Sunday, 16 June 2013

Nigeria, South Africa and the Meaning of Heroes

In Nigeria, most, if not all official functions begin with a rendition of the National Anthem.
There's a line in that Anthem that goes thus: "...the labours of our heroes past, shall never be in vain."
A few recent events conspired to make me ask if Nigerians and their leaders believe a word in that sentence.
In the last week, 2 of Africa's biggest economies revealed a clear contrast in their definition of heroes.
The 20th anniversary of  Nigeria's June 12, 1993 presidential election (June 12) came and went a few days ago. But all that remains are the usual platitudes by many of today's politicians, some of who were collaborators in the annulment of June 12, and many who benefited from the aftermath of June 12. Unfortunately, many of the real heroes of June 12 are barely remembered or even celebrated just 20 years after the event.

While many rightly remember Moshood Abiola and Kudirat Abiola who paid the ultimate price, few if any still remember and recognize the likes of Milton Dabibi and Frank Kokori to name just two. Both were Oil workers union leaders who went against the largely compromised mainstream labour movement (NLC) in calling strikes in support of June 12. For this, they were rewarded with jail terms after trumped up charges.

Both men hardly feature in public discourse these days and to the best of my knowledge haven't been honoured for their role in resisting military impunity. Likewise, the many young protesters who were gunned down by soldiers under the command of Generals Sani Abacha and Ibrahim Babangida. Instead what we find are the dubious honours list put out annually by successive PDP led administrations to celebrate politicians and their associates who are reaping from where they didn't sow.

Contrast that with South Africa where today (June 16) marks the 37th anniversary of the Soweto Students Uprising which was met with unprecedented police brutality by the Apartheid regime, resulting in the massacre of many young South Africans. The leader of the Soweto Students was Tsietsi Mashinini.
He was later forced to flee South Africa and ended up an exile in Botswana, Nigeria and a few other places before dying in Guinea.

Yet, though Mashinini was opposed to the mainstream ANC that eventually came to power, he was posthumously honoured for his contributions to the struggle. Jacob Zuma, the current South African President, paid tribute to those young heroes of Soweto by paying a visit to the memorial honouring them.

Will we ever see this happen in Nigeria?

We should!

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