It is said that a people who have no knowledge of their past and how their past influences their present and could be a guide to their future are a people in the dark about their total environment of being.
Knowledge of our past helps to remind us of where we started and how far down the road we have travelled in our search for a better tomorrow for all of us. It also helps us in the present to chart the path of our future and determine the probable destination for our people.
The past is, therefore, more than an account of all that has transpired. It is the key to our understanding of our present and it is a pointer to our future.
Nigeria’s National Anthem has this interesting line: “The labours of our heroes past shall never be in vain” and it happens to be the most solemn part of our National Anthem. Whenever the National Anthem is sung, the musical instruments and voices are low key when we get to that particular sentence. It shows the premium that our country places on the labour of our heroes – our founding fathers.
Nigeria was blessed with committed nationalists such as Sir Herbert Macaulay who established the Nigeria National Democratic Party (NNDP) in 1922, Chief Obafemi Awolowo who was one of the brains behind the establishment of National Youth Movement (NYM) and Action Group (AG) and the pioneer of the Nigerian Tribune newspaper in November 1949; late Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe who established the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon which later metamorphosed into National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC). Zik, like he was fondly called, was also the brain behind the establishment of West African Pilot newspaper.
From Northern Nigeria, we had people like Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, and Sir Ahmadu Bello who were the arrowheads of Northern People’s Congress (NPC). Other notable personalities include Malam Aminu Kano, Chief Anthony Enahoro, and Dennis Osadebey, to mention a few. What all the aforementioned people had in common was that they form part of Nigeria’s depleting genre of heroes.
These were the men who opposed British colonialism, sometimes at great personal risks, and obtained independence for Nigeria. For them, Nigeria’s independence was a significant victory for Africa because the country was to serve as a beacon of hope and leadership for the rest of the continent and indeed for the entire Black race.
Consequently, they have come to be regarded as heroes. Apparently, the line, “the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain” reveals the concerns of those who wrote the National Anthem that Nigeria’s strenuous journey from independence to nationhood may turn out to be truncated, thereby making a mess of the enormous efforts of our founding fathers.
In his seminal piece, The Trouble With Nigeria, Chinụa Achebe said, “In spite of conventional opinion, Nigeria has been less than fortunate in its leadership. A basic element of this misfortune is the seminal absence of intellectual rigour in the political thought of our founding fathers – a tendency to pious materialistic woolliness and self-centred pedestrianism.”
With this remark, Achebe was probably the first to identify something that a few Nigerians are beginning to come to terms with – our founding fathers were not all that great.
Indeed, they laboured to shake loose the grip of colonial powers on our collective destiny. However, they are not entirely blameless for the various problems that are currently bedevilling the country. By the way, most of them were still alive when the rot set in. Some of them were even participants or enablers of the country’s tenuous and tumultuous journey to where we are today.
Part of the blame of the founding fathers is that they waged the struggle for independence from the platforms of regional parties, not a common national platform. Consequently, the date of independence was delayed to allow the regional groupings strike a workable accord which was not achieved – till today.
We must acknowledge that the labours of the past heroes yielded the most significant dividends when in 1960 Nigeria attained independence, and became a republic in 1963. However, there were many issues outstanding, but these were swept under the carpet; most notable among these were ethnicity, minority complaints, violence and growing corruption.
Suffice to say that the prevailing social, economic and political woes pervading our national landscape lend a prima facie credence to the vanity of the labour of our national heroes.
Nigeria never had a glorious past, and our heroes seem late in arriving. Maybe, we should review and rewrite history in such a way that reveals the labour of heroes past that should never be in vain.
Ezinwanne Onwuka writes from Cross River State and may be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org.