If our country is worth dying for in times of war, let us resolve that it is truly worth living for in times of peace.
Hamilton Fish made this statement during the American Civil War, half a century before Lord Lugard amalgamated countless communities around the River Niger to form a country.
More than one hundred years after the amalgamation of Nigeria, in a time when a Nigerian is reluctant to wear the uniform of an agency he heads, we remember Nigerians who did more than wearing uniforms; we remember Nigerians who gave their lives for Nigeria; Nigerians who came, saw and practically wore the flag to the grave.
There are thousands of Nigerians who died in the course of serving Nigerians, from law enforcement agents to journalists to citizens directly or indirectly killed by the incompetence, negligence and greed of the handlers of the nation. It is not possible to mention all of them.
We look at ten of them, hoping that their combined story and tragedy would stir something in you, if not to make you want to die for Nigeria but to make you want to live for Nigeria and live honourably.
1, Stella Adadevoh
Nigerian much-acclaimed victory over Ebola in 2014 is synonymous with the name Stella Adadevoh. She was the physician who treated Patrick Sawyer, the infamous Liberian who brought Ebola into Nigeria. She diagnosed him with Ebola and isolated him, a move that is credited to have saved Nigeria from the scourge.
Mr Sawyer fought to be discharged from the First Consultant Hospital. Dr Adadevoh stood her ground and overcame pressure to release him from the Liberian government headed by the Liberian Ambassador to Nigeria. The BBC reports that Sawyer desired to leave the hospital for his pastor’s church where he hoped for a ‘miracle cure’.
In the process of restraining the rogue patient, Adadevoh was infected with the deadly disease. She died on August 19th, 2014 and was mourned and honoured by the whole nation. In late October 2014, the World Health Organisation declared Nigeria Ebola-free and Dr Adadevoh’s profile as a martyr was engraved in the minds of Nigerians.
Born Ameyo Stella Shade Adadevoh on 27th October 1958, the physician got her degrees from the Universities of Lagos (MBBS) and London (endocrinology). She is a posthumous recipient of more than twenty awards including the Number One Humanitarian Everyone Should Know About (2014) by the International Medical Corps.
The story of Adadevoh echoes that of many Nigerians who came, lived and quietly died for their motherland.
2, Lt-Colonel Muhammed Abu Ali
Lieutenant Colonel Muhammed Abu Ali died fighting Boko Haram in November 2016. He was the commanding officer of 272 Tank Battalion. Regarded as the bravest officer in Nigeria’s ten years fight against Boko Haram, the officer was, alongside four of his men, killed in an insurgent ambush in Mallam Fatori, Borno State.
Before his death, Lieutenant Colonel Abu Ali was recognised by the Chief of Army Staff for ‘courage, bravery and exceptional performance’ in 2015. At death, the army described him as a ‘hero of our time’ and gave him a burial with full military rites at the National Cemetery Abuja.
Born on August 15, 1980, in Lagos to Kogi parents, Abu Ali was commissioned from the Nigerian Defence Academy in 2003. Mourning him are his wife, kids and 170 million Nigerians. The army ably captured the stature of his efforts in their statement declaring that the colonel paid ‘the ultimate price so that millions can sleep on their beds in peace’.
3, Ken Saro Wiwa
Ken Saro-Wiwa was born Kenule Beeson Tsaro-Wiwa on the 10th of October 1941 in Bori. He graduated from the University of Ibadan where he studied English. He was a playwright, a TV producer and novelist (he published Soza Boy: A Novel in Rotten English in 1985). He had short stints lecturing in the universities of Nsukka and Lagos. Wiwa also held various offices under the military administration of Old Rivers State.
In 1990, Saro-Wiwa became a vocal voice for his native Ogoni people, decrying years of negligence in Ogoniland that left their community in environmental ruin. Saro-Wiwa was an influential member of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) which fought to limit oil exploration in the area, repair the destruction caused by oil exploration and give the host community a substantial amount of oil proceeds.
In 1993, Shell suspended operations in Ogoni which infuriated the Nigeria junta led by Dictator Sani Abacha. Saro-Wiwa was arrested variously for his campaigns. In 1995 he was, along with eight other leaders of MOSOP, arrested for the last time. They were tried for the murder of four Ogoni chiefs sympathetic to Shell.
In a tribunal trial believed to be a travesty of judicial process which saw the defence counsel resigning in protest of the overt bias of the tribunal and the admittance of witnesses believed to have been bribed to testify falsely, the Ogoni Nine as Saro-Wiwa and his eight co-accused were tagged, were found guilty and sentenced to death.
Saro-Wiwa was hanged in Port Harcourt by executioners imported from Sokoto. ‘Lord take my soul, but the struggle continues’ were his last words. The resultant international outcry cost Nigeria her Commonwealth seat and energised the opponents of the regime, both within and outside Nigeria.
Nearly twenty-two years after his death, the issues Saro-Wiwa fought for have defiled conclusion.
4, Sam Okwaraji
A popular myth told among little children, but surprisingly still mouthed by adults, narrates that Sam Okwaraji died while playing against India after scoring the sole goal for Nigeria to win the match Nigeria actually lost 99-1. People resort to myths when the comprehension of reality fails them. This myth, at least, confirms the legendary status of Okwaraji.
Samuel Sochukwuma Okwaraji was born on May 9, 1964, in Imo Sate. He was an intellectual footballer, something rare, if not impossible today. He was a lawyer with a Master’s degree from the University of Rome. As a player, he won silver in the 1988 nations cup in Morocco and was part of the squad at the 1988 Olympics in South Korea.
It is believed that while playing for Green Eagles (now Super Eagles) he paid his flight tickets to and from Europe without asking for refunds from the football authority. There is also a record of a famous outburst with his club manager in which he says: ‘You or your club cannot stop me from representing my country… I am going to represent my country whether you like it or not’.
He died playing in Italy 1990 World Cup Qualifier against Angola on August 12, 1989. Tests revealed he died of cardiac failure. Twenty-two years after his death, Okwaraji was honoured with his bust built in front of the now neglected national stadium Surulere, Lagos.
5, Fela Anikulapo Kuti
A surprise appearance here.
Fela Kuti was not actually killed in the line of duty to Fatherland. He died of aids. But by the time of this death, he had been on the painful end of clashes with the brutal military governments of Nigeria of the previous two decades.
Born on 15 October 1938 as Olufela Olusegun Olutodun Ransome-Kuti. His mother Mrs Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was one of the earliest female activists in Nigeria. Fela went to London in 1958 to study medicine which he abandoned for music. he returned to Nigeria in 1963 having participated in numerous jazz and highlife bands.
He founded the Kalatuta Republic, a community that includes studio and homes for everyone associated with the studio. In 1977, Fela released the Album Zombie which mocked the military government headed by Obasanjo. The military retaliated. More than a thousand soldiers raided the Kalakuta Republic, beat up Fela and molested his mother who was his neighbour. They destroyed his studio and burnt down the republic. A few days later, Fela’s mother died.
To protest his mother’s death, Fela sent her coffin to Dodan Barrack, headquarters of the military rulers. He wrote the song ‘Coffin for head of state’. Fela moved to Ghana where he was banned for instigating an uprising during a live performance.
Fela formed a political party Movement of the People (MOP) to ‘mop clean’ Nigeria. He presented himself for president in the 1979 elections. His party was not registered and his candidacy disallowed.
He continued his crusade via his songs against the ruling establishment under President Shagari. He was arrested and jailed in 1984 by the government of Buhari. He was released after Babangida overthrew Buhari. Fela continued his activism into the 1990s, broadening it to include fight against apartheid and the politics of bias in what the organisation he termed the disunited United Nations.
In 1993, the government of Abacha arrested him, charged him with murder and imprisoned him.
When Fela left prison, he seemed to have been drained of his will to fight for justice. His public appearances waned and he stopped singing. Fela was battling HIV. He had outlived four military rulers and a civilian oligarchy but in 1997, Fela fell to aids.
Fela’s unflattering personal lifestyle does not detract from the fact that he lived most of his life fighting for the good of Nigerians, facing powerful forces knowing that death was not the worst they can do to him. They might kill him, but they couldn’t stiffen his voice which echoes to this date.
6, Kudirat Abiola
Alhaja Kudirat Abiola was born Kudirat Adeyemi in Zaria in 1951. She was assassinated on June 9th, 1995 under the brutal regime of Sani Abacha. Married to the winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 election, MKO Abiola, Kudirat has been addressed as the first lady Nigeria never had.
Sergeant Rogers has confessed to leading her murder gang, working on the orders of Major Hamza Al-Mustapha who acted for Abacha. In 2012, after fourteen years in the dock, Al-Mustapha, and co-accused Shofolayan, were found guilty and sentenced to death for their role in the killing. He was however released in 2013 in what many believe was part of Jonathan’s tactics to appease the north restlessness over his governance.
Kudirat left seven children behind.
The courage, and the tenacity, with which Mrs Abiola fought for democracy and justice in Nigeria’s darkest period since the civil war is arguably unmatched. When, on that sad day, her Mercedes Benz was overtaken along Ibadan-Lagos Expressway and six men with machine guns opened fire on her, they thought they have ended her life.
Kudirat lives on. She remains a giant reminder of a history of holding government accountable in the face of grave consequences. A history this generation follows half-heartedly.
7, Enenche Akogwu
Akogwu was killed on the 20th of January, 2012 while covering the aftermath of a series of bombings and killings by Boko Haram in the city that left nearly 200 people dead. Enenche was born on 30th March 1980 in Benue State. He graduated from Benue State University in 2004. He was an award-winning cameraman and journalist for Channels TV.
Enenche was described by Kayode Akintemi, Channels general manager of operations, as a ‘hardworking journalist who travelled to some of the most dangerous places in Northern Nigeria to get stories.’
Nigerian democracy is hampered by ethnoreligious sentiments, misinformation and a stark lack of education. Journalists like Eneche, who risk their lives to hold the light of information against the darkness hovering around our democracy and eventually lose their lives, deserve more approbation than we have paid them.
8, General Murtala Muhammed
Murtala was assassinated on 13th February 1976, six months after assuming the office of head of state of Nigeria. He was a popular leader having overthrown the rudderless government of Gowon whose only claim to achievement was keeping Nigeria one, a task he accomplished with more than a million deaths from the secessionist side.
Murtala put Nigeria on the path of modernism. He created 7 more states bringing the states to 19, abolished ‘north’ ‘south’ etc attached to the names of states (eg North Central State), picked Abuja as the site of the new capital city, generally restored the confidence of the people to governance and made a strong commitment to restore civilian rule in 1979.
Murtala Ramat Muhammed was born on November 8, 1938, in Kano. He was commissioned in the army in 1961 and fought in Congo. Murtala humble posture meant he moved around without a convoy of bodyguards something improbable for commissioners and impossible for governors today. He was easily assassinated by Lt-Col. Dimka in a counter-coup.
One dent on Murtala’s profile is his role in the Asaba Massacre during the Civil War. But he was a hero who, even his detractors cannot deny, died for Nigeria.
9, Dora Akunyili
Dora Akunyili is synonyms with NAFDAG’s fight against drug counterfeit in Nigeria. She was the director of the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and control between 2001 and 2008, spearheading the battle against fake drug and unsafe food in Nigeria with little regards to her personal safety. Before heading NAFDAC Nigerians took chalk for tablets and companies packaged food with Stone Age caution.
Dora Akunyili’s home is laden with scores of awards, given both in Nigeria and abroad.
In 2008, Dora Akunyili became minister of Information and communication. She launched the rebrand Nigeria project of which the slogan ‘Good People, Great Nation’ is used to this day. In late 2009, Nigeria passed through a period of dire political crisis. President Yar’adua was ill in foreign hospital but his deputy Goodluck Jonathan was denied power because of the failure of Yar’adua to hand over power via a letter to the national assembly.
Dora Akunyili moved for the resolution in the cabinet, breaking a silence thick with political peril. Nigerians keyed into the resolution and eventually, the National assembly triggered a doctrine of necessity and Jonathan became acting president.
While Professor Akunyili fought for Nigeria, she was having a private battle with cancer. In 2014, heavily emaciated and bony from her illness, Dora Akunyili joined other Nigerians as a delegate in the Nigerian National Conference seeking to dialogue a way forward in a country burdened by insecurity and ethnoreligious sentiments not seen since the return of democracy in 1999.
Dora Akunyili did not survive the end of the conference; she died on the 7th of June 2014. Born on 14 July 1954 in Markurdi, Benue State, Professor Akunyili is from Nanka in Anambra. Married to JC Akunyili, they have six children together. But she left behind millions of other children whom her courage and integrity mothered.
10, Dele Giwa
Every 19th of October, since 1986, a section of the media publishes articles lauding the life of Dele Giwa. They usually end with the question: Who killed Dele Giwa?
Dele Giwa was born Sumonu Ayodele Giwa in March 16, 1947, in Ile-Ife. Dele Giwa studied at Obafemi Awolowo University Ife in Nigeria, Brooklyn College and Fordham University in the United States. He worked for four years in the New York Times Newspaper. He returned to Nigeria and teamed up with Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed and Dan Agbese to found Newswatch Magazine.
Through this Magazine, Dele Giwa and his colleagues wrote articles that the governments of Buhari and later Babangida were uncomfortable with. The State Security Service questioned Dele Giwa in the few days leading to his death and accused him of various treasonable offences including abetting the overthrow of the government.
On Sunday 19 October 1986, Giwa received a letter reportedly titled ‘From the C-in-C’. Giwa is widely quoted saying ‘This must be from the president’. The ‘president’ being Babangida. Colonel Halilu Akilu, director of the Military intelligence and Lt-Col Ajibiola Tunde Togun, deputy director of the SSS are accused of his death.
The legendary lawyer Gani Fawehinmi, convinced that Babangida got Dele Giwa killed, fought to bring Akilu and Togun to justice, as a private prosecutor. His efforts were frustrated by both the police and the judiciary.
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The last flash of hope that justice might be served for Dele Giwa came during the Oputa Panel Judicial commission but Babangida, Akilu and Togun all got injunctions barring them from appearing before the panel. ‘In the interest of peace’, Justice Oputa declined to challenge the injunctions.
No one is certain why Dele Giwa was killed. Some have pointed to Dele Giwa having information about Grace Okon, a supposed drug pusher with connections to Mrs Babangida; others believe he was a voice against Babangida’s desire to remain in power for life; others, still, theorise that Giwa was the symbol of military intimidation of the press.
The motive for the assassination of Dele Giwa might outlive this century, but it is clear that whatever he was killed for, he was doing for Nigeria. Dele Giwa was a martyr.
Notable mentions of brave Nigerians: MKO Abiola, Tunde Oladepo, Shehu Yar’adua, Bayo Ohu, Christopher Okigbo, Bola Ige etc