Two prominent Nigerians, Fela Anikulapo and Gani Fawehinmi, bestrode the Nigerian space like colossi, they indeed left their marks on the sand of time. Fela Anikulapo was the founder of Afrobeat music, from Nigeria/Africa to the rest of the world. He was from the elite class and trained as a professional musician. He used his life and music to challenge the ills of the Nigerian society, to the anger and disdain of those in power, and often to his own detriment. He led a life of complete sacrifice to humanity by confronting injustice and public impropriety that characterise the Nigerian leadership. In his lifetime, Fela was never appreciated both by the authority and a vast majority of the Nigerian people. Instead, his socially-conscious music was repeatedly banned by the government. Parents cautioned their children and wards from listening to his songs, lest they emulate his “immoral” lifestyle. Fela died in 1998. Nigeria is believed to be worse now than when Fela began to use his music to prick and preach public consciousness. Fela’s “inglorious” path and past gained tremendously leap after his death. He became everybody’s hero, including those that had chastised him in his lifetime. Those that refuse to listen to him openly began to sing his praise in death. Everyone keenly wished to be associated, even if remotely, with the humanist that was never given any state recognition in his lifetime. His Kalakuta Republic, believed to be the haven of the never-do-wells, became a resort of some sort in Nigeria. The Fela African shrine continue to play host to local and foreign tourists, including government officials and even foreign government’s visitors, most of whom now extol Fela’s virtues in death.
It was the aluta conscious students of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife that conferred the title of the senior advocate of the masses (SAM) on Chief Gani Fawehinmi, before the revered Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee deemed it fit many years later to confer the titled of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) on him. For someone that had done many pro-bono cases, many attribute the delay in the conferment of the title of SAN on Gani to his constant conflict with the Nigerian government. Gani’s travails with the powers-that-be began in the late 1960s and continued up to the period of Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999. For fighting the cause of human rights and improved quality of life, Chief Fawehinmi was, arrested, beaten, tortured and imprisoned in many police cells and several prisons across Nigeria. Popularly believed to be the people’s president, Gani ran under the platform of the National Conscience party unsuccessfully for the office of the president of Nigeria in 2003. He came distant fifth with just 161, 333 votes behind Obasanjo, Buhari, Ojukwu and Nwobodo. The winner of the said election had more than 24 million votes, votes much more than all the votes of all the other 19 candidates put together. While Gani got recognitions for fighting at the risk of his own live for human rights, civil liberty and improved quality of life, he was roundly victimised by security agents and the Nigerian state at home. In death, however, Gani, like Fela, became an instant hero. He has now been recognized by the governments of Ondo and Lagos states and the Federal Government of Nigeria. He has been awarded the second highest title in the land, the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), in recognition of the same thing for which he was vilified, arrested, beaten, battered and imprisoned during his life time.
The illustrations above merely point in one direction – Nigeria is a site of many unsung heroes and missed windows of opportunities. It is sad to observe that Nigerians have now developed the attitude of putting their worst foot forward when it comes to placing people in the position of authority. Clearly and apart from Gani and Fela, a lot of Nigerian unsung heroes have died unrecognised, with the opportunity for them to contribute their best to building a viable nation missed on the altar of carelessness, hatred, negligence and sheer wickedness. These Nigerians’ qualities were unappreciated, untapped and unused in their lifetime. Their virtues extolled in death, whereas those without ideas run the affairs of the country, even determining the fate of the ones with ideas. It is in death that Nigerians realise that Awolowo, a man who ran unsuccessfully for Nigeria’s presidency, was the best president Nigeria never had. The same can be said of Mallam Aminu Kano, a gentleman whose vision transcend a narrow northern agenda. It is also in death that Nigerians now mourn how Nigeria sorely missed the sort of leadership that Bashorun M K O Abiola, the winner of the June 12 elections, would have provided for Nigeria, had he given a short at the seat of power. Nigeria missed the golden opportunity to evolve into a detribalised, effective and efficient nation in each of these cases. Indeed, the list of Nigeria’s unsung heroes is endless.
However, an interesting twist to this story is that unlike the military era, where human rights and civil liberties are caged and flagrantly violated by the military regimes, Nigeria is now under a civilian rule. The space has thus been opened up for the participation of all and sundry in politics in the interest of the nation. There is an opportunity now thrust on our thumps to decide whether to appreciate our heroes and take advantage of the golden opportunity or g the usual route. To go the usual route is to choose between a lifeless presidency that offers lame excuses of sixteen years of mismanagement and misrule or to embrace those that destroyed Nigeria’s past. Either way, Nigeria ends in a catch 22, hence the need to look beyond going the usual route. The current and the past administrations are already characterised by bad leaderships, leaderships that fail to appreciate and harness Nigeria’s enormous potentials. It is time to have a rethink in the coming elections, which presents itself as an opportunity to rewrite Nigeria’s future, an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and begin on a clean slate, if only Nigerians are willing and able to do the right. Doing the right thing entails bringing people with ideas and determination to power.
Individuals such as Omoyele Sowore, among a host of other candidates, come to mind. In terms of capacity, character and competence, Sowore for instance has a lot to offer. He stands out of the pack, even among the new breed politicians. Raving with passion and energy to transform Nigeria within the shortest time possible, Sowore has traversed the length and breadth of the country, visiting 32 states and outlining and highlighting his blueprint encapsulated in SPICER HEAT to the people. Rough, rugged and realistic in his vision and mission, Sowore has presented Nigeria with another opportunity, this time to choose who would serve and not rule them. Would Nigerians oblige him? While it would be saddening if Nigerians fail to take advantage of the current wind of change that is throwing up new candidates for political office, it would be a great disservice to the nation if valuable assets that some of these candidates constitute are allowed to pass Nigeria by. It is also important not to forget that the current beneficiaries of the Nigerian system would stand in the way of such change. But they should be reminded by J. F. Kennedy’s quote that “those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable”.
PhD Student, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.