“The Labour of our Heroes Past:” But who truly are these heroes?

The aftermath of the #EndSARS protest has revealed some shocking news Nigerians are finding difficult to wrap their heads around. The latest shocker being a statement about former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (Rtd), by a member of the British Parliament and Chair of the U.K. Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat. Gowon was war-time military head of state who led Nigeria between 1966 and 1975.

During a debate on a petition on the #EndSARS protest, Tugendhat came down hard on Nigeria’s political class, calling them out on their corrupt practices. He alleged that the former head of state had carted away half of the funds from Nigeria’s Central Bank during his regime.

He said:

“We need to call out the corruption, we need to use the powers that we have in this country to stop those profiting from the wealth of that great nation and hiding it here.

“Some people will remember when General Gowon left Nigeria with half the Central Bank and moved to London.

“We know that today, even now, in this great city of ours, there are, sadly, some people who have taken from the Nigerian people and hidden their ill-gotten gains here.”

 Watch the video here:

The viral video of Tugendhat’s speech about Gowon has sparked different reactions among Nigerians, with many feeling deceived by the narrative from Nigeria’s history books which portray some of the country’s past leaders as heroes.

The allegation against Gowon has also sparked a conversation around who the true heroes of the country are whose labour we mustn’t allow to go to waste as the national anthem says – “the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain.” Also, some people have opined that the retired general should respond to the allegation levelled against him, because to them, it is better to hear from the horse’s mouth.

Other past leaders were also dragged into the discourse including Chief Obafemi Awolowo; the first premier of the Western Region. He is described as a statesman and a nationalist who played a key role in Nigeria’s independence movement during the First and Second Republics and the Civil War.

Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who served as the military governor of the Eastern Region in 1966, also featured in the discourse. He is fondly remembered for the role he played as the leader of the now defunct Republic of Biafra from 1967 to 1970.

Next is Sani Abacha, a Nigerian military general who served as the military head of state from 1993 until his death in 1998. His regime was said to have recorded various forms of human rights violations.

Another past leader who made it to the discussion table is Olusegun Obasanjo, who served as military head of state from 1976 to 1979 and later as President from 1999 to 2007 after Nigeria returned to democratic rule.

Obasanjo is seen by some as one of Africa’s great leaders. However, his administration also recorded incidents of human rights violation.

To some Nigerians, the legacy of these past leaders does not show anything heroic about them, hence, they feel these ones should not be mentioned when talking about the true heroes of Nigeria.

According to one Twitter user, the #EndSARS protesters and all others who died fighting for the liberation of the country from oppression are the true heroes that should be celebrated.

But others expressed a different opinion.

In all of these, the true contribution of “our heroes past” to the progress and development of Nigeria is what others seek to know. But how can we ascertain this when history as a subject has been technically scrapped from Nigeria’s school curriculum? 

Many young ones today do not have the slightest idea of what this country is all about; who the true founding fathers are and where the nation is headed because they have been denied the very knowledge which would have addressed some puzzling questions about Nigeria’s history.

Possibly, if history was still part of the Nigerian school curriculum, most of those who are confused right now (on the veracity of allegations as these) will know whether or not to vilify or exonerate the people we currently celebrate as heroes based on their knowledge of the country’s history.

More than ever, it is about time the government re-introduces history in our schools to help Nigerians get their facts right; understand where they are coming from and identify who the true heroes of our nation are.


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