so their people may live, so their land may proper and be free from the chains of humiliation, servitude and oppression. Every nation has such men and women.
Every country on earth has men and women who lived their lives in the service of their country. Jamaica for instance speaks of Marcus Garvey, Samuel Sharpe, Alexander Bustamante, and Norman Manley. The British speak of Winston Churchill; the French remembers Charles de Gaulle; and the Americans remember Lincoln, Washington, Kennedy and others. The Senegalese, the Kenyans and the Ghanaians remember Senghor, Kenyatta and Nkrumah. Africans in general will never forget men like Samora Machel, Julius Nyerere, Amílcar Cabral, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo. Every country remembers, reveres, worships and celebrates their heroes — every country but Nigeria!
Nigeria, it seems to me, is the only country that does not revere the extraordinary men and women who lived their lives in the service of the country. In contemporary times at least, Nigerians behave as though no man or woman ever gave his or her life or sacrificed their freedom and liberty so future generations can have a better life. This repulsive attitude can be seen in the manner Nigerians speak of their nationalists. More so on the Internet, some Nigerian commentators and net-chatters have a penchant for displaying their ingratitude and contempt for the country’s heroes. Denigrating some of our heroes has become a pastime for some of these charlatans. But for our nationalists, Nigeria would have suffered the same fate as Mozambique and others that underwent untold hardship in the hands of their colonial oppressors.
Today, to mention the name Obafemi Awololwo is to draw a barrage of invectives and unpalatable adjectives. To mention Nnamdi Azikiwe is to invite scorn and ridicule. To speak of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa is to open oneself to a barrage of tirade and ethnic slurs. Besides these giants of pre and postcolonial Nigeria, there were others too: several hundred men and women on whose back, sacrifice and glory we ride. How soon we forget. How soon we forget the sacrifices made by these giants whose nobility of purpose was to set us free.
Our heroes are human; and as humans they made their fair share of mistakes. Come to think of it: they lived in a different time: a time of unspeakable brutality; a time when the colonial powers were interested mainly in exploiting the human and natural resources of Nigeria. It was a time when the colonialists engaged in brutal survival strategies, a time of divide-and-rule. With sheer wisdom, intellect, good sense and common sense, our nationalists were able to free our land and our people. They saw to it that we got our lives and our dignity back. Therefore, whatever we are today we owe to a majestic group of men and women who, in spite of all their shortcomings and frailties, helped realize a free and enterprising Nigeria.
In recent weeks and months, it has become fashionable for sad and unaccomplished cyber-chatters to haul insults at the great Chief Obafemi Awolowo. No Nigerian, and indeed, no African public servant achieved or did greater things for his people as did the late Awolowo. No African! The records are there for scholars to examine. Within the Nigerian state, the only person who came close to providing as much political and economic goods to his people was the former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, who had oil money and political capital to spend any which way he wanted.
I have said it before and will say it again: in Chief Awolowo, we lost the brightest star we ever had…to say he was a statesman is an understatement. If he were an American or a European, the world would have placed him in the same league as Churchill, Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle and many others. But because Nigeria is what it is – we have no regards for our heroes. And then we wonder why no one wants to lay down their life for a country that does not appreciate her citizens? An ungrateful country aside, we now have a budding school of shortsighted, myopic, and mean-spirited critics who are now into Awo-bashing. These intellectual ants want to rewrite history. And so they repeat age-old falsities by painting the great one with sloppy and spiky brush. It’s so sad!
In due time it will come to light that the British, and later, the Nigerian military and the ruling elites rigged Nigeria’s elections to the detriment of Chief Obafemi Awolowo — knowing full well that he was perhaps the only one who was beyond reproach and was going to stand up to the British and other local and external interests. Knowing the manner of man he was, they set out to destroy him. First they labeled him a tribalist then found a way to send him to jail and to political oblivion; and then connived to deny him electoral victories. In the years since, the “tribalist” label has stuck more than any other. But the gospel truth was that the sage was never a tribalist. He was not a man blinded by ambitions. He never hated his fellow Nigerians.
More than any of our other nationalists, Awolowo has suffered more diatribes at the hands of feeble-minded mediocre net-chatters. He is constantly being vilified. Beside the sage, one other person that has suffered as much disdain is the venerable Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Odumegwu-Ojukwu. Both men have become the lightening rod of Nigerian and Internet politics. Amongst his contemporaries, Odumegwu-Ojukwu stands alone: a brilliant warrior who was far ahead of his time and heads above his critics. In the years since his returned to the country, some segments of the population have been at it doing their best to render him politically irrelevant and or do him harm. He was, and still is a genuine hero!
In Nigeria, and within the Nigerian community in the Diaspora, we now have a budding pool of pseudo-intellectuals — as tiny as this community might be — whose stock in trade is to insult and label our nation’s heroes as tribalists, short-sighted, etc, etc. This manner of behavior is totally uncalled for especially since this me-me finger-pointing generation — born between 1960 and 1985 — belongs to one of the most unproductive generations ever! Of what use is this me-me accusatory generation to the Nigerian state? What have they contributed to the growth and development of the state? What war have they been to? What nation-building process have they engaged themselves in? What philosophy do they hold dear? What viewpoint, ideas and ideals have they espoused other than living off the glory of the independence-generation?
Sadly, I too belong to this finger-pointing, me-me, wasting generation! As things are, this me-me finger-pointing generation has performed far below its potentials. More than any generation since 1914, it is most likely the least gifted, least patriotic, least prolific and least nationalistic. It is the generation that expected everything to be handed to her in a platter of gold. It is also the generation that whines and complains about everybody and about everything without taking blame for its shortcomings, failings and the abominations it committed. It is a generation that lives off vices and calamities.
Yes, it is healthy to revisit history. It is healthy to understand history. Even so, I would suggest we leave history to scholars and to professional historians. But if we must dabble with times gone by, if we want to critically evaluate the contemplations, pronouncements and actions of the major figures of the independence era, we must be careful with how we write and talk about them because they are our saviors and our national heroes, therefore who deserve our utmost respect. Complaining and condemning them, without just cause or a basis for doing so is unpatriotic. For that reason, disparaging them should be considered injurious to our nation’s well being. Beside other unsavories, are we also a nation without authentic heroes?
Why we spend so much time abusing our national heroes is beyond me. Why we spend so much time questioning the motives of such men and women is beyond my wits. It is disgraceful, disrespectful and a dishonor to all the men and women who endured years and years and years of indignity at the hands of the British and their local collaborators. Considering all that our heroes did for us, is this how to repay them? Is this how we honor their names and all the sacrifices they and their families made on our behalf?
We owe them our respect and our unwavering gratitude. Individually and collectively we owe Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and a great many others our nation’s gratitude. We don’t hear the Americans, the South Africans and the Canadians, the Australians, Germans and the French and others pilling insults on their national heroes, do we? Why should it be any different for Nigerians?
Sabidde@yahoo.com Norman, Oklahoma