Journalists all over the World, members of the 5th realm are never heroes! Rather painfully though, they are seen more as enemies of the State. But ironically, they are the best chroniclers of history. They are ever-present while history breaks. The case of the ever-popular ‘Watergate’ scandal in the United States, easily comes to mind here. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. And when the duo was answering to charges of false publication before the Court, they affirmed that “what we published was the available version of the truth”. Back home, our own cerebral journalist, Dele Giwa was bombed by the agents believed to be working for the State. Neither American duo, nor Dele Giwa, ever became a hero!
Nigeria’s National Anthem in use now was composed sometimes in 1977 during General Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure as the military Head of State to replace the colonially inspired: “Nigeria We Hail Thee”. Truly, both the letters and the Spirit behind the main thrust of the old Anthem ironically could infer negative implantations. Thus, the thought of a more localized and patriotic building one. Then came the ‘Arise O Compatriot…’
But more ironic is that while we daily, even, occasionally sing the Anthem at Official functions, and sometimes, casually, we perhaps mumbled the line ‘The Labour of Our Heroes Past’ without giving a deep thought into the extant meaning of the line. The words ‘our heroes’ past’ never strike us, pinch our minds into the whereabouts these nebulous heroes’ past!
How many ever bother to pause, ponder and consider these heroes past? How many have ever bothered to ask who are these heroes or heroines? Are they truly past, or long forgotten? We only sing and follow the rhythm, without embracing the Spirit and move on.
The truth is that Nigeria as a nation has not been in lack of hero or heroine. What the nation abjectly lacks is proper identification and celebration of one. From all fields of life, in science and technology, education, sports, administration, even in entertainment, there lay waste a huge number of heroes, heroines, some long dead, bodies swallowed by the Mother Earth, unsung and left unceremoniously.
Historical lacuna, such as this are often helped created by the State policies. Some policies can never bring progress, just regression into the Dark Age. One of such is the decision at a point to discontinue history as a teaching subject in our secondary schools. And when eventually reversed, the curriculum has been watered down. It is at that impressionable age that a kid assimilates better the heroic attainments of his forefathers. And such an impression is bound to last forever. But we denied them.
I can still recollect vividly, while growing up how we were regaled, though disjointedly and inconsistently, the exploits of Ogedegbe of Ilesha, Fabunmi of Okemesi during the Kiriji wars. The Northerners should remember Queen Amina of Katsina. Those awe-inspiring heroics of our forefathers are gone. The history curriculum does not accommodate them. Even the nationalistic exploits of Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamid Azikwe, Ahmadu Bello and others that were included are mostly peripheral.
Poor planning and insensitivities to heroics attainments by those in authorities are largely responsible for this lacuna. The annual ritual of doling out National Honours Awards, National Merit Award and other cosmetics Awards’ Gala Nights
The other time, I read in one foreign bulletin how a researcher went to Ikenne, Ogun State, the home town of the late visionary Premier of the Western Region and Leader of the Yoruba people, at the critical period in the nation’s history. The man had asked some secondary students, who late Pa Obafemi Awolowo was? Sadly, some eight out ten respondents did not know who he was or remember him. One was quoted as saying ‘Haha… the man whom my Dad said his house was down this street!’ Such is the abysmal memory of the man who sweated day and night, endured prison term to put the race in an enviable position it occupies today.
Late Pa Awolowo’s case is not one in isolation, rather it is an aggregated general norm. Should we start with sports? Where is that Olympian Ifeajuna, Segun Odegbami, Mudashiru Lawal, Christian Chukwu, Haruna Ilerika, Emmanual Okala;, Adokie Aimesimaka, Mary Onyeali, Falilat Ogunkoya, and a host lot of them today in our Hall of Fame? Perhaps a ‘Hall of Forgotten’ should be created for these heroes. These long-forgotten heroes gave their all in the field of play for the country. They promoted the name and image of the country far more than a Foreign Affairs Minister or an Ambassador could ever do. Yet no remembrance of them today. Brazil still carries Pele around like a father of the nation. Same goes for Frank Backenbuer in Germany, Zinedine Zidane in France, David Beckham in England. Just who cares about our own here? When do we, as a nation remember, not even celebrate the literary giants like D. O. Fagunwa, J. F. Odunjo, Pius Okigbo, Mama P Ogundipe, Wole Soyinka, and the rest? These people have given the nation intellectual stability needed to grow and that’s the end!
Today, who remembers Ayodele Awojobi again? Who still remembers the Mechanical Engineer who was in the forefront of designing and assembling a local vehicle? Long forgotten, I believe. Not even the authorities at the University of Lagos where he held forte, still remember him. He is dead. And the rest have moved on. Sad!
Same, most, unfortunately, goes for the heroes and heroines of the Colonial struggle, they are mostly forgotten today. We easily forgot our ‘past heroes’ and lay to waste their labour. All they laboured for, in sports, administration, science and technology, educational, are now in vain. Yet we celebrate inanities daily. More distressingly, we have made people with the negative profile the face of our nation. Today, not many nations, among the international community respect us.
As a nation, we could still retrace our steps back. The National Assembly can still help us move forward. This is more than the meaningless National Award Honours being giving to every Adamu, Emeka and Olasupo, who have connections with the government of the day. Once they congregate at the International Conference Centre, Abuja for the Awards and the Gala Night, what else? Who remembers these Awardees two years after? Save the verbose adding of MFR, OFR, CON after the more longwinded titles of Chief/Dr/Alhaji/Senator la la la, of what use is the Awards to the Awardees?
The nation needs to move ahead from the plinth compilation of names of allies for a National Award. What the nation needs now is a well-conceived and broad-based Hall of Fame. However, this should be apolitically established. Each state can still bring up the names of citizens with a heroic past. As a people, we all can still do a lot more, for the memory of these ‘heroes past’, so that their ‘labour shall not be vain’.
Afolayan Adebiyi writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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