By Emeka Rowland
“When I used to write plays and novels that were only critical of the racism in the colonial system, I was praised, I was awarded prizes, and my novels were in the syllabus. But when toward the seventies, I started writing in a language understood by peasants, and in an idiom understood by them and I started questioning the very foundations of imperialism and of foreign domination of Kenya economy and culture, I was sent to Kamiti Maximum Security Prison”.
– Ngugi Wa’ Thiongo
The post-Civil War generation in Nigeria, fortunately or unfortunately, could not make it to the eye-witness’ list to the circumstances and hullabaloo that characterized the pre-Civil War and Civil War experiences, respectively. What they know as history, therefore, are different versions of either the true tale or its contorted forms which, in any case, leave the anxious youths with so much to yearn.
In a desperate attempt to either demonize the protagonists or absolve the antagonists of the war, of any sin, vice versa, the so-called eye-witnesses demonstrate a very high level of contortionist tendencies predicated on their propagandist motives, experience, beliefs, ethnic reasons and political considerations. This trend manifestly results in the springing up of youths, and possibly adults, with different twisted thoughts and notions about this particular incident – Civil War.
It is with dismay, therefore, that I note that the direct consequences of the foregoing is that, most times, those that executed heroic feats are often drenched with the wildest possible forms of vituperative verbal venom hurled at them by the same people for whose sake they embarked on the heroic actions. The father of Modern Nigerian Army, Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu’s post-Civil War life-time was not an exception. Unfortunately, it was only when his light was snuffed out and during interment that his heroic essence was exhumed and poured on deaf ears, in the name of encomium.
Without mincing words, the unelected but deserving Eze Gburugburu of Igboland, who joined the Nigerian Army as a recruit with his Oxford university degree, was hardly accorded the respect that befitted him as a hero, during his life-time, including while in sick bed! Hence, the practice of soaking his corpse with eulogies by learner-orators and political lackeys of varying pedigrees, during his interment, can best be described as the most profane method of swallowing the political bait his death volunteered. It was implicitly targeted at dousing the (perceived) Igbo’s grumblings on the political deprivations meted out to them over decades, and eventually currying their loyalty and support in gratitude for honouring their most cherished hero. This is sheer political opportunism; it is bereft of tact and taste.
My position should not be misconstrued as that of a pro-Igbo War-Lord insisting on installing his kinsman on the Aso throne; I equally do not mean to sue for the end of honouring the dead; I rather insist that the deferential esteem granted the heroes in death should also be accorded them, in full dose, while alive. It would have been a great way of rewarding diligence, for instance, if only the 2010 NLNG price for literature was awarded Esiaba Irobi, the great playwright, theatre director cum essayist, while he was alive. Recall that the same works that qualified him for the award were already published long before his death. But we rather would prefer death to bring to limelight heroes we barely celebrated while they lived.
Must we continue to await the death of our heroes before according them the deserved honour? Or, must a hero die before he would be qualified to be treated as one? I think not! Leaning on Wikipedia’s definition of a hero may lend more credence to my standpoint. It refers to a hero as that “character who, in the face of danger and adversity, displays courage and the will for self-sacrifice.” What more does a man who sacrificed his family wealth to defend his own people deserve other than to be exalted as much as his heroic feats twinkle?