The labour of our heroes past, shall never be in vain! So goes the line in our national anthem. Ask a voting age adult from 18 to 50 years old today. What labour? What heroes? What past. You would get the popular reply on TV Schools debates – NO IDEA. Folks have no heroes! They look across the landscape and see failure and nothing else. To begin with, they are educated in half baked fashion. They have acquired certificates, and have no employment. They have acquired education but have no skills. They do not even have the humility to take on a menial service job and await greater opportunity. They want life on the fast lane now. They are unfulfilled and angry as they grow in insecurity, damned by primordial considerations, wishing they never faced the option to pay the supreme sacrifice for the fatherland. It is a vain death.
Ask majority of Nigerians the nation’s heroes and you would be surprised to draw a blank. Why is it that we do not have heroes? The reasons are all written down in the statements of our past transition from regime to regime. When Dr. Azikiwe, Chief Awolowo, and the Sardauna of Sokoto wrested Power from our colonial masters to give us a Parliamentary type Democracy with a bicameral Legislature, we had Dr. Azikiwe as Ceremonial President given by the runner up party, and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as Executive Prime Minister produced by the leading ruling Party the Northern People’s Congress, Chief Obafemi Awolowo led the Opposition. I think Nigerians were unable to grasp the meaning of an opposition party and instead applied the literal meaning, that the Opposition would oppose the Government willy nilly on every policy, as different from offering an alternative approach to public policy and executive action towards the agreed goals of development. The commentary of the Military on leaders of the first republic dug the grave and buried the heroes of struggle against colonial rule, as deeply as they could. With what sincerity did the Military bequeath to the nation the anthem that said the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain? Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu Who led the January 15th 1966 declared in his coup speech that – “our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.” Like me, you must be wondering whether this speech was written in 1966, and the clock stopped? But between January 15th and May 29, 1966 the cost of the coup had been counted. Only “Northerners” were annihilated. This caused reprisals which culminated in the ousting of General Ironsi, the beneficiary of Nzeogwu’s intervention. From then, political transition in Nigeria had been changing of the guards in which the incoming lot execute the outgoing lot, leaving the country with provincial heroes, seen elsewhere in the country as villains.
All past leaders at National or State levels are exposed as corrupt and nepotistic failures who pillaged the treasury. General Murtala Muhammad was uncomplimentary of General Yakubu Gowon whom he ousted. That he became a hero is more owing to the tragic circumstances of his assassination. General Olusegun Obasanjo was spared the cynical condemnation to a villain by his act of handing over power to an elected regime – for the first time in Africa, a military regime voluntarily allowed power to transit to a democratically elected government. Sadly, President Shehu Shagari could not go down as a national hero. In ousting him, General Muhammadu Buhari said in his speech:- “The political leadership of the second republic circumvented most of the checks and balances in the constitution to “bring the present state of general insecurity”. “…political contestants regarded victory at elections as a matter of life and death struggle and were determined to capture or retain power by all means. It is true that there is a worldwide economic recession. However, in the case of Nigeria, its impact was aggravated by mismanagement. …the appropriate government agencies have good advice but the leadership disregarded their advice. … the legislators were preoccupied with determining their salary scales, fringe benefit and unnecessary foreign travels, et al, which took no account of the state of the economy and the welfare of the people they represented.” That was General Muhammadu Buhari committing President Shehu Shagari of the 2nd Republic into the villainy in which he languished till the term of his natural life.
Of General Buhari, General Joshua Dogonyaro was to say “… we could not stay passive and watch a small group of individuals misuse power to the detriment of our national aspirations and interest. The Nigerian public has been made to believe that the slow pace of action of the Federal Government headed by Major-General Muhamadu Buhari was due to the enormity of the problems left by the last civilian administration. Although it is true that a lot of problems were left behind by the last civilian government, the real reason, however, for the very slow pace of action is due to lack of unanimity of purpose among the ruling body; subsequently, the business of governance, has gradually been subjected to ill-motivated power play considerations. The ruling body, the Supreme Military Council, has, therefore, progressively been made redundant by the actions of a select few members charged with the day to day implementation of the SMC’s policies and decision.”
General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida ruled Nigeria for 8 years surpassed only by General Yakubu Gowon. He moved the nation’s capital from Lagos to Abuja and foisted a circuitous transition programme which in the end made a political martyr of Chief MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of June 12 election. Stepping aside, he installed Chief Ernest Shonekan to Head an Interim Government which General Sani Abacha ousted to rule from 1993 until his mysterious death in power in 1998. From Abacha, to President Obasanjo, Yar’adua to Goodluck Jonathan, you would be hard put to proclaim any of them a hero.
Thus unlike many other nations, we can not find heroes in the accomplished political class. May be in sports, the literary arts, sciences, technology or in folklore. In my community, young children know Makwada as hero, and can recite States and their capitals, but you draw blank when you ask who heroes past are, or what labour they gave the fatherland that should not be in vain.
Shall we continue as a nation without heroes? Is it not anomalous not to have heroes? Do we review and rewrite history in such a way that reveals the labour of heroes past that should never be in vain? Would any heroes we lift up today, survive our scrutiny. Nigeria’s heroes seem late in arriving.