In G.W. Hegel’s immortal words, “History leads the wise man and drags the fool”. 55 years of Nigeria’s nationhood was recently marked in the country with palpable silence over the real heroes of the struggle for our independence. By real heroes, I mean the Nigerians peoples – monarchs, workers, peasants, market women, teachers, journalists, students and unionists – who fought to shake off the yoke of colonial and feudal bondage.
This is the time for historians and students of history to justify value of history in national development by taking up the challenge of straightening the record of the nation’s struggles and attainment of independence. Nigeria must not continue to abandon on the recycle bin of history, the selfless, patriotic, sacrifice and everything put into the struggle for sovereignty of this nation by men and women like Jaja of Opobo, Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, Aliyu dan Sidi, Michael Imoudu, Saad Zungur, Abubakar Zukogi, Mokwugo Okoye, Raji Abdullahi, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Rev. I.O. Ransome-Kuti, Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa, Peter Nwana, J.F Odunjo, M.C.K. Ajuluchukwu, Nduka Eze, Margaret Ekpo, Theo Ayoola, Muhammadu Allangade, Heelas Ugokwe, Lawan Danbazau, Ikenna Nzimiro, Hajia Sawaba Gambo….
Even mosquitoes have a privilege of praise and occupy a pride of place in the accounts of Nigeria Independence. This process of valorising the anopheles usually came after copious chapters – indeed volumes – had been devoted principally to singing the praises of the ‘founding fathers’ of the Nigerian nation – Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello. The foursome proved to be a convenient point of reference for the historians who seemed bent on keeping alive the myth that Nigeria became independent of colonial domination, less through concerted struggle – but thanks to mosquitoes and Constitutional conferences.
Nigerians hardly recall the battle of wit put up, long before the 1940s, by monarchs like King Jaja of Opobo, Ovonramwen Nogbaisi of Benin and Aliyu dan Sidi of Zaria. Following his recalcitrant, uncooperative but patriotic attitude towards the British who had demanded a free reign of trade on the Oil River, King Jaja was on 19 September, 1887, bundled at gun point to Accra enroute the West Indies on exile. For saying ‘no’ to the British, King Jaja spent the most useful part of his adult life in exile and died on Tenerife Island a frustrated old man, never to eyes on his beloved Opobo again.
Same goes for Oba Ovonramwen of Benin, who stoutly resisted the British attempt to overrun his land. He was later bundled into exile in Calabar where he died in 1929. It is hardly remembered today that Lord Lugard in his pre-eminent majesty, once like a predator, pounced on an Emir of Zaria, Aliyu dan Sidi, deposed him and sent him on exile to Lokoja. His offence: he had written a long poem denouncing colonialism and British adventurism in Nigeria. Today, Lugard’s name is brazenly immortalised in some of Nigerian streets and public places while Aliyu dan Sidi’s name remains lost in history.
How many people still remember that Pa Michael Imoudu had in 1930’s constituted himself and Nigerian workers into an opposition and a threat to the British? To the embarrassment of the colonialists, Imoudu led Nigerian workers on a number of effective strikes in protest against poor wages. The 1941 strike gave birth to the Nigerian Trade Union Congress, the first umbrella body for the trade unions in Nigeria. His struggle led him to prison but he never stumbled. Today, leading a trade union is an open door to riches and romancing with the ruling class.
Following the glorious footsteps of Imoudu were some young Nigerians, a lot of them without university education, but still organised themselves into a movement dedicated to the struggle for freedom, Christened Zikist Movement after Azikiwe. Their slogan then was: ‘freedom or death’. They were united by idealism and the urge to bring to an end to British subjugation of Nigeria. Then was the period when youths were attracted to intellectualism and nationalism. Mallam Raji Abdallah, a fiery Zikist and one time President of the Movement was in 1948, sentenced to two years imprisonment for delivering a powerful and scathing lecture against colonialism at the Glover Hall in Lagos. In the course of the lecture he had declared to the chagrin of the Macpherson administration: ‘We have passed the age of petition… This is the age of action – plain, blunt and positive action.’
There was also Osita Agwuna, one time assistant editor of The Comet who was in 1949 jailed three years for his activities as the deputy president of the Zikist Movement. Then Chief Enahoro who at the age of 25 had been to prison twice was of the same mould. In 1947, Enahoro was jailed for 18 months for ‘seducing the police from their duty and allegiance to His majesty the King.’ He went in for another nine months over an article on ex-Governor Bourdillon; and six months for a lecture delivered at Glover Hall in Lagos. All members of the Zikist movement present at the meeting were arrested, tried, and jailed or fined.
To most Nigerians, the nation’s literary heroism begins and ends with Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo and Wole Soyinka, and others of their generation. But before Okigbo, there had been Saad Zunguru, a rigorous anti-colonial poet. Unlike most modern writers whose works are generally ignored by the state because of their deliberate obscurity, Zunguru’s poetry caused sleepless moments for the colonialists and the feudal lords across the Niger. Only a handful of Nigerians probably know or have read that before Chinua Achebe, the master story teller, there was a Peter Nwana who in 1937 held the literate Ibo people spell-bound with his Omenuko, the first novel written in Igbo language. In the west, literary awareness was awakened by Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa who had between 1939 and 1961 published six novels in Yoruba. Drawing largely on Yoruba mythology and sometimes Christian worldview, Fagunwa was not only compulsory reading for the literate but also
for the illiterate who in the evenings relaxed under the trees while their offspring read the stories to them. The most popular of the Fagunwa work, Ogboju Ode Ninu Irunmole, has been translated into English by Wole Soyinka as A Forest of Thousand Daemons.
Fighting the battle for a greater Nigeria on the political and educational fronts was Rev. I.A Ransome- Kuti who was the founded the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) in 1933. Besides, he was a member of the Elliot Commission of Higher Education in West Africa. His vigorous argument that one university was not enough for Nigeria persuaded the commission to recommend two for the country. The founding of Nigeria Union of Students in October 1939, at Abeokuta was also at the inspiration of the Reverend. The question is how come NUT is not being involved again in education policy development?
This is the time to expose the illogicality of assumption that Nigeria’s independence was gotten on the ‘platter of gold’. It is denigrating, treachery of sorts and failure in our collective wisdom to allow “platter of gold” assumption to continue to thrive.
Musbau writes from Alausa, Ikeja