“These are our children
We shall either pay for or profit
By whatever they become.”
As we celebrated our 52nd Independence, my mind was with our children and youths. A week before our independence day, I moved around a high school here in the US. I went to this school in search of answers to some questions on behalf of my children. Right there on the wall was this quote by James Baldwin. Pronto, I decided there and then that I would share it with fellow Nigerian parents – the bearers of the bearers of our future. I took this decision for one reason. The reason is moral. The first is our collective moral responsibility to Nigerian children. Second, is the moral failure of the the Nigerian state to these children. We see that failure in the moral damage we inflict on these children everyday.
For example, recall the situation in the country today where members of Nigerian elite class, the custodians of the Nigerian state are sending their children to neighboring and less endowed west African countries for their children’s high school education, and where out of 1.5 million students (including those in the so-called private schools) who did the last JAMB examination ONLY THREE got a score above 300. These are happening under the watch of the Nigerian state. It is a moral failure.
Thus the quote James Baldwin, an African American writer, wrote cannot be more apt as we continue to reflect on our “independence”. Baldwin’s quotes are about ethics, they are about what we morally owe our children before we leave.
But because we humans mirror our lives after heroes as sources of hope and motivation, and because we have done it well before in this country of ours, I have decided to share some Nigerian heroes with our youths. This is the first part of a private moral reconstruction of Nigerian history. The message is simple. Memory is the first casualty in a season of moral anomie. Our children may think that things have always been like this. But no, things have not always been like this. We have Nigerian heroes who are genuinely committed to us and who will live forever in us even without the so-called state honours the NIgerian state grant those who desecrate our heritage.
Therefore, as we continue to reflect the past, path and future of our “independence”, I dedicate this list of Nigerian heroes to you Nigerian children, our today, our tomorrow, our forever. In the weeks of our independence, it is also so that we remember, so that “the labour of our past heroes shall never be in vain.” So come along with me.
Tai Solarin – He was an educationist, teacher, thinker, humanist, ethicist, founder of the historic MayFlower School Ikenne. A Nigerian patriot to the core who believed in the goodness of the human being, and who put the infinite potential of the human being at the core of his thought. With a chalk in the right hand, pen on the left, a bowler hat hanging gingerly on his head, always in his khaki shorts and shirt, he taught Nigerian children and youths the moral act of selflessness and service to the community. He predated the EFCC in his genuine and nationalistic zero tolerance for corruption. As the head of the first Nigerian Public Complaints Commission, he taught us civic responsibility, and the need to hold our leaders accountable. Then, he challenged we Nigerian youths never to ask what the nation can do for us, but what we can do for our dear country. He lived with us between August 20, 19922-June 27, 1994. He remains evergreen.
Chinua Achebe – Our cultural hero, novelist, thinker, ethicist in whose living words and writings our collective memories live. He teaches us in his works and literatures that a people who forget their history negate themselves, and will dance naked in the public square without knowing so. For him and in his works, history is the first condition of self knowledge. If you do not know where and when the rain start beating you, you will never find the golden key of resolution. In his first rate, excellent and cultured mind, he mints words to remind us of this golden rule. His substantive words are palm oil of truth. He continues to teach us, while living a quiet and productive intellectual life. He arrived this world on November 16, 1930. His moral teachings remain fresh.
Bala Usman, a first rate historian of Nigerian working peoples. He taught us that knowledge and truth must serve the public, the Nigerian working people and not the state. He belongs to the heroic pantheon of Nigerian public intellectuals who put their knowledge at the service of humanity and the Nigerian peoples. He wrote the classic “For The Liberation of Nigeria.” He lived with us and taught us between 1945 and September 24, 2005 when he departed eternally.
John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo – Our cultural hero. Our cultural icon, a thinker, dramatist, classicist, poet. He turns our cultures into living words through which he beckons us to learn and draw moral instructions. In his creative mind and words, the first condition of a civic life is for us to hear ourselves speak. It is for us not to turn ourselves into a blank crowd of vague faces who are mere numbers. It is for us to be able to see one another in the crowd not as mere vague faces but unique human persons. It is for us not to be casualties unto ourselves. He breathes freshness and eternal life into our cultures. He became a gift to us in April 6, 1935. He continues to teach us quietly.
Margaret Ekpo,- A teacher, motivator who put the equity of humans regardless of gender at the core of her teaching and service. She established the Domestic Science Institute where she trained girls. She taught us truth and honesty in service to humanity. In this she has this to say:”There were difficulties, no doubt. You will always have trouble makers who are out for their own selfish-interests; however, if the women know that you are truly working on their behalf, they will support you; they will cooperate with you.” Hers was an ethics of public service to the Nigerian working people. She taught us and worked with us from 1914-September 21, 2006 when she answered the final call. She remains etched in our collective memories.
Chike Obi – One of our scientific heroes. A first class mathematician and a professor of mathematics who combines the elegance of the abstract world of mathematics with the elegance of the social use of language in the public square. He proposed a proof to Piere Fermat’s ( Fermat was a French mathematician: 1601-1605) elusive Fermat Last Theorem. As a public intellectual and scientific hero, he broke down the often and impersonal world of mathematics to speak moral truth in the public square. He sojourned with us between April 17, 1921 and March 13, 2008 when he was called to eternity.
To be continued…
Adeolu Ademoyo (firstname.lastname@example.org) is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.