It has been long since I sang the Nigerian national anthem. I remember joining in its singing long after leaving secondary school a few years ago during my National Youth Service. Often I find myself on the warpath with school teachers and my youth corps students who will not “salute the flag” and “stand still” when the National Anthem is sung or the National Pledge is being recited during the morning assemblies. To me this was part of my contribution to citizenship, nation building and patriotism.
Some of my fellow teachers (the “permanent” teachers in the school where I was posted) only “stand still” on hearing the Anthem when they know I am around, at least to avoid the “corper’s wrath”. At other times they resort to their usual shabby ways in the contempt with which they treat the nation’s – perhaps most important – symbol. One of the teachers wondered what my nation has ever done for me to deserve a “return of favour”. My traditional reply has been John F. Kennedy’s admonition at his inauguration as US President in 1960, “…ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country.” This reply didn’t make any sense to many of them, I know, but they were under some sorts of “obligations” to agree with the “know-it-all Corper”. Why are they struggling to understand my simple message of responsibility?
We were all taught patriotism as a virtue back then in elementary school, but the reality when we left those small classrooms soon stared us in the face. It soon became a situation of fighting those you do not hate and guarding those you don’t love just because duty, not love, made you fight.
I recall hearing the name, Mr. Taiwo Akinwunmi, as being the young man who designed the Nigerian national flag as a student back then in London since my primary school days. I was surprised to know that, long after my Social studies teachers told me of this man’s exploits, he for many years lived in near poverty and neglect, whilst our politicians attend all official functions, the Federal Executive Council meetings, the National Assembly and the likes and all transact government businesses in the name of this flag whose designer lived in a mess. Yet this man was left in his house in Ibadan, not until I watched him on Frank Edoho’s popular television show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
I even wondered if any of these so-called politicians has even demonstrated any patriotic act save for the monumental corruption, impunity and national embarrassment they have caused the nation; yet, there was no compensation for Mr. Akinwunmi who is ordinarily supposed to be a source of inspiration to the young ones, while also serving as one of the nation’s pride. But who will tell them?
I am aware President Goodluck Jonathan tried to come to Pa Akinwunmi’s aid in the dying moments of his administration as a face-saving act, not necessarily out of love. But better late, they say, than never.
I equally read the story of Mr. Joseph Igbinovia Alufa, the man who carved the Queen Idia mask (The Olokun) used for the second edition of the Festival of Black Arts and Culture (FESTAC) hosted in Lagos, Nigeria in 1977. He had to carve it to save the nation from a major international embarrassment when the original mask was stolen as one of the works of art taken by the British during the Punitive Expedition to Benin Kingdom in 1897, but would not be released by the British museum, even on a “rental fee” of £2 million just for the use of the festival. I am aware the Mr Alufa had to wait for over 31 years for his agreed fee for his work, including 19 years in court to press for his money. All this was in 2008, and I am not aware if the man has been paid till date. This is sometimes the sacrifice for patriotism.
At this point, I will like to bring in Chief Charles Okereke. As far as I know him, he is an embodiment of what you can call patriotism and nationalism in an age where it is very tempting to make enough excuse for narrow ethnic nationalism. He believes so much in the workability of the Nigerian Project. Despite all he went through as a postgraduate (on Imo State Government scholarship which was cornered and pocketed by the Nigerian diplomatic mission) in the United States, he did his best to get a job, with the help of his school, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, USA in the University’s Physical Plant Department, when his financial challenges took a heated turn and was about to drop out of school. He successfully earned his Master of Science (MS) in agriculture with flying colours.
All these notwithstanding, he decided to come back home in 1982 to serve his fatherland under the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Scheme. After his Service, he was disengaged from his employment bond to the Imo state Government and left to wander the streets of Owerri, Aba, and Umuahia in search of green pastures for about ten months. He was to later get a job in the private sector to last only for a few months before the notorious Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) began to take its toll on the private sector. He was able to save some money to at least take him back to the US to continue his life.
In all these, his love for his country is unwearied, while it was easy for other to simply chicken out and lose faith in Nigeria. He believes in his dreams and his capacity to make despite the formidable odds.
Still in all these, in obeying Kennedy’s admonitions to only ask what one can do for his country and not otherwise, he decided to fly the flag of the country again at the African Union (AU) Symbols Competition – the Anthem Category in 2003. His composition, “God Bless Africa”, today is the Union’s unofficial anthem, ‘won’ during the competition but he was ultimately cheated out to the third place. Chief Okereke, in dismay wondered if there could be a third position in a competition where the first position was not announced, and the second position was given to one of the “panel of judges” for the competition, and he was given the “third” position!
Sensing the injustice meted out on him, Chief Okereke turned to his country for help to at least save the country’s honour on the African continent. Despite President Olusegun Obasanjo being the AU Chairman at the time, nothing was done on the matter. Seeing it as daylight robbery, Chief Okereke again in 2007 wrote another petition to the President of Ghana, John A. Kuffor, then AU Chairman. Again, the matter was not even investigated because he “knew nobody”. He wrote another petition to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of Nigeria in 2008, nut remains largely unattended to.
The matter could have been reduced to a tribal or ethnic issue, “If Chief Okereke had been from so-and-so region, bla bla bla, his case would have been given the right attention”. Being an Igbo man, and a proud member of the Ohaneze Ndigbo, he sought the help of the group on his matter.
In 2011, the Ohaneze nominee, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim became the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). This time one would have thought things will be easier for Chief Okereke as regards his several petitions. This time the Ohaneze Ndigbo wrote an official petition, dated 24th April, 2012 with reference number, OHNZ/FGN/2012/03/01, on behalf of Chief Okereke concerning the injustice meted out on him at the said AU Competition.
One would have thought it Chief Okereke’s offence was because he is Igbo and therefore no one was there to “represent him”. Let us say for the sake of argument that others before President Jonathan did not protect Ndigbo interests and hence “punishing them for their sins”, but can we say that a Jonathan government, which the Igbos loudly call their own did not even find the matter important enough to attend to, except through a petition filed by the Ohaneze? Was Anyim, an Igbo man, as the SGF, also punishing another Igbo? Why couldn’t the government, through Ayim, just have at least investigated the matter brought to it by the group or was he not nominated by the Ohaneze?
When I wrote under the title, “Igbos and the Buhari’s Government”, some of my Igbo friends nearly asked for my head. How dare I write about a subject I knew nothing about? Buhari “hates” Igbos just because he has not appointed anyone to “represent Igbos”? At least, all these I heard.
Yet, I asked one of them who cared to listen about how Pius Anyim was SGF made any impact on the lives of Igbos in terms of access to government than before? Was Chief Okereke’s situation better with important Igbo people “in juicy positions” under President Jonathan?
On Chief Okereke’s petition which still lies unattended to at the SGF’s office. I am using this opportunity to call on the newly-appointed Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Babachir David Lawal and President Muhammadu Buhari to look into this enterprising Nigerian’s case and the merit of it with the view to getting to the root of this matter. The nation’s honour was toyed with, politicised, ethicised, degraded, and neglected all with reckless abandon by those whose sense of honour was rather suspect. Chief Okereke typifies what it takes to sacrifice for patriotism!
This article was originally published by The Premium Times