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Tribute to Dominic Osademe at 100

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1918 was remarkable for bringing succor to a troubled world. The armistice heralding the end of WW I was signed that year paving the way for lasting peace; or so the world thought. In commemoration of this event world leaders recently gathered in France for the Paris Peace Summit.

In that gathering the consensus was that it was ultra-nationalism, not Austro colonialism of Yugoslavs that pushed Gavrielo Princip to fire those fatal shots that killed the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914, an event that ignited WWI. It was in condemnation of political extremism that the Paris summiteers sang “Patriotism good, nationalism bad,” in a true Orwellian tradition. But the summit avoided this one question: Between the colonialist Ferdinand and colonized Princip, who was the aggressor?

Patriotism means love for motherland without prejudice to other people’s countries. It is the direct opposite of nationalism that tends to negate entities outside national borders. Nationalism limits itself to fatherland over and above other countries with the unintended consequence of arousing negative response from those rank-shifted to a second class status. This is dangerous.

Out of the two polarities emerged globalization that promises universal brotherhood, as the logical synthesis. For this utopia to be, patriotism and nationalism are depleted. Once national boundaries are diminished, mankind would have succeeded in eliminating the cause of all known wars. What a wishful thinking because while the summiteers theorized, white nationalists in Donald Trump’s America took up arms against poor Honduran migrants. Mankind has learnt nothing.

But there was another 1918 unique to Africa. Could we just agree that Black people’s contribution to human progress is not in the making of bombs and guns? Borrowing heavily from WEB du Bois, Franz Fanon and Steve Biko, our contribution is giving back man his dignity. Through positive human relations, we give the great technological wonders of Europe a human face.

From oral tradition Africa entered the modern age sorely crippled by Western predatoriness. That was until 1918 when, among other innocuous events compared to the Great War, Nelson Mandela and Dominic Ozegbe Osademe were born in remote Africa. Their arrival would help in setting the continent free.

We are all too familiar with the circumstances of Mandela’s birth. In “Long Walk to Freedom” he says, “I was born on 18th July 1918 at Mvezo, a tiny village on the banks of the Mbashe River.” He continues, “The year of my birth marked the end of the Great War, the outbreak of an influenza epidemic that killed millions throughout the world.” Osademe, like Mandela, was born on 28th June 1918 at Ndoni, a picturesque village on the banks of the Niger River.

Both were men of peace. Whereas Mandela was a lawyer and freedom fighter, Osademe was a school teacher who held out the flame of enlightenment to his people. From the classroom he ventured into the corporate world and also triumphed. Mandela lived to be 95. But Osademe was executed without trial at 50 years of age by soldiers during the Biafra/Nigeria war. His father-in-law, Chief Celestine Ochili Odili, was also killed under similar circumstances.

The soldiers who murdered him on 27th November 1968 claimed they were restoring the unity of their fatherland. We continue to ask how an apolitical and pacifist Osademe constituted a threat to One Nigeria. Even if his age made him a possible combatant, was the venerable old Chief Odili also one? The truth remains that Osademe was visibly weak from days of prolonged illness and was no threat. His execution was uncalled for.

In pre-war Nigeria he was the man to run to for jobs and school fees as the Port Harcourt manager of Compagnie Francaise L’Afrique Occidental (French Company for West Africa), CFAO. A philanthropist, active Catholic and family man, one quality Osademe espoused was selfless service. The very week he was murdered he preached in his local church in the absence of the parish priest. He never missed a mass for thirty years.

As humanity searches for peace, we recall the lives of these two great Africans. Mandela embraced armed struggle and endured; even his enemies ended up decorating him. Osademe embraced pacifism only to be killed with his killers decorated as heroes. The choice before us this desperate 2018 marking a century of their births and 50th year of Osademe’s murder, is not whether to be a Mandela or Osademe. It is knowing how to be both.


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Dominic Osademe
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