I believe in better, I believe in this our Federal Republic of Nigeria. We too have our heroes; we have not been cheated of our defining moments. There have been people whose spirits still linger, who have let blood spill to the earth in sacrifice, in respect of our National Trinity; the Green, White, Green. Sadly the same earth no longer holds the same promise. Our Republic as it is today doesn’t show value for those sacrifices, or validation for the prices paid. How then do we dress our heroes, how then can we herald their service? We haven’t, but we need to. To many this is no longer the place they paid for, the sun set in that day and rose on a different Nigeria. This is a different place, a cynical space and a forgotten area. We missed the bus, and those that got on took a wrong turn somewhere.
But I still believe in better, if you acknowledge man’s capacity for evil, then you must acknowledge a capacity for good as well. For every instance that makes you doubt Nigeria, there should be an instance to make you believe in it as well.
On July 29 1966, 00:30h, somewhere in Lalupon, Ibadan Nigeria; a persistent phone ring pierced the night. Setting the stage for an event that highlights that as long as events are measured by time and space, there is still good, there can still be a proper Nigeria. The phone didn’t stop ringing, and without trepidation or agenda, Lt. Andrew Nwanko, the ADC to the Head of State Major- Gen Aguiyi Ironsi, answered the call. What had been an ordinary ritual, answering the phone, brought with it extraordinary news. In Lt Andrew Nwanko, Major.Gen Aguyi Ironsi and his host Lt. Col Adekunle Fajuyi- Governor of the Western Region- confirmed their worst suspicions, Nwanko’s face quickly becoming a canvass for what his ears were witnessing.
A counter coup had begun. The Government House was surrounded. Loyalty is a fickle thing, its dowry easily paid. And repaid. Unbeknownst to the Head of state and the Governor, some of their aides had switched loyalty or were operating as moles. But between the Head of state and the Governor, there was need for reassurance. Between two Nigerians from different sides of the divide, there was the need to establish that the lines of tribes, creed and language could matter less, that two Nigerians could see themselves as just that; Nigerians.
Fajuyi told his guest “I make bold to declare to you........I am with you soul, spirit and body. And mark my words whatever happens to you today, happens to me. I am your friend....and by the grace of our good God, so will I humbly remain till the end”.
To this Ironsi replied “Yes! Francis I retain my absolute confidence in you. I have never for once doubted your integrity”.
Dr Nnamdi Azikwe captured the spirit of the moment in his message of condolence,
“See how many years we have laboured, all these years to build one united country.See how we made many compromises in order that all of us may be one.Yet our good faith and best intentions were suspected......in order to justify….the inglorious history of man in Nigeria”
This is still the same place those men lived in, this is still the same soil their feet trod; we can still be that country. To them Fajuyi and Ironsi, there was no East, West, South or North, the only direction was forward. So it should be, and so it should still remain. Our history, our march to independence isn’t necessarily cast with stories of men and women who trenched their feet in the sands of our shores to protect the hinterland and wade off foreigners. There are no stories of men and women who used the jungle and night to visit death on our colonialist.
Our independence was earned by precedent, oration and compromise, however when the finished product was begotten, there were those who died to see it remain free, free from itself, free from its own uncanny ability to stranglehold itself. There is an argument that we are indeed heirs to an inconvenient amalgamation, but God don’t make no mistakes!
There is nothing stumbled or putative about our republic, it is a fine thing, a prime article. There is nothing finished or done with our process, perhaps stalled, but there is still the undiscovered, there is still elaborate potential. Admittedly the Niger is not the only thing that divides us, nor should geographical landmass and oil be the only thing to binds us together. It should be our differences, various nuances, dissimilar references that cause to federate. We are stronger as one than we could ever be as many. Yes there are corners where tribe and language are special; but it can never be as special as the end to which it leads. There is no denying our national schizophrenia, we are Efik, Ibibio, Ishan, Tiv, Urohbo, Fulani, Igbira, and much more all in the same breath.
But there is a strength in numbers, the national census puts us at over One Hundred and Forty Million people; yes we are, we are 140 million questions answered in the one word; Nigeria! Believe in Better, we as a nation have a better story to tell, we too can have our fairy tale, and there is a better ending to this tale. As a nation we are a better nation, a better people, a more decent people, a kinder people, a cleaner people, a more just society. We too can resemble a well thought out idea, a strong brand.
In the end a leadership is only as good as effective as its followership, so when it comes to it, the question we ask is which Nigeria do you see? A Nigeria where more Nigerian hands are put to work to feed the mouths of the next generation? A Nigeria that discovers its genius? A Nigeria where imagination is matched with practice?
Some before us saw this Nigeria, they saw better; Ironsi and Fajuyi are still remembered, perhaps Emeka Ojukwu put it best;
“Both were the finest of their age, both served their country with absolute devotion and both died side by side, victims of a country they loved”.
Both were Nigerians, in a Nigeria that has every reason to rediscover its better pages. How do we dress our heroes? Simple, we become them.
Believe in Better. Believe in this our Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Babatunde Oyateru currently heads Corporate Communication for Shelter Afrique and is a frequent commentator on Nigerians affairs.
Chuks Iloegbunam (1999) Ironside: The Biography of General Aguiyi-Ironsi, Nigeria’s First Military Head of State, Press Alliance Network, Limited, London
Chuks Ugwoke (2001) Aguiyi-Ironsi/Fajuyi: Old memories linger 35 years after, Vanguardhttp://www.nigeriamasterweb.com/nmwpg1ironsifajuyi.html
Disclaimer: The author cannot verify statements of facts, his account of what
transpired on the night of July 29 1966 is based entirely on biographer’s
accounts. Indeed the only people to confirm the dialogue of the night are those
that were there. There have been differing accounts of what happened on said
night, and anyone open to discussion and debate can follow this link; http://www.nairaland.com/nigeria/topic-177075.32.html
This wasn’t an intention to paint or depict one person or persons as saintly or
heroes, it was written in the hopes that it illustrates that out of many, we
can be one.