Igbo scholars would not agree with my perception of Awolowo as a Nigerian hero. Several Nigerians, and especially Yoruba, will think the same about Achebe.
Heroes and heroines are also Nigerians who have been struggling to make sense of Nigeria’s frustrating infrastructural deficit. And yet, they hold their vision of a better Nigeria. They are usually and always at loggerheads and constant bickering as to what to make of their visions and the incumbent leadership’s understanding of that vision. However, when these individuals hold their nations to a sense of responsibility, there is the tendency for that nation to see them as dissidents, traitors and saboteurs. This is why those like Stalin and Hitler will fail the test of political heroism. It is also in this sense that Nigeria has remained in constant conflicts with those who have the interest of Nigeria at heart. Heroes cannot be expected to support a status quo that is antithetical to the dream of what a nation ought to be. In most cases, heroes and heroines see farther than what the political class sees at any point in time. And this is all the more so to the extent that corruption beclouds the perspective of the corrupt.
Heroism is fundamental because it has a leadership capability. Political heroism challenges the decisional capacity of any incumbent leadership at any time. This is because whether in political position or outside of it, heroes see differently. And this leads to the second reason heroism is significant: heroes constitute a source of potential decisions and insights for resolving a nation’s predicament. Heroism comes with its own unique moral dynamics and dilemmas. Heroes and heroines are members of the same society as we all are, yet they must hold themselves to higher moral standards if their voices are to be heard, their views and perspectives considered, and their recommendations and suggestions approved. So, most times, they have to struggle against the current. And most time, they fail. Yet they press on with a vision of the nation which others find strange and which they oppose fiercely. As I have written before, the Nigerian state is not hero-friendly. Yet, we have produced countless of them. But it does not seem that we have made sense of their significance in the collective act of re-imagining the Nigerian nation. On the contrary, Nigeria ignores, maligns, disgraces, represses, jails, and even kills her heroes and heroines. And when they die, the leadership writes glowing eulogies to their memories, and then they are promptly forgotten!
How do we get the patriotic Nigerian heroes and heroines? My answer is that we start searching for them by first identifying those who, in my assessment, qualifies already. Those we are classifying as heroes are Nigerians (a) who, either directly through their careers or professions or outside of it, have engaged critically with the Nigerian predicament, sometimes to the detriment of their lives; and/or (b) whose ideas and perceptions have achieved a timeless relevance, especially to the urgent task of rebuilding a drowning nation. I know my choice of heroes and heroines would not go without a vociferous intellectual challenge, but I am not afraid to name a few—Herbert Macaulay, Queen Amina of Zaria, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Aminu Kano, Anthony Enahoro, Adekunle Fajuyi, Moshood Kasimawo Abiola, Chief Simeon Adebo, Chief Jerome Udoji, Bolanle Awe, Chinua Achebe, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Gani Fawehinmi, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh, Gambo Sawaba, Wole Soyinka, Billy Dudley, Ayodele Awojobi, Eni Njoku, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Hubert Ogunde, Amos Tutuola, Ben Nwabueze, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Asa Bukola Elemide, Dele Giwa, Ebenezer Obey, Tai Solarin, Margaret Ekpo, Chike Obi, and so on.
There are so many names in my abbreviated list (included and not included) that will lead to dissent. I know, for instance, that Igbo scholars would not agree with my perception of Awolowo as a Nigerian hero. Several Nigerians, and especially Yoruba, will think the same about Achebe. It is almost certain that the name of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo will shake the confidence of many Nigerians. While no one will quarrel with the heroic intervention of Soyinka, Dele Giwa or Udoji, many will wonder why Obasanjo would make the revised version of such a distinguished list. My answer is that in his person, OBJ represents the very essence of heroism—an unpopular vision of nationhood, an acerbic personality that does not suffer fools lightly, and an unceasing energy that is directed at rethinking Nigeria. A hero is always in the eye of the storm, is always swimming against the current, always at the opposite side of the offense.
Unfortunately for Nigeria, many of her heroes and heroines have died. There are equally many that have reached a point where old age has tempered the energies with silent wisdom. But there are still many more who are gearing up to take over from those who are gone and those who have been silenced. What is left for the Nigerian government to do about her heroes and heroines? At the first level, we need to recognize and critically celebrate those who are gone and those who have reached their life’s end. This is the norm in those societies that recognize what these citizens have contributed to making their societies better. Nigeria has no culture of mounting monuments in significant institutional locations to her heroes and heroines. But even less so is a national framework for engaging with those who calls Nigeria and her leadership to question. At this stage in her national existence, Nigeria ought to be a hotbed of series of national discourses on patriotism, nation building, national development and the many other ailments that have prevented her from achieving her postcolonial objectives. National discourses everywhere enable the government to engage with her heroes and heroines, whether we like what they are saying or not. The idea is not to silence them by offering them political positions that have the mute objective of distracting them.
There are so many patriotic Nigerians on social media who have very trenchant understanding of where Nigeria is and in what direction she needs to go. But only very few could be considered heroic. These heroic Nigerian patriots surfaces regularly on several media and forums. We are also very aware of so many of them. Since the proportion of the heroes and heroines to the total population is usually in the region of 1%, it is not a difficult task to engage them meaningfully about their vision of a better nation or their blueprint about the future of a new Nigeria. On the other hand, heroes and heroines also need to find institutional frameworks that help project their voices. The think tank, for instance, constitutes a significant avenue for speaking to the leadership of the day. Heroes and heroines cannot afford to speak to the air; and this is what happens if they only require notoriety to get the ears of government. One way or the other, Nigeria needs to change her policies concerning listening to the strident voices of her heroes. They mean well, and in the final analysis, they have the same or similar objectives that the government have in Mind: transforming Nigeria into a nation of our postcolonial dreams.