A National Culture of Ignominia (1)

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The fifth and sixth line of the National Anthem reads: “…The labour of our heroes past, shall never be in vain…” This is an unequivocal statement of commitment towards recognizing heroes and the honours they bring to and upon the nation. The bold declaration (and in the early lines for that matter) could be motivating. It could make even the lame to strive and dream to walk for the purpose of making sacrifices for his nation. It could arouse the strong consciousness of nationalism and patriotism towards their country, Nigeria.

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“The labour of our heroes…SHALL NEVER be in vain”, is not an ordinary declaration. It is a national commitment to eternal acknowledgement, sustenance of, reference point to, and gratitude for every act of national sacrifice. It depicts a serious-minded and appreciative nation that would not consign the heroism and service of the patriot to the trashcan of antiquity. This also suggests a good reward system by the government of the nation.

It is pertinent to note however that, like most vacuous declarations in the big nation, it is another empty vow. Most past heroes in Nigeria who are still alive are holed up in a contraption of obscurity and squalor until they fade out of existence and soon pale out of our memories. This thus brings to fore the true meaning of that part of the national anthem: “The labour of our heroes past…shall never be in vain”, meaning that while their labour, their work, efforts, creations, ingenuity, or contributions, would forever be useful because of the value addition to Nigeria, the “labourers” or heroes themselves can go to hell! That then sounds to me like a line from the anthology of the “use and dump”. Otherwise, that song should have gone like this: “The heroes of our great nation, shall never be disdained…”

Our heroes are treated like villains, beggars, and low-life. Indeed, they live unsung, die unsung, and fade out of national history, unsung. For instance, the conception of the National Flag was made by one Taiwo Akinkunmi who, incidentally, is still alive and resides in Ibadan, but who is barely known by many Nigerians. Now the story of the man whose ingenuity and heroism should measure up by all standards to those of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, the writers of the Federalist Papers, establishing the fabrics of the federal constitution of the American nation, is a catalogue of woes.

The national flag, designed in 1959, was officially hoisted on October 1, 1960 to replace the multi-coloured Union Jack that symbolized servitude. The uniquely sea-green bands represent the forests and abundant natural wealth of Nigeria while the white band represents peace. Akinkunmi did this as a student in England. He prepared his entry and sent it to Lagos where it was eventually picked in 1959 as the best and the flag was used to celebrate an independent Nigeria.

Thereafter, he got his pittance of financial reward due to a student-inventor and took his turn in what now seems a banishment to and confinement in eternal ignominy. His name was not known by many of us growing up until we began to ask our parents and teachers out of curiosity. In fact, we thought the designer of the unique green and white flag had died in the 1960s. The picture of his residence in Ibadan depicts squalor. No national limelight. No money. No deserving honours. It’s like a national conspiracy to sentence him to ignominia. It is only in recent times, after much media lampoon and awareness that some individuals and organizations honoured Akinkunmi with awards, and was the government able to repaint his antiquated house in Ibadan.

Many other Nigerians have had to go down this way. Buoyed by the national wake-up call of the anthem, “Arise O Compatriots, Nigeria’s call obey; to serve…with love, and strength, and faith…” the likes of Walter Oyatogun of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) have served the nation, only to be scornfully treated at a point many years ago. All the Under-16 gold-winning members of the Eaglet national soccer team that won the first ever World Cup for Nigeria and Africa in 1985, except for those who strove offshore to remain alive, live without honour and have not had any compensation from government. As a matter of fact, very few people know, recognize, or remember them. Yemi Tella, coach of the Under-17 World Cup winning team in 2007, died of prostate cancer shortly after the victory celebrations, because of negligence from the government of the nation he served. Government had paid him off with money and house, so he was on his own after the gifts showmanship. After all, he would not be useful for electioneering in the future. Another Under-17 coach, Mohammed Abdullahi, died cheaply of a manageable ailment simply because he had no money and the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) neglected him.

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