The labour of our heroes past…
Stanza 5 of the Nigerian National Anthem reads – “The labour of our heroes past, shall never be in vain.” Late Babatunde Jose (a former editor of the Daily Times), provided an insight into this topic in his article, titled – “The Independence Day Editorial”, published in the Daily Times on October 1st 1960, upon Nigeria’s attainment of independence. An extract of his article reads – “I am happy and I am sobbing. I remember Nigerians, who lived and died, during the fight for Nigeria’s independence. Men like Herbert Macaulay, Sir Adeyemo Alakija, Dr. J. C. Vaughan, Chief Bode Thomas, Alhaji Adelabu Adegoke, Mallam Saad Zungur, and many others.
They were not destined to see the Promised Land. And at this moment, I remember the Nigerian youths, who were imprisoned, for daring to attack British rule in Nigeria. Men like Anthony Enahoro, Osita Agwuna, MokwugoOkoye, Mallam Raji Abdallah, A. Y. S. Tinubu, Fred Anyiam, Oged Macaulay, Ikenna Nzimiro and many members of the outlawed Zikist Movement. And I remember youths like R. A. Fani-Kayode, N. A. B. Kotoye, Fred McEwen; all of whom voluntarily trooped to the Lagos Prison in protest against the official celebration of the Queen of England’s coronation in Nigeria.”
And I remember Nnamdi Azikiwe, when in the bitter struggle for independence, he once threatened Sir Hugh Foot (Chief Secretary to the British Government in Nigeria), that – “the tree of liberty, shall be watered by the blood of tyrants.” And Chief Obafemi Awolowo, when he threatened Britain that – “we shall proclaim self-government and proceed to assert it.”
Whilst on his sick bed, late Herbert Macaulay (“Nigeria’s Father of Nationalism”), incisively said – “When the new Nigeria comes, tell them that for their tomorrow, we gave our today.” He further added – “as my mustache and bow-tie are parallel and inseparable, so shall the unity between the North and South of Nigeria be indestructible.” He died on 7th of May 1946, few days after he made this heroic statement.
In his inaugural address as Nigeria’s Governor-General, late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe says – “during our protracted battles for independence, some of our heroes and heroines fell by the way side; some were incarcerated; some lost their jobs; some were victimized and made to suffer indignity. Therefore, we must jealously guard our freedom, with our lives, if need be.”
Chief Mbazulike Amechi, Hon. Minister for Transport and Aviation (1961-1964); and the only surviving Minister of the First Republic, says – “it is not correct to say that Nigeria was granted independence by British on a platter of gold. We fought for our independence and won. The battle might not have been as bloody and intensive as that of Rhodesia (now, Zimbabwe), or Algeria, or Kenya, but we equally shed blood. Many youths and trade union leaders suffered unjust imprisonment, banishment and indignities.”
On October 27th 1948, Osita Agwuna delivered a lecture, titled – “A Call For Revolution” at Tom Jones Hall, Lagos. Few days after, Osita, Habibu Raji Abdallah, Ralph Aniebode, Oged Macaulay, Fred Anyiam, Francis Jibuno, Ikenna Nzimiro, Bob Ogbuagu, Okei Achamba, S. O. Achara, Ogoegbunam Dafe and Tony Enahoro, who chaired the lecture, and others were arraigned on charges of uttering and publishing seditious words and materials. Soon after their apprehension, the lecture was bravely repeated with a mass rally at Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos on November 7th 1948.
As a result, more youths were arrested and jailed. Upon their arrest, all the freedom fighters, collectively decided that none of them must plead for leniency in the court. Thus, affirming that neither imprisonment nor death could deter them from carrying on with the struggle, until freedom was won for Nigeria. Smart Obike Ebbi (“Marshall Kebby”) was the first to be jailed at the Broad Street Prison, Lagos (earlier known as the “Queen’s Prison”, built in 1872). The prison ground is now restructured and renamed “Freedom Park.” Obike was charged for publishing two articles on 1st and 6th of November 1948, captioned – “Age of Positive Action” and “A Call For Action.” He was eventually sentenced on January 10th 1949, to one year imprisonment on the two counts.
When Osita appeared before the court on January 12th 1949, he made the following heroic statement – “your Britannic honour, it will be improper and wild justice for you to pass sentence on me. You have in a previous case against me, said that you are not a representative of the Nigerian Government, but an agent of the English Crown. I am aware however, that the Nigerian Government is responsible for your salary. I have been charged for having committed sedition against the U.K. Government, which has no authority over me, and which I do not recognise as my government. So, I am at a loss, to know whether you represent the British or the Nigerian Government? Therefore, to say that I have been found guilty is ridiculous; and so, I make no plea before you. I suggest you defer sentence, because if you do not, you will not escape the wrath of the youths of Nigeria, which is sure to come. I am not prophesying. But what I have said is sure to come.”
When Fred Anyiam appeared before the court, he boldly confronted the judge, saying- “when we were fighting side by side with you against Hitler in the jungles of Burma, you kept telling us to ‘fight for world freedom.’ Now that I am fighting for the freedom of my own country, you term it sedition. Whether you send me to prison or order me to be hanged, cannot stop the march of Nigerian youths for freedom. If anybody will regret, it is you who have soiled your fingers with the blood of innocent youths and God will pronounce His own sentence on you.”
Many traditional rulers, who boldly resisted colonial invasion in their domains also paid very heavily, as they were mercilessly humiliated, banished or killed by the colonial forces. Empires, emirates and kingdoms like Kanen-Bornu, Lagos, Benin, Calabar, Opobo, Sokoto, Itsekiri, Nupe, Kontagora, Nembe-Brass, Bida, Kano, Adamawa, Bauchi, Arochukwu, Zaria, Keffi, Lapai, among others, were brutally attacked and crushed.
On the roll-call of “Nigeria’s heroes past” were those patriots who initiated, participated and lost their lives in the Akassa (Ijaw) Raid of 1895, Satiru Rising/Burmi War (Sokoto) of 1903, Ijemo (Abeokuta) Massacre of 1914, Adubi War (Abeokuta) of 1918, Aba Women’s Riot of 1929, Labour Demonstration (Lagos) of 1941, King’s College (Lagos) Protest of 1944, Egba (Abeokuta) Women’s Tax Riot of 1948 and the Enugu Coal Miners Massacre of 1949. All these liberation struggles actually triggered the political and nationalistic revolution, leading to Nigeria’s independence in 1960.
So far, only some notable Nigerian leaders have been officially declared as “National Heroes” by the Federal Government. They include Herbert Macaulay, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Alvan Ikoku and Gen. Murtala Ramat Mohammed. Thus, their portraits adorn the Nigerian currencies. Late Chief K.O. Abiola has also been added to the list, following the declaration of June 12, as Nigeria’s Democracy Day (in his honour).
Between 1914 and 1960, Nigeria maintained a colonial ‘imposed’ anthem – “God Save The Queen…” At independence, Nigeria’s anthem was changed to – “Nigeria, We Hail Thee…”
It was written by Miss Lillian Jean Williams and the music was composed by Frances Berda (both Britons). The current National Anthem – “Arise O Compatriots…” was adopted on October1st, 1978; being the first anthem to be composed by Nigerians. Among those who participated in the competition and composition of the National Anthem in 1977 was Tunde Ogunnaike (later, a Professor/Dean, Engineering Dept., Delaware University, USA), who died recently. Others were Benedict Elide Odiase, Laz Ekweme (now a Professor), Akin Euba, Eme Etim Akpan, Sota Omoigui, P. O. Aderibigbe and John Ilechukwu.
Abdullahi is a veteran youth activist and a concerned patriot.