Bisi Lawrence: A thought for our heroes past

by Bisi Lawrewnce

Dr. Nelson Mandela Attempts which have been made in our nation to look — or, rather, not even make the effort to look —for a comparison among our historical figures in the struggle for our own emancipation from colonialism —have floundered against the background of a remarkable disparity in the environment in which the actions occurred in Nigeria and South Africa.

Not all the story of the exploits and achievements of Nelson Mandela would have been told decades from now. His towering sense of patriotism, his indomitable spirit of resistance to evil, his soaring charity of forgiveness and several other facets of an unforgettable character which he has bequeathed to the world as a model for sterling human interaction, will survive him for a long time.

He was unique, no less than the period which moulded him. The degradation of a people by another set of people, through the use of raw power on the grounds of race and colour of the skin, found a spiky apogee in the policies of the white minority South African government in the late ‘forties.

Racial discrimination existed in the United States, but the establishment had been a function of the malevolent history of slave trade. And more to the point is the fact that the majority of the people in the US were white and owned the land. But the owners of the land were also in the majority in South Africa.

Their subjugation, and that of others who were not of Caucasian descent, was enforced through the policy of apartheid, one of the crudest words ever known to humanity. It meant “apartness”, or “separateness”. It was enforced across the board of social existence “from the womb to the tomb”. It controlled the choice of schools available for children, the marriage pattern, the employment opportunities, the places of residence—even the type of attire one wore.

The fight against this monumental injustice and its horrible effects became the life-long pre-occupation of a number of the citizens, foremost among who was Nelson Mandela. The resolute but dignified manner in which he and his comrades conducted themselves has made a lasting impression on people all over the world who now rise in one voice of rousing adulation to celebrate his life as they honour him with a rich bouquet of last respects. He deserves it all.

Attempts which have been made in our nation to look — or, rather, not even make the effort to look —for a comparison among our historical figures in the struggle for our own emancipation from colonialism —have floundered against the background of a remarkable disparity in the environment in which the actions occurred in Nigeria and South Africa.

The situation in South Africa was predicated on the ardent desire of the white people who forcefully occupied the territory to settle there permanently. The weather was particularly suitable for them and the terrain was largely favourable to their daily needs.

They came from various areas of Europe, mostly from the Netherlands and Britain, and carved out territories for themselves as of right. The possibility of acquiring the entire area as their own could not be effectively challenged by the natives over whom they were able to establish mastery by sheer violence through superior weaponry. But the discovery of gold rather set the different European settlers against each other, with the natives as hardly more than mere pawns in the conflict.

However, by the time the dust finally settled, a new generation of black South Africans had begun to grow up in resentment of their lot. This was the history which spawned Nelson Mandela and his comrades.

In Nigeria, however, it was a story that took a different turn. The foreign British, and French, and German, and Belgian, and name them, so-called explorers had come to colonize, ostensibly, with the same intention as the adventurers who acquired the Cape of Good Hope in 1814. But that notion was quickly driven out of their heads by “citizen” mosquito which hosted them with a lethal dosage of malaria.

They named the area of West Africa, “The Whiteman’s Grave”, and quickly discarded any idea of a permanent residence, rather immersing themselves into raids for the capture of slaves, or the safer trade in human merchandise. Eventually, with increasing familiarity with the prospects of the region, they settled for trade and commerce based on the exploitation of the abundant material resources of the land.

That, they found, necessitated the subjugation of the people, and the curtailing of their civic rights. So, they established “colonial” governments which enacted laws that maintained the superiority of the white man and his interests to the detriment of indigenes’ quality of life and its development.

All the same, even the manifestations of that milder form of colonialism gave rise to a form of resistance that produced a generation of nationalists who were termed “agitators” by the colonial powers. Most cherished by these patriots was the freedom which colonialism had curtailed—of course, not to the magnitude of what obtained in South Africa. But they considered it worth fighting for.

The emancipation of Sierra Leone which was created some two centuries ago, facilitated the trickling down of some educated indigenes of West Africa who returned home, joined by their Brazilian counterparts, to infuse the ideology of freedom into the minds of their developing kin at home.

Their movement was “post-Ghandi”, and so was tempered with the philosophy of non-violence. But they pleaded their cause effectively and made their point which eventually resulted in the attainment of our independence —a freedom which the foremost leader of the nationalist front, Nnamdi Azikiwe, described as being “offered on a platter of gold”.

Picturesque as that phrase may sound, it had really glossed over the painful and demanding features of the sacrifice made by several young men in the fight for freedom. Many young men of the Zikist movement, specifically, were jailed. Perhaps most memorable among them was Osita Agwuna who had the same type of royal ancestry with Mandela. He was young, intelligent and a brilliant orator.

He had prospects of a prosperous future as a manager-in-training in Nigeria’s most successful commercial house of the day, the United Africa Company. But he turned his back on it all in his “agitation” for freedom. On a clear, warm afternoon in Lagos, Osita held a lecture under the auspices of the Zikist Movement, in which he dared to make “A Call For Revolution”.

He was immediately arrested before he had proceeded very far with his delivery. Charged with treason, he was arraigned in court thereafter, when he only continued his lecture from where he left off. He was duly sentenced to prison along with several other.colleagues who were all as defiant as he was.

Even other Zikists who were not present at the lecture and so were not arrested, picked up banned copies of the lecture and were also arrested and subsequently received various terms of imprisonment. One of them, Nzimiro, who fortuitously later became an outstanding academician, set up a makeshift stage in the wide-open venue of Onitsha market, where he proceeded to read out the text of the lecture. He too was arrested and sent to prison.

Their efforts, of course, were puny in comparison with the colossal, unparalleled Mandela legend. The South African titan’s towering spirit of leadership was also displayed in his demand for the release of the comrades who were jailed with him before he would start negotiating his own freedom.

He earned the respect of the whole world, when he became the President of South Africa, by eschewing any idea of revenge for all the years of deprivation and suffering. He capped it all with the magnificent gesture of not seeking to hug the position and high benefits of power when he declined to continue as the President of South Africa after seeing his valiant efforts to fruition.

The world will probably never see another like him. We take nothing from the lustre of the matchlessness of this heroic life, if we attempt to use it as a re-evaluation of the neglect we routinely inflict on the labours of our heroes past.

*”gbosas”for “the glorious five”

There are some who consider as uncharitable the mere suggestion that Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State’s decision to retain his membership of the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) was in consideration of a soft landing for his two sons who are in the warm embrace of the law. But he was on slippery ground. He was a veritable member of the former G7 who were on the way out of the party, but he hesitated to dump his party at the last moment, and it could have been a well-advised move.

This is because the PDP has been reported to be filled with a virulent supply of malice which it intends to mete out to all who have deserted, or connected with, or even seen to have sympathised with those who have defected from the party.

That vindictive decision seems to be in the open already from the way in which those who are at loggerheads with the party, or its perceived interests, seem to be subsequently (consequently?) attractive to law enforcement coercion of one kind or another. However, it has not deterred the G.5— the “GLORIOUS FIVE”—from pursuing their determination to the limit like valiant men. If fact, the question many people are asking is, what took them so long?

Their cause is just, their purpose is clear, their objective is unconcealed, and their desire is sincere. Let us give five “gbosas!” to them.

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Read this article in the Vanguard Newspapers
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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