The other day, I was watching a video tape of Oprah Winfrey opening her school in South Africa, “Leadership Academy for Girls”. I asked myself why Oprah didn’t consider Nigeria as a desirable place for this gesture. Does Nigeria as a country have the credibility to attract such gestures, not only from Ms Winfrey but from other philanthropists who are looking to bring Africa up to developmental speed with other continents? Besides these questions, what struck me to the core was when these girls were asked who their heroes were. I was shocked at their answers.
More than half the girls explained in tears why their grandmothers, who are suffering to raise them, are their heroes. Of course, grandmother is raising them because their parents are dead from HIV. Interestingly too, the other half of the girls did not go off on a tangent to name South African big names as their heroes. They either named their dead father, mother or uncle who has sold more than half the family possessions to make sure they get a good education. If, for the heck of it, any of them had mentioned Nelson Mandela, he would have made a better hero than any big name in Nigeria. Yet, as heroic as Nelson Mandela is, didn’t get a mention as their hero. Not even the presence of Oprah influenced these girls to name her as their hero. This shows the sincerity and understanding these girls have of what a hero is. They understand that a hero is one who has positively and personally impacted their lives.
Even if I stopped this essay here, I am sure you would have started asking the obvious questions that I intend to discuss. For instance, as Nigerians, who would our kids have mentioned as their heroes if they were asked? You and I know that an average Nigerian kid would have come up with a litany of big names, regardless of what they do for a living or the role they have played in his/her life. The fact that our kids lack proper evaluation tools to determine the real character of a hero is not their fault. Rather, it is an indication of how we as adults evaluate heroes. It is also an indication of a society that is on the border of collapse. To many of us, a hero is one who can acquire high-end houses in Lagos and Abuja, or one who drives the best cars and shows off the most expensive ornaments. We make heroes of those who also enriched themselves by misappropriating public funds.
This false idea of heroism threatens the very fabric of our society because it impacts the perception of our young ones. I recognize that while each of our heroes may be different the qualities of heroes are universal. Perhaps we need a basic understanding of the word “hero” in order to appreciate who is really a hero. The American Heritage English dictionary defines a hero as “A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life.”
Now that we understand what a hero is, let me tell you what the Nigerian heroes are not. They are not those politicians who have stashed away millions of dollars in foreign banks while the rest of us suffer under the weight of their greed. They are not those who have been disgraced out of office, yet they exploit ethnic proclivity and go home to heroic welcomes. They are not doctors who mindlessly refuse to treat their patients because they have not received any payment upfront. They are not bank officials who give loans to friends and relatives knowing that it will not be paid back. They are not police officers who accept bribes and look away from crimes. They are not judges who fail to interpret the law according to the Constitution. That is quite an extensive list, but let me now tell you who our heroes are.
Nigerian heroes are ordinary people who have done extraordinary things. They do not parade the corridors of plush houses in Abuja or Lagos, or drive expensive cars. The true heroes of Nigeria live in our villages; they struggle everyday to provide food for their families and send their children to learn under dilapidated buildings. The Nigerian heroes are those who have honestly served our country in several capacities, yet they collapse and die in queues while waiting for their pensions. Our heroes are graduates who spend ten years after school without a job. What makes these people heroes is their courage, their spirit, and their continued hope that one day Nigeria will live up to its responsibilities toward its citizens.
In all this, the most important question is: will your child be proud enough to name you as his/her hero? Not because you have stashed millions of naira and dollars away for them, but because you have lived a life worthy of heroes.
In this country of 150 million people, please tell me that I am not the only person who recognizes these true heroes of Nigeria.
This article was first published on African Analyst.