Akintunde Oyebode: For whom the bell tolls (Y! FrontPage)

by Akintunde Oyebode

 

It is apt to close with the immortal words of John Donne where he said “No man is an island, and any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for who the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” It is a reminder that when one dies, we all die a little.

The concept of Martyrdom has always intrigued me; and the knowledge that sometimes people might pay the ultimate sacrifice for their beliefs numbs and inspires me in equal measure. This is why I’ve stolen the title of Ernest Hemmingway’s famous novel as the title of this week’s article. For Whom the Bell Tolls was the second Hemmingway book I read, drawn to the author after reading The Old Man and the Sea. It remains one of the finest pieces of fictional literature I’ve come across, and his depiction of the Spanish Civil War and Robert Jordan’s dedication to a foreign is unforgettably poignant. The novel itself is a work of morbidity, and all the main characters confront the inevitability of death. The central theme is around camaraderie and the willingness to do as all good men should, make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause they believe in.

Throughout my stay at the University of Lagos, I felt emotional studying at the Akintunde Ojo Memorial Library. It was a reminder that courageous students fought against the repressive and senseless policies of the Obasanjo government, championed by the Federal Commissioner of Education at the time, Colonel Ahmadu Ali. It struck me every time I stepped into that library that the courage of those students before I was even born was a key factor in the cost of my education two decades later. Sadly, the story of the ‘Ali Must Go’ riots has gathered cobwebs in the annals of history, a victim of poor documentation. We have erased it from our memories so quickly that key antagonist, Ahmadu Ali became the national chairman of Nigeria’s biggest party, and reunited with his old pal, Olusegun Obasanjo to create more havoc across Nigeria.

I believe 2012 was the start of another watershed period in Nigeria’s history, similar to the period between 1993 and 1996 when many stood and some died for causes they believed in. The story of Nigeria’s path to genuine democracy and good governance will surely include a footnote of January 2012, when ordinary citizens joined hands to oppose repressive acts by the government many of them elected. The jury might be divided on the gains (or losses) from the protests tagged ‘Occupy Nigeria’ but it was the first time many young Nigerians felt the power to influence government. It is our collective responsibility to document the events that started after President Jonathan announced a hike in the price of petroleum products; though the protests were weakened by a mixture of government subterfuge and the poor strategy of labour/civil society, we owe unborn generations an account of this period.

This is why I believe the only Nigerians worthy of being named persons of the year are the 15 Nigerians whose lives were taken during the Occupy Nigeria protests. Their bravery in the face of brutality must continue to act as our conscience. From the moment Muyideen Opobiyi was killed in Ilorin, our hands were soaked by the blood of these martyrs. We must remember Ademola Aderinde, allegedly shot by a Divisional Police Officer, and keep vigil till his killers are brought to book. It is saddening that almost a year after their death, there is nothing to remind us of the blood that was shed for our collective cause. It was Winston Churchill who said “history has shown that men do not learn from history.” If our actions do not disprove Churchill’s assertion, we will be stuck between revolving door; and according to Baron Clausewitz, this is the point where “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Some have given their lives that we may be free men, the least we can do is continue to acknowledge and remember their sacrifice.

It is apt to close with the immortal words of John Donne where he said “No man is an island, and any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for who the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” It is a reminder that when one dies, we all die a little.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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