The Dignity of Man

by Uche Nworah

“They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up. Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

I was going to call this piece The Good Old Mr Francis after the movie Good Will Hunting, a movie that played on the virtue of goodwill as exhibited by the principal character Mr Will Hunting, a good man played in the film by Matt Damon. In the end i settled for The Dignity of Man, borrowed from my Alma Matta – The University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Long before i enrolled for a graduate course at Nsukka, i had been fascinated by their motto which is ‘To restore the dignity of man’. Osamuyia Aikpithani’s global protests on Friday, the 29th of July 2007 has indeed shown me that Nigerians are good people, the ones who want to be that is.

On the protest day, although i was caught up in the whole protest thing, but still this lone guy wearing a blue face cap with Osamuyia Aikpithani’s poster held high to his chest and standing by the corner of the traffic Island opposite the Spanish Embassy in London stood out. He haunted my thoughts all through the mid-afternoon.

Midway my feet started hurting, it wasn’t the shoes, i made sure that i wore a rubber soled pair as i knew that the shift would be long. It was actually my big feet; they hate being enclosed for long periods and prefer to stick out freely in sandals. I endured and carried on.

Finally we got to talk; he wouldn’t tell me his full names. He only introduced himself as Mr. Francis and appeared to be in his late fifties or early sixties. A Nigerian by birth and by accent he is.

“I have come to add my little voice to the injustice our people face all over the world”, Mr. Francis told me. He was easily the oldest amongst the 21 people that came out to protest. He could easily have been my father, at that time of the day; his mates would probably be watching the afternoon news or sitcom re-runs on television with their feet up on the coffee table sipping oyibo tea oblivious of what else is happening around them, but not Mr Francis. The dignity of man still meant so much to him. As we chatted, my heart went out to him; his eyes whispered so much, they were as haunting as a dark ghost on a dark night. His voice was gentle but i knew that they were filled with knowledge and wisdom.

As we worked the shift inside the barricaded traffic island, i could hear Prophet Folayan Osekitan’s voice bellowing out to motorists passing by: “Killed like a dog”. Osamuyia he meant. His two young sons stood by him like able lieutenants, each displaying their own placard and also handing out leaflets to motorists and passers-by. The rest of the protesters; Wale Akin, Victor Akara, Babajide Ojo, Ishola Taiwo, Abike, Kelechi Akwiwu who came all the way from Leicester, Bukky, Anne Mordi and the rest stood round the picket with their posters held high.

I went back to Mr Francis. “How long have you been living in the UK?” i asked him next. “Very long”, he replied, “Enough time to have seen so much injustice in one’s given lifetime”. “In this time”, I asked next, “Have you had much dealing with the Nigerian High Commission?”

“They are not my High Commission, they only represent their own interests”, Mr Francis answered. I could sense the emotions in his voice. Though he looked frail, but you could see that he still has so much passion for humanity.

Suddenly it was 2 PM, the protest was over. Not wanting to breach our agreement with the London Metropolitan Police we decided to call it a day. Well, not completely. As we were about shunting over to the Nigerian High Commission on Northumberland Avenue to also deliver a copy of the protest letter, i asked Mr Francis if he was coming along but i already knew his answer long before he gave it. “I am a bit tired now” he said, “I have to go and get some rest”. Even I was tired as well, my tummy was biting me while my feet screamed out aloud.

Would i ever see Mr. Francis again? Maybe or maybe not. But i honour and respect men like Mr. Francis, for me they are lone voices in the wilderness, such people carry the burden of humanity on their shoulders. I could see that if he could, he would do his best to ease the pain and suffering of man.

At The Nigerian High Commission of Mr Francis’ nightmares, we explained our mission. “A Nigerian had been killed in Spain, we have been protesting outside the Spanish Embassy in London”, we announced to them, “Please can you acknowledge receipt of the copy of the said protest letter and we would move quietly on” we told them.

By this time, our numbers had reduced considerably; we didn’t look intimidating at all but still the High Commission wouldn’t let us all in. “We can only allow two people inside”, they announced to our surprise. They asked us to wait outside; the rain had come back by this time. As we waited, the male officer and his female colleague came back and ushered the two of us in.

While i waited with Babajide inside the reception area to get our letter acknowledged, the rest waited outside under the rain. Finally with no one in sight we decided to pop outside to see how the troop were doing.

By this time, Owoh, our firebrand co-protester had already thrown some verbal punches at Mr Dozie Nwanna, the Deputy High Commissioner who happened to be arriving back at the embassy. He told Mr Nwanna what Mr Francis told me earlier, and what every other diasporan Nigerian must be thinking. Emotions were high as one would expect, I was told that he screamed out at Mr Nwanna and laid into him with his verbal staccato.

Who says that etiquette means anything to a diplomat with full immunity? Our man the diplomat in London lounged at Owoh and narrowly missed Anne and Bukky, our co-protesters. Clearly courage under fire had gone flying out the window. As tempers flared up we knew that the show was over. We managed to obtain our copy of the signed protest letter and were just about beating it when the police arrived. Our High Commission had invited the cops to arrest us. One of us was not so lucky, we later heard that the police briefly arrested and questioned him, but eventually let him go. Central London was at a state of alert on this day as the police had discovered explosives inside two cars in the Hay market area. It wasn’t the kind of day that anybody would wish to mess with the police, unless the person wishes to be detained under the state terrorism act.

I congratulate Concerned Nigerians Worldwide for the little they have achieved, for standing up to be counted, particularly the lone ranger Angela Bruce who stood alone before the Spanish consulate in Birmingham and made the voice of concerned Nigerians heard very loud. A very big Gbosa salute to the website – for showing that truly technology could be harnessed for the benefit of mankind. Another heavy Gbosa to Philip Adekunle aka Big K the platoon commander, i say God go bless you well well.

Now that the protests are over and the Nigerian government has gotten involved, perhaps the very next and best thing to do is for those who have shown concern for the Aikpitanhi family to dip their hands in their pockets and show them some money love. They need it now more than the tears and sympathies.

A fundraising button is now available on Those in Nigeria could contact the family through Ahaoma Kanu on +234 (80) 37487286.

See you again at the trenches.

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1 comment

Aramide July 10, 2007 - 6:04 am

It's owesome, great, beautiful….. continue the good job.


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