By Busuyi Mekusi
The aphorism: ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ has been used to interrogate or justify the pigeonholing of restive organisations and individuals, in a world ridden with hate and revulsion. Beyond the relativity in perception of objects and actions, the place one stands on any matter goes a long way to determine what the opinion of such a person would be. It is to this end, for instance, that the notorious ‘repentant’ bandit leader, Bello Turji, holding Zamfara state by the jugular, was said to have blamed his nefarious terrorist activities on the maltreatment of Fulani people, most especially women, who he claimed were denied access to land, water, and other basic facilities. He was quoted to have requested, as part of the touted peace deal with the state government, for schools, land for farming and grazing, etc., as preconditions to announce a ceasefire. The terrorist seen in Turji by some is a freedom fighter the Fulani would idolise.
Going by the principle of internal conceptual and meaning reversals found in the above platitude, one could safely posit that: ‘one man’s hero is another man’s villain’. The notion of heroism got stoked recently at the Annual General Meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Lagos, where the award-winning Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Adichie, lamented the drought of ‘heroes’ in Nigeria that could inspire its younger population. While denouncing ills like injustice, lack of accountability and transparent systems, she bemoaned the starvation of heroes that younger Nigerians could look up to, as part of the self-evaluation, awareness and criticism that would engender good leadership in the country. I had thought either Garba Shehu or Femi Adesina would lampoon Adichie for the scathing commentaries that she made about Nigeria, as central to their responsibilities to defend their principal. Anyway, Adichie is a cosmopolitan agency that is glocal in orientation and enunciation.
A hero is somebody that possesses great bravery, and carries out extraordinary deeds. He is a role model. Role modelling is not strange to human relationship, as imitation remains one vital way by which human beings, particularly younger ones, learn from older folks. Such learning gets reinforced when motivated appropriately by supervising agents. To this end, apart from the traits that rob off genetically on human infants from their parents, other attitudinal behaviours are imbibed by growing and consolidating mammals, as they traverse the labyrinth of socio-cultural outlay; as it is often said: from cradle to the grave. Oppositional to the idea of hero is the villain, which is an accredited vile, wicked, extremely depraved person that is capable or guilty of great crimes. More often than not, the villain is antagonistic to a hero or heroic thoughts and deeds. However, we must be reminded that one man’s hero is another man’s scoundrel!
Historical and contemporary societies do have their heroes and heroines, even when such personages could be doubly positively and negatively configured, along the praxes of the backgrounds from which the summation is made. Heroes could be religious, political, emancipating, criminal, entertaining, socio-cultural or literal, etc. For instance, there are liberationists and political heroes that attract literary attention from writers, as a form of inscription of values and worth, or disputation of mischievous wrong opinion and documentation that dent the values and achievement traceable to a personal hero. One of such artistic reflections is done about Dedan Kimathi by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and Micere Mugo in The Trial of Dedan Kimathi. The play-text, which was published for the first time in 1976, makes a re-evaluation of intrigues around the trial and death of a notable figure and Kenyan freedom fighter.
Kimathi, in the estimation of British imperialists, was a terrorist. However, Thiong’o and Mugo reconstruct his image as an advocate of freedom, the voice of the voiceless Kenyans, who is located within the Mau Mau struggle, and epitomises the struggles of peasants and workers before and after independence. Through the creative reconstruction of the narratives around the actual trial of Kimathi, the play subverts the Eurocentric weaving of Kimathi as an antagonist, and constructs him a hero that negates the power and knowledge instruments of imperialism, even though with collateral damages as similarly found in the case of Achebe’s Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart.
Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s portrayal and interrogation of heroism is peculiarly overlapping in A Grain of Wheat, where we have multilayer betrayals. With multiple heroes created in Mugo, Kihika, and Gikoyo, Karanja, a British stooge is represented as a protagonist, even though not at the level of villainy. Histories of liberation struggles globally have listed individuals such as Anthony Enahoro, Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe, Martin Luther King, Kwame Nkrumah, etc., as heroes that frontally confronted oppressive regimes in their countries, even though some of them, such as Mugabe, later became monsters of a sort because of the personalisation of the benefits of independence. It is noteworthy that African leaders who fought for independence in their respective countries had a clear idea of how not to become oppressors of their people, but so many contradictions swayed their intentions, and clogged their efforts.
In Nigeria, post-independence political leaders like Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello, representing the three old major regions, were said to have run their regional governments very competitively and rewardingly until the political machinations that brought the military coup in 1966, which later abrogated regionalism and began a bifurcation of the country. Following this, ethnic considerations, corrupt tendencies and individualisation were said to have taken over the political space. The personalities and effigies of the creative and developmental leadership of Awolowo, Zik and Bello still serve as reference points to contemporary politicians who are dubiously far-removed from the austere, committed and sacrificial lives of these political heroes. The political and economic regressions in Nigeria today is not a function of the absence of heroes, like the trio, but the choices successive politicians made to embrace greed and nor creed; and corruption as against transformation.
Apart from the counterfeiting counterfoils younger politicians are to the older political heroes, we also have heroes in other spheres of socio-economic life of Nigeria. We are reminded of the sacrificial vicarious heroism of people like Dora Akunyili and Stella Adadevoh. While the former staked her life as the Director-General of NAFDAC to confront fake drugs and the vicious barons, the latter, a physician, endangered her life to prevent an Ebola virus Liberian patient, Patrick Sawyer, from discharging himself from hospital, and thereby spread the deadly virus. Globally and nationally, there are ‘heroes’ individuals can also look up to in relation to criminality and terrorism. One was Mohammed Yusuf, who founded Boko Haram, and another is Osama Bin Laden, the Saudi-Arabia-born terrorist and founder of Pan-Islamic militant organisation, al-Qaeda.
With the reins of bandits and terrorists today in Nigeria, we need not be told that these people have successfully inspired younger Nigerians. Similarly, in the history of Nigeria, notable armed robbers that have been inspiring younger Nigerians include: Shina Rambo, Derico Nwanmana, Oyenusi Ishola, Lawrence Anini, Isiaka Busari (Mighty Joe), Abiodun Egunjobi, Obidiozor Otokoto, Inspector George Iyamu, Gracious West and Kayode Williams. To justify the modelling force these personalities could have on the younger generation, two petty thieves were in the news recently for adopting two of these dreaded names, as ‘apprentice criminals’. That is not to say that the acts and practice directions of these criminals would have influenced other robbers who are out there, including pen-robbers that are obviously a greater threat to Nigeria survival.
In activism, we had individuals like Late Gani Fawehinmi, Tai Solarin, Alfred Rewane, Femi Falana, etc., whose enduring legacies are best loathed by the younger generation that see them as despicable recalcitrant reactionary bohemians, and forces too critical to allow one access to the endangered ‘national cake’.
I will not agree with Adichie that there is scarcity of heroes that could inspire younger Nigerians, as the entertainment and music industry are sufficiently replete with various influencers, ranging from the good, the bad, to the ugly. Depending on the brand of music, we have had people like Fela Anikulapo, Saheed Osupa, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, Sikiru Ayinde Wasiu (KWAM 1), Obesere, Davido, Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade, Naira Marley, Portable, etc. Nigeria Hip-pop singers and rappers have adequately domesticated the global 21st century ecstasy around materialism, sex and substance consumption as singers like Tony Tetula parodied Tinubu in his hit-track, while Teniola Apata centralised the ambition of attaining the economic status of Otedola and Dangote in her popular song-title ‘Billionaire’. The corruptive lifestyle of the political and elite classes has engendered unquenchable appetite for material acquisition in the youth. The youngsters are not liable to starvation of heroism as enthused by Adichie.
The greatest recent ‘hero’ of young Nigerians is Azeez Adeshina Fashola, Naira Marley, who has always been in the news negatively. Peculiarly troubling is the army of youths called ‘Marlians’ that he created. His dance step, ‘soapy’ popularised the habit of masturbation. The female Marlian cult members that got nurtured from this bizarre ‘heroism’ do not wear pants while the male don’t wear belts, leaving them sagging like American prisoners. Another controversial singer and hero of Nigerian youngsters is Habeeb Okikiola, aka Portable. From his multi-coloured tinted hair to queer crowded dressing, he remains a street hooligan, with high nuisance value.
Adichie must have viewed the derangement of most Nigerian youths against the positive atmosphere that nurtured and inspired her to be the best she could as a global citizenship. She was right that there are huge challenges that threaten the future of Nigeria, but she must be reminded that there is no paucity of heroes that could positively enhance the modelling of younger Nigerians, as the greatest undoing confronting the nation are the warped choices of heroes that the youths make.