In Search of a Day for Heroes, By Ose Oyamendan
If this country must get its sense of history back and instill a sense of pride and belonging in the people, we must get our history right. It begins by teaching that history and teaching it well to our children. And a country that has a sense of history will honour its heroes properly. We owe the martyrs of January 15th that much.
It’s tempting for me to say I hate January 15th. But I would be lying if I claim to hate the day. One of my heroes, Martin Luther King Jnr. was born on that day. And, I’m a chap with a few heroes. The person closest to me on mother earth was also born on that day.
But every year when the day rolls around like it would on Monday, I have this tight knot in the pit of my gut. I love the day but Nigerian leaders have ruined the meaning of it for me. How do you fall in love with a day Nigeria literally died? Worse, how do you make such a day worthy of celebration?
In case you’re under-35 and have benefited from the ingenuity of our leaders to eliminate the study of Nigerian history from the school syllabus, well here’s a little history lesson for you.
When the British handed over power to Nigeria, they did to four men. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa who was the prime minister. The Sardauna Sakwatto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, who led the ruling party and did what is unthinkable in today’s Nigeria – chose to be premier of the Northern Region when he could have been the prime minister. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who led the main opposition party and was the first premier of the Western Region. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was the coalition partner of the ruling party and Nigeria’s first president.
Now, on the morning of January 15th, 1966, a few Nigerian soldiers decided to play God and alter the destiny of 50+million Nigerians and their future generations that includes you, I and those yet to be born. They took some guns, drank some alcohol, slipped into their tanks and brutally murdered the cream of Nigerian politics that was reachable.
Some have argued that had Awolowo not being in jail and Azikiwe not been out of the country, they may have suffered the same fate. Some differ because, of the three premiers then, only one survived and he and Azikiwe were of the same ethnic stock as the coup plotters.
So, the next time your school gates are shut on January 15th and your incredibly smart teacher who probably can’t spell January tells you it’s a day honouring heroes, ask him or her, whose heroes?
If we really want to honour the Sarduana, Sir Balewa and all those murdered on January 15th, 1966, we would pick a more worthy date – maybe a date they or Nigeria achieved something remarkable, not on the day they were slain. Who are we really honouring? The slain or the murderers?
…does anyone think if all those leaders and heroes murdered on January 15th had their way, they would choose that day to be remembered? Remember some of the best minds in the military were slain on that day too. It’s like we have elevated the date our democracy was raped to Armed Forces’ Christmas.
They will probably tell you, “oh, it’s the day we celebrate Nigerian military heroes who sacrificed their lives for the country because it was the day the civil war ended”. Well, the surrender papers for the civil war were signed on January 14th. The war would not formally end for a few more days when the Nigerians troops took control of the remaining Biafra-held territories. But some inspired big wig probably felt January 15th was significant since it’s the day Nigeria’s normal life was forever destabilised by the their colleagues and they should immortalise it. Espirit Des Corp!
I’m almost certain that if someone conducts a poll in heaven and ask the patriotic soldiers who have given their lives for this country if they would like to be remembered on the day half of Nigeria’s founders and some of the brilliant minds in the military were slain, they would tell you, no, thank you. Pick another day.
Or does anyone think if all those leaders and heroes murdered on January 15th had their way, they would choose that day to be remembered? Remember some of the best minds in the military were slain on that day too. It’s like we have elevated the date our democracy was raped to Armed Forces’ Christmas.
The American picked November 11 as Veterans’ Day because World War I formally ended on the 11th hour of the 11th Day of the 11th month of 1918. The British mark it on the same day but call it Remembrance Day or Poppy Day. Much of the world does the same. Nigeria picked the worst possible day.
People often wonder what is wrong with Nigerians. And, when you listen to some of them patrolling the corridors of power, you wonder if they’ve ever look in the mirror because if they do, they will see some of the causes of the problem?
How does a country that wants her democracy to prosper still remain enslaved to the military? Why is May 29th the Democracy Day? Because it’s the day the military decided to pity the civilians and give power back to them. You would think of all the great minds in the National Assembly, a few would have find a morsel of ingenuity in one corner of their brains and decide that our Democracy Day remains our Independence Day on October 1 because that was the day our voice started to count before the military interrupted. That they would ask INEC to re-jiggle the electoral calendar and turn handover dates back to October 1. But, what you have now is a day the military instituted to let us know they did us all a favour by leaving power.
If this country must get its sense of history back and instill a sense of pride and belonging in the people, we must get our history right. It begins by teaching that history and teaching it well to our children. And a country that has a sense of history will honour its heroes properly. We owe the martyrs of January 15th that much. And, while we’re at it, say a prayer for those who died serving our country. Say it every day.
Ose Oyamendan, filmaker and writer, maintains a Thursday column for Premiumtimesng.com. He tweets @iam_Ose