“The labours of our heroes past shall never be in vain” – a line of the Nigerian national anthem.
One of the secrets most Nigerians don’t know is that a majority of their so-called leaders do not know the wordings of even a paragraph of the national anthem. Sounds strange? But it is the truth, which are often discovered when a challenge arises. Just like the ministerial nominee that was asked to define NEEDS. Fact is that most of them think the words are meant for the downtrodden and school children. Don’t be fooled by the indecipherable mumblings they render in public, whenever the anthem is raised and with ubiquitous cameras, integral parts of leadership vanity, trained on them. Because, they don’t know it, they can’t possibly believe the high sounding commitments of the national anthem. That one is mere story to them.
My concern with the hypocritical attachment our leaders have for the national anthem is that most of our real leaders, (not the loud, showy and most often, unconscionable, political and military pretenders that spare nothing to foist their idiocies and nuances on the rest of us in the name of leadership), are allowed to waste in obscurity engendered by the pervert ways we do things in Nigeria. The result for this negative license is that we do not celebrate our real leaders. We pay scant regard to men who have positively affected others in the carnivorous jungle we have as a country. We ignore those who have, through their lives of strict honesty and hard work, served great lessons to others and have unknowingly transformed the lives of so many others who dared to ignore the drudgery and peevish anathema those we actually celebrate as our leaders impose on us. The result is that our real heroes, both past and present, remain in obscurity while the negative principalities that have forced themselves on us eternally foul our landscape. Another result is that our sense of propriety is so distorted that our idea of what is right and wrong embarrasses us and compromises our ideal impression of how things ought to be.
I don’t personally know Dr. Okechukwu Ikejiani but I must confess I had come across him in several literatures. I must confess also that in the literatures where I came across the name were mostly works on the legendary Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. I concluded, though I may be wrong, that Ikejiani was one of the earlier crops of Igbo intellectuals that received their rooting, inspiration and assistance from the Great Zik. I drew my conclusion that Ikejiani must be one of the disciples of Zik and for this, he commanded a huge chunk of my respect. I knew he read medicine and hails from Nri in Anambra State. I knew that he still impacts positively on the lives of many Nigerians and Igbo in particular and had not been noisy about it. I knew that his life itself is an inspiration to many and I hold that he still has a lot to give to my famished country that is in dire need of positive role models in the face of the present self-inflicted pestilence. I knew that his association with Zik ensured he personally witnessed most of the events of the pre and post-independent Nigeria, up to the period after the war. I wasn’t too sure whether Ikejiani was too prominent on the post-war activities of the Great Zik and his second republic political activities but I presumed he had considerably received some weaning from the Zik school as to chart whatever independent political aspiration he deigns okay for himself.
Recently, I came across an autobiography of Dr. Ikejiani and I felt it would rest some of my largely presumptive conclusions about the man. The book itself was quite a handful, which led me to grumble and wonder what one man would be saying about himself in a whole 594 pages book. But with the much I have read of the author, I never believed he was indulging in the vain effort at self-masochism as many Nigerians are wont to do. I got, through a little browsing of the book, that Ikejiani was not talking of himself as he talked of the historical development of Nigerian politics since he could read and write. I pinned his to that innate desire of one who is getting on in age to capture the entire details, for posterity. I happily lapped on the contents anyway because I wanted to have a better appreciation of someone who might possibly pass as one of the pillars of the very last bridge between a glorious past and a scrambled present. I reckoned we need such interface for us to reach a better understanding of where the rains started beating us-both as Igbo and members of a stunted federation.
Mine is not a review of the book but to employ the opportunity I accessed from reading it to point to the need for us to re-direct our value system from the prebendal tilt of the present to elevating our compatriots, who are committed to higher values and ideals and who have struck tremendous success in doing things that uplift the larger society and not those that have hidden under political or military leadership to inflict deep gashes on the fibers that hold the society together and our collective interests. I want to recommend the autobiography to Nigerians that desire to know about the events that shaped our nationhood from the past to the present and those that want to secure a future that is not bugged down by the drudgery of the present. I believe that such first-hand information as contained in the book would help us see areas that need some adjustment in our unending quest for a fulfilled nationhood.
Contrary to my fears, Dr. Ikejiani did not employ the spaces of the book to talk about himself but to widen the rich history of the anti-colonial, pre-independent and post-independent history of Nigeria. While he saw developments of the pre-independent Nigeria from his prism as a front deck player in the processes that culminated in independence, he provided deeper insights into the many deals, negotiations, interactions, struggles and fights that brought about independence. He threw more light to the expansive discourse on the political events that shaped the independent struggle and from a first person perspective, dug deep into the web of actions that tails-pinned into independence in 1960. He narrated some events that are still blurry to Nigerians but which nonetheless, were critical to the shaping of the nation and from there one can hazard a guess or conclusion as to why things happened the way they did.
Because he outlived independence, towards which attainment he played a pivotal role, Ikejiani did not stop his narration at the point Nigeria struck the whiffs of the cosmetic freedom it is saddled with today but continued with classical description of some of the post-independence intrigues, the inter and intra national politics that plunged the country into a needless civil war in 1967 as well as the politics of the war, the events that took place in those days of raw fury and naked hate. In all, the work traces Dr. Ikejiani’s life history; early days, schooling, nationalist commitment, political life, professional and public lives and it spanned the pre and post independent period down to the present. It gives life to the experiences of one who saw it all and took all the notes needed to navigate through the present syndicated confusion. It provides a compass to personal successes and victory over the principalities that now rail against our collective desire to make any meaning out of our charred nationhood, which is why one recommends the work, “Okechukwu Ikejiani, the Unrepentant Nationalist” to all Nigerians that desire some insight into the malady of the present and how to overcome it. His is the narrative of one of the last of the originals and at this stage of their lives, I believe Nigerians need all they can get from these surviving linkages with the past. We stand to gain from this work. It is the classical work of a proven stakeholder that has seen it all. I understand that the book is billed for launch next Tuesday at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos. I urge all to tap on this and avail ourselves of the opportunity of ensuring the labours of one of our heroes who is very much still with us does not end in vain. We may not know how long he will be with us after this.
Peter Claver Oparah.
* This article was written earlier this year. Dr. Ikejiani died last week in Canada, where he practiced medicine.