General Sani Abacha
General Sani Abacha

Countries needs their heroes more than heroes need their countries.

Heroes elevate us. They make us proud to identify with them. They inspire us to higher standards, to previously impossible goals. This is why all of us should be grateful for the centenary medals handed out by Mr. President: they are an opportunity to inspire us anew by focusing again on the sacrificial leadership of inspirational Nigerians. Sadly, the posthumous award to General Sani Abacha says to Nigerians: ‘you’re idiots’. And to the hard-working survivors of his regime, it splays the fingers and thumbs of both hands and adds a colloquially emphatic, ‘waka!’

Some have argued that ‘no man is a saint’, that ‘he was not the only flawed man on the list’, and that since every other head of state was given a gong. It would have been politically indiscreet to leave him out.

Yet a military ruler is a different kind of head of state. He does not stand for elections. He does not win. He is no prince to the King of Nigeria and he does not inherit the State House by the blueness of his blood. He washes sleep from his eyes one bright, rebellious morning and shoots his way to power. If he fails in his rebellion he meets the sad end of Dimka: he is tried for the murder of the casualties of his attempted putsch, and for the treason of attempting to subvert the constitution. He is strung to a pole and shot by his own infantrymen.

If he succeeds on the other hand, like Thomas Sankara, a military leader has an opportunity to write his name in the glorious annals of his land by a transformational leadership that shows his people potential where there was only despair. Like the revolutionary Guevara, such a one will be honoured not just by his countrymen but across the world.

But where the cumulative, posthumous, heritage of our coup-plotters is to (in Fela’s words):

leave sorrow, tears, and blood,
dem regular trademark…

where the headline achievement of their reign are billions of dollars – NOT used to achieve 100% literacy in the northern states to preempt today’s terrorism, but  –  stolen from the public treasury and stashed abroad, then such military banditry should be called by its proper name.

That proper name is not heroism.

For a liberated nation to deify banditry, speaks not merely of obsequious amnesia but of a mental illness which can only charitably be described as a Post Autocratic Stress Syndrome where we – though liberated from dictatorship, carry around invisible autocrats like monkeys on our backs to keep us in perpetual servility. This is a variant of the Stockholm Syndrome where we deny our victimhood and take the side of our oppressors.

So although we all ought to be grateful to Mr. President for presenting a slate of heroes at this challenging moment of our nationhood, for the very reason of those challenges, regretfully,  (in Soyinka’s words) I reject my share of this national insult.

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