Celebrating Villains, Despising Heroes

Comets no longer announce the passing of princes in Nigeria. They are quietly interred unsung. Pacesetters are treated with disdain by those they preceded to lay respectable foundation for in the professions. But villains, cheats and thieves are sung to high heavens when they exit to hell.

How can one explain why the country has been quiet at the departure of Okhaevben Osayande Omotayo Akpata (83), one of those who saved Nigeria from disintegration in 1966 and 1967?

He was one of the Committee of Ten that stopped Lieutenant Colonel. Yakubu Gowon from yielding to the cries for dismemberment by the federating regions of this country, except belatedly the Midwest. We were of different schools of thought then in the family. In their group were Billy Dudley, Olufemi Okunnu, Funmi Jibowu, Sobo Sowemimo and others.

They came from the background of nationalism, not only that they were student activists and youth leaders before then, they also ideologically believed in pan-Africanism and in a continent that should stand shoulder to shoulder with others to be respected because of its achievements in all material particular. It would look like a pipe dream now. Tayo, with Emmanuel Adagogo Jaja, passed the entrance examination to Edo College, Benin, in Standard Five in 1946. They finished in the fifth instead of the sixth year in 1951 with the credits needed for university admission in their Senior Cambridge School Certificate. They both got their intermediate degrees later.

Tayo gained admission into the University of Hull on scholarship to study law and government, which he finished with W. Coker former secretary to the Lagos State government and a works commissioner in 1959.

Tayo was the president of the Nigerian Students’ Union of Great Britain and Ireland, a position he handed over to Femi Okunnu in 1959. He had been vice president of the West African Student’s Union.

He took an administrative position as district officer with the Western Nigeria government on his return from Britain, but soon transferred his services to the University of lbadan where he became senior assistant registrar. This position offered him the opportunity to continue his activism and by 1960, he, Tunji Otegbeye, Ademola Thomas, Femi Okunnu, Soji Odunyi, Ogoegbunam Dafe and others formed the Nigerian Youth Congress, NYC, which became the pressure group that put the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa administration in check in the First Republic.

He later became the Midwest commissioner for information under Samuel Ogbemudia and helped to establish the Midwest television and radio. He had before then edited the Nigerian Opinion issued by intellectuals in and outside the University of Ibadan. He was a socialist of no regret, known very much in world circles.

Tayo’s most prominent influence was from his eldest brother, Erhunse Bankole Akpata, the pan-Africanist of London School of Economics fame and the first Nigerian to read in the former Eastern bloc. Bankole’s activism made him assistant secretary general of the Pan African Union with Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah as secretary-general. Bankole became University of Ibadan librarian and later special adviser to Nkrumah on African Affairs.

Although he later was chairman, Nigeria Ports Authority and first and only executive secretary of the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund, PTF, Tayo was always for public service. And that is another loss that is passing away unacknowledged in a country that is now empty of ideals. Akpata was a member of the Committee of Patriots.

So many Nigerian heroes have passed away unnoticed in the last 15 years because those in power do not know Nigeria. Everybody in any office or organisation seems to be pre-occupied with how to steal. Joseph Adebayo Thompson, for example, was the founding president of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, SWAN. He was also the vice chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Lagos council. He died five years ago, unmentioned by the media. A product of the prestigious St Gregory’s College, Lagos, where he was a top athlete and boxer, he was sports editor of the Daily Express and Morning Post.

He was one of those who covered the new Green Eagles first overseas’ tour after independence in 1960.

This man who fought to give face to sports reporting in this country was treated shabbily by those to whom he opened the channels to greater heights. Jaytee, his pen name, must be wondering in the grave what had become of the Nigerian press. His colleague and deputy in the Daily Express, who later became the first sports editor of the Nigerian Television Service and later NBC, TV, Babington Bakre, suffered the same neglect from those of his fraternity when he died a few years ago.

A great athlete at King’s College, Lagos, at which he was in the graduating class with Sammy Akpabot Mabinuori, (school captain) Sam Epelle and Adeyinka, former public affairs manager of Gulf Oil, in 1946, Bakre was a great athlete and cricketer.

Coincidentally, all those classmates took to life in the media and made their marks.

Bakre retired from NBC-TV in 1982 and still kept faith with the journalism family. Things changed so rapidly but negatively in the succeeding years that it had become difficult to recognise whether there is a press or a cabal of hack writers. They forgot those John the Baptists of the profession. It could not have been worse than when the almighty Horatio Agedah (Battling Horatio) bowed to the yonder. Agedah was the first Nigerian to report the Olympics for radio in 1956. Peter Osugo did the same for the press, the Daily Times. Agedah was president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors and a council member of the NUJ. Agedah attended the Baptist Academy, Lagos. He was an adept political commentator and sports reporter. He was trained by the BBC and became director of news and current affairs in NBC when Nigeria gained independence. He retired as deputy director general of FRCN to Law practice. Agedah was chairman, African Continental Bank, ACB and later chairman NNPC. He was compeer at the independence ceremonies in 1960. When this man died, there was only a grudging mention in the press. He was not celebrated despite his achievements that earned him national honours and the prestigious Island Club’s position of a trustee. Only paid advertisements sounded his departure to the land beyond. They showed the way, but nobody is following.

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