By Sunny Awhefeada
Nigeria is a great country and my optimism that it shall someday overcome its present tribulations and live out its manifest destiny is unshaken. Each day that brings us the many bad tidings that make us shudder and want to give up on this space that God has planted us also comes with incidents that imbue us with a measure of mirth. Thus our cries are punctuated with smiles and there are times we also dare to laugh. Our fears are never bereft of hope. We wade through the fright and nightmare of the night trusting that “there will be joy in the morning”. Yes, this is night for Nigeria. Not just night, but one fraught with nightmares. But we shall wake up to a bright new dawn.
This will not be our first “long night of savagery” as an independent nation. All previous nights broke into bright new dawns. So it was that the dreadful night from 1966 to 1970 broke into a glorious dawn. Another night fell on Nigeria in 1993 with the annulment of the June 12 election. That night stretched on till 1999 when the forces of evil capitulated, the veil of darkness torn and a shimmering dawn ushered us into the present millennium.
Those nights that tramautised us had heroes and heroines who risked everything to be at the barricades to confront the marauders of history. Those moments had heroes and pseudo-heroes. From 1966 to 1970, the ordinary soldiers that constituted the rank and file were the heroes who fought our tragic war of unity and not those who authored My Command and other such purple and nauseating memoirs, but fired no shot throughout the war. The authors of those embellished stories were pseudo-heroes. Festus Iyayi exposed their perfidy in Heroes which won the Commonwealth Prize for Literature in 1988. Our other night also had heroes and heroines. Beko Ransome-Kuti, Gani Fawehinmi, Frank Kokori, Kunle Ajibade, Dan Suleman, Ndubuisi Kanu, Wole Soyinka, Owei Lakemfa and a host of others who dared to point at the emperor’s nakedness. Arrest, incarceration, dehumanization, exile and death became their lot, but they didn’t waiver and through their sacrifice we got a second independence on 29 May 1999.
Our nights seem to come in cycles and the present one descended on us in 2015. Those who know insist that things were never as bad as they are now. All around us are claims and counterclaims, clashes and counter-clashes, killings, corruption, chaos, anarchy and obvious absence of governance. We have become haters and killers of one another. Everywhere you turn is a marauder waiting to pounce. Even our homes and places of work have lost their protective ambience to the shadowy presence of the killer who is an armed robber, a kidnapper, a bandit, a terrorist, a cultist and what not. It was under this frightening scenario that a female student demonstrated an uncommon heroism to save her teacher.
The heroic act took place at Oviri-Ogor Secondary School at Ogor in Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State. As recounted in a news item by a radio station, a female teacher (name withheld) was confronted by men she mistook for early visitors to the school on that fateful morning. The cowardly men brandished guns at her and ordered her to get into their vehicle. It was at that point that the brave female student intervened. She accosted the armed cowards and insisted that her teacher cannot be taken away like that. Was her bravado borne out of innocence or sheer derring-do? That is now left to conjecture. But the girl (name withheld) stood her ground despite the threat to shoot by the hounds in human skin.
Her intervention attracted other students who raised alarm and in no time the community was roused to action. The beasts abandoned their quarry and fled like all cowards do. The teacher was rescued and the young heroine who truncated her abduction came to no harm. Examples of the student’s heroism abound in Nigeria, but they largely remain unsung and they do not make headlines. Not every teacher has been as lucky as the present one. Another female teacher was not so lucky a few years ago when kidnappers stormed Awhire Secondary School less than thirty minutes drive from Oviri-Ogor. They took her away and she died before the family could raise the ransom money. Maybe if the brave Oviri-Ogor girl had a kindred spirit at Awhire that unfortunate teacher wouldn’t have died.
This essay is a tribute to the Oviri-Ogor girl and others who have intervened at critical moments to salvage a bad situation. I salute her. Many other young people have also sacrificed their lives to help redeem Nigeria and jolt it from the present nightmare. The story of Lt. Col. Abu Ali and the many other soldiers who perished while fighting for the soul of Nigeria against Boko Haram will not be erased from our collective memory. We will never forget. The story of Ft. Lt. Tolulope Arotile and the air force officers who died some days ago count for heroism. We will never forget. Nigeria shall someday raise a monument to them. How can Nigeria ever forget those whose lives were cut short at Lekki tollgate even when carrying our flag and singing the national anthem? They will never be forgotten. They number among our heroes. But the villains who undid them and all those who have turned our country into a nightmare shall be of accursed memory.
It was once fashionable to say that a teacher’s reward was in heaven. Not anymore. The Oviri-Ogor teacher has started enjoying her reward here and that is how it should be. The lass who saved her didn’t just put her life on the firing line. She must have been inspired by that endearing bond between a teacher and a pupil to want to protect her beloved teacher. Again, this is how it should be. Let us protect our teachers. Let us honour them.
They are the foremost nation builders. There is nobody that was not taught by a teacher. Not even the cowardly kidnappers! Delta State should put the brave girl on its honours list. She deserves to be so garlanded for that act of heroism that saved her teacher.
The Oviri-Ogor people who rose to the challenge also deserve commendation. Our nation is broken and it needs healing. People of goodwill who are in abundance must come together and bind our wounds and heal us. As the good people of Oviri-Ogor vanquished the cowardly marauders, so shall Nigerians of good will undo the predators assaulting our dear country.