Every society and individual needs heroes. They help us survive through our worst times and to thrive. They symbolise for us the kinds of qualities we would like to possess (usually of courage, honour, justice, and human excellence) and all the ambitions we would like to satisfy. Therefore, societies select the best among themselves to serve as the embodiment of their values and a guide and aspiration to the members of that society.
Like all societies, Nigeria too has elevated some of its members to hero status. Mostly, these are our nationalist/independence leaders, soldier state-men, and those who have risen to the pinnacle of their careers through dint of hard work, sacrifice, and brilliance. These figures are held up to us as representing the best ideals we should aspire to.
The problem, however, is that most of the images of these heroes were mostly whitewashed. A dispassionate study of history and their actual conduct show that for the most part, our independence leaders and nationalists were mostly egoistic, selfish, corrupt, tribalist, and reactionary leaders who laid the foundations and set Nigeria on the path of the politics of plunder, ethnicity, and nepotism that is destroying the country. The best of our nationalist/independence leaders that we so desperately want to canonise, have credible cases of corruption against them, pioneered the funding of political parties through the award of government contracts to party members, and also pioneered destructive ethnic politics that has permanently divided the country into primordial ethnic enclaves.
We also tried canonising military leaders as some sort of modernising men on horseback. Well, we saw how quickly they all unravelled. Now, only the dead among them have any sort of regard – and it is precisely because they are dead. We do not talk ill of the dead in Africa.
The third tranche of heroes in Nigeria were those who supposedly fought valiantly to dislodge the military from power in 1999. These group of heroes fall into two groups. There is the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) faction – both at home and those in exile – whose members quickly moved into politics in 1999 and took the reins of power in the southwest of the country. Another group is the more geographically diverse ideologues and radicals who doubted the sincerity of the military to return power to civilians in 1999 and adopted Bola Ige’s metaphorical “siddon look” approach.
The NADECO “heroes” have since unravelled as they were mostly castrated politically by their poor performance in office and revelations by those close to the dark googled dictator, Sani Abacha, that many of these supposed heroes of democracy were secretly visiting Abacha at night to strike business and political deals. What is more, the other group that adopted the ‘siddon look’ approach and allowed supposed criminals and charlatans like James Ibori and Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, among others, to seize control of and dominated the political landscape have been bemoaning their fate since then with many driven by hunger to work for the supposed criminals and charlatans and many others hopping from one party to another, like vagabonds, desperately searching for platforms to contest elections or make them relevant in the political environment.
Driven by hunger and desperation, these self-entitled lot were quick to join the efforts by the then-opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) to dislodge the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) from power in 2015 in the hope they will be co-opted into the elite structure of the party. Haven been severely disappointed, most of them are on the loose again looking for parties and coalitions to join.
Then, there are national heroes in the mould of Wole Soyinka. He is not just Nigeria’s only Nobel Laurette, he also symbolises for the Nigerian youth all the qualities they would like to possess and all the ambitions they would like to satisfy. For long, the professor/teacher, public intellectual, activist and scourge of dictators and derelict public officials alike, has been viewed as a sort of a national hero who has brought fame to Nigeria and has been one of the champions of democracy and good governance.
Like I argued some months ago on this page, Mr Soyinka has done all things right – that is up until 2015 when he wilfully joined forces with the reactionary/retrogressive forces he has spent his life fighting to elect Nigeria’s worst ever government that has overseen the near total destruction of the country. Mr Soyinka very well knew the antecedents of the man he was openly supporting to be president. He has once denounced Buhari’s bid for the presidency as one of the greatest insults to Nigerians and akin to a former slaver recapturing a freed colony and turning it back into a slave plantation.
Yet, in 2015, he and his co-ethnics, ideological comrades, and friends decided to turn to Buhari for redemption and employed all the public relations tricks in the books to rewrite history and burnish his image.
Of late, it appears as if Mr Soyinka was being tormented by his role in the emergence of the Buhari regime and is desperate to explain away his role. But recent events have shown that he is non-repentant and quite comfortable in bed with the same reactionary forces he claims to have been fighting all his life. Three weeks ago, Mr Soyinka chided members of the Seadog confraternity for mocking a presidential candidate over his physical frailties in a song, saying it was distasteful. “I belong to a culture where we do not mock physical afflictions or disabilities. Very much to the contrary.” This is the same Wole Soyinka of the “shepopotamus” and “domestic appendage” fame! When did he realise it was wrong to mock a leader’s physical features and afflictions?
Mr Soyinka has already chosen a side and candidate. He would obviously prefer a sick, frail candidate so long as it serves his interest. Yet, the same Soyinka, in January 2010 protested to the National Assembly demanding Yar’adua’s impeachment over his frailties. But here he is hobnobbing and obviously open to the candidate of a physically sick man, whose age, name and source of wealth is unknown, and who was indicted for drug running in the United States and known to have pillaged and continues to pillage the resources of the most viable state in Nigeria.
Nigerian youth, in their bid to take over their country and disrupt the current political order, must realise there is absolutely no hero in Nigeria worthy of their admiration.