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Angry Nigerian protesters

(Opinion) Snubbing heroes, honouring villains By Bola Bolawole

Angry Nigerian protesters
Angry Nigerian protesters
When the first military coups took place in Nigeria in 1966, I was a child. Newspapers, radio and television stations were not as widespread then as they are today. Of course, there was no social media and phones were found only in few government offices; homes of top government functionaries and the nouveau riche. But thank God that History was a serious subject in those days, taught at all levels of education. So it was that I read extensively about the events of those days; a lot of it in the “Headlines”, a publication in the stable of the then Daily Times, and then as a student who took courses in History at secondary school, Higher School Certificate, and University levels.
There were two military coups in 1966; the first one, led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and four other Majors, on January 15 and the other, usually called the “counter-coup”, on July 29th. The Nzeogwu coup led to the virtual wiping off of the political leaders of the time and high net-worth military officers. Most of the victims came from the North and South-west. The East, where Nzeogwu and three of the coup leaders came from, was virtually spared of casualties. This was why the Nzeogwu-led coup was derisively referred to as the coup of the Ibos. The July coup, master-minded by Northern military leaders, was meant to not only even up scores with the Ibos but to also remove the leadership the Nzeogwu-led coup had, by omission or commission, installed.
Gen. JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi, the first military Head of State installed after the Nzeogwu coup, was thus murdered in the counter-coup, along with his host, Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi. Aguiyi-Ironsi had been visiting in Ibadan, where Fajuyi was the military governor. In both coups, the South-west lost its premier as well as gallant military officers. It was the proverbial grass which suffered as two elephants – the East and North – seemingly engaged in a murderous tango for supremacy. This year and month mark the 50th anniversary of the first leg of those sordid events and the rash of adverts in the newspapers were the potent reminders. Today’s Nigerians who are bereft of the history of their own people would have wondered what was up and who those people being eulogised by family and friends were. This is one havoc that those who have trivialised, even “killed”, as it were, the study of History in schools have done to our people and generations yet unborn.
For me, one name stood out among all those leaders of yore killed in the Nzeogwu coup and celebrated last week by family and friends – he is Festus Okotie-Eboh, one-time Minister of Finance in the First Republic. I think that is the man also nick-named Omimi-Ejoh. When Nzeogwu declared that the reason why they staged the January 1966 coup was to exterminate the “ten-per-centres… who made the country look big for nothing”, I reckoned that included, if not representative of, Okotie-Eboh. Stories were that the man lived a very flamboyant lifestyle; stole and carted away into foreign land the country’s riches; and that because he died suddenly, he could not divulge the secret code(s) of his Swiss bank account(s) to anyone and thus the huge assets he transferred abroad were lost and became the grief of country and family but the good fortunes of the Swiss. There were also stories of the man’s family fighting in court over properties he left behind.
Instances of the mindless pillaging of the treasury in the midst of mind-boggling poverty and pervasive lack have made other people look down on Africans/Blacks as savages. We hear gory tales of African buffoons who siphoned – and continue to siphon – the riches of their countries abroad but who never lived to enjoy or get it transferred to their generations. The story is told of a Dasuki who died in a German hospital during the military era as an alleged money launderer for some eminent Nigerians but he reportedly took the secret codes to his grave. Till tomorrow, millions, even billions of dollars siphoned out of this country by the late maximum dictator, Sani Abacha, are being discovered in one secret account or the other in every nooks and crannies of the world. We may never know how much this country has lost in this manner; it is enough to simply say it must be stupendous. And the bleeding continues! If it will stop, perhaps tomorrow!
Family will always remember and have fond memories of their loved ones; no one can – or should – take that away from them. After all, stolen funds often are put at the service of family and friends and benefactors need show appreciation; but society as a whole must know who to honour and who to treat as pariah. When supposedly respectable leaders gather to be counted at events honouring common scoundrels, then, sense and sensibility have taken flight. Or is this a clear case of “show me your friends” and “birds of a feather”? Many honourable men and women lie in their graves a-smouldering in this country, many in unmarked graves unknown to grieving family and friends; without honour and without due remembrance; without garlands and without wreaths; indeed, without kind words and without decent burials; yet the despicable are those who snatch the headlines.
This, certainly, is no sure way to build a nation that will endure in truth and faith, and in peace and unity. The national anthem rings hollow in the face of the injustice we do to “heroes” whose “labours (we parrot) shall not be in vain”. The return of History to the syllabus of schools is one good way to go; the grains must be separated from the chaff and the true history of our heroes taught. A podium of honour and respectability must be erected for our heroes not only in appreciation of their sacrifices but also to ensure an endless flow of the stream of patriotic fervour from coming generations.

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