Late Mrs. Theodosia Salome Okoh was the Ghanaian artist who was known for designing Ghana’s flag in 1957. She passed away in April 2015 at the age of 92, amid fanfare. But prior to her final passage, she was celebrated while she was alive as a heroine and a stateswoman. Her name had been immortalized, having several national symbols like the National Hockey Pitch, etc named after her. This is what happens when a country celebrates its heroes. But this is never the case in Nigeria.
The Nigerian version of Theodosia Okoh is still alive thankfully but relegated to the background and completely forgotten while politicians come and go, scrambling for what he helped put together – the entity called Nigeria, without recognizing him as a true Nigerian hero. This man is no other but Pa Micheal Taiwo Akinkunmi. He is the designer of our national flag – a flag he designed in October 1959, a year before Nigeria gained independence.
The 79-year-old Pa Akinkunmi, who now lives in one of the poorest areas of Ibadan, designed the flag as a 23 year-old student studying electrical engineering at Norwich Technical College in England. The original version of the flag as submitted by the young Micheal Akinkunmi, had a red radiating sun against the white background, with a green vertical on each side. But that was removed and the plain “green-white-green” adopted.
Before the Goodluck Jonathan administration, the “Flag Man” was never honored by any government for designing the flag and has been living in a very bad condition all these years. Many people even referred to him as the ‘Hero without Honor.’ He was forgotten until in 2006, when a student in the University of Ibadan, Nigeria managed to track him down in Ibadan and reported that he was living in terrible conditions.
After Pa Akinkunmi was forced to retire from civil service in 1993 due to his progressive illness, his pension payments were so irregular that he could barely feed himself. His neighbours had to come to his rescue, handing him food and clothes. Pa Akinkunmi didn’t have a car or a phone. He lives separated from his wife for two decades after his health started deteriorating and now his only companion is his 28-year-old son.
In 2008, Ultima Communications in conjunction with MTN (the producers of Who Wants to be a Millionaire) after a rigorous search, found those they say deserve to be millionaires and thankfully, Pa Akinkunmi’s name was there. At the end of the show, Pa Akinkunmi won a prize money of two million naira. His son used this money to build a house for his father, painting it with the colors of the Nigerian flag in an area of Ibadan which can only be reached by foot.
In October 2010, the federal government, during the celebration of Nigeria’s fiftieth independence anniversary awarded and honored Pa Akinkunmi. The first award from the government to him. Then in 2014, the Goodluck Jonathan-led federal government gave him the National Honors Award of OFR – Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic in a grand ceremony. The former president further directed the then Secretary to Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, to the place septuagenarian on a lifetime salary which equals that of a Special Assistant to the President – worth N800,000 per month.