Human life is fickle, finite; it is Memory which roots it to a certain stability and significance through its (Memory’s) dominion inthe collective consciousness and the deep structure of the syntax of being. It is Remembrance which constantly calls it forth and up to the surface, making sure it does not end up like that priceless garment which spends all its life in the locked-up wardrobe. Memory is action potential;Remembrance is action actual. To a great extent, Memory approximates the state of Being; Remembrance the process of Becoming.Memory is the giant eagle at the bottom of the iroko; Remembrance is the wing which gets it to its coveted place on the tallest branch. If Memory is the temple, Remembrance is the priest who airs its ardent supplications.
Because Memory is so silent and Remembrance such a rare virtue, we strive to cheat Oblivion with statues, plaques, sculptures, paintings, myths, and tendentious facts. We inscribe eloquent epitaphs on the grave of the silent dead and humour their hubris with defiant elegies. But statues tumble; epitaphs fade;elegies go stale. Like their human subjects, reputations wax and wane, wane and wax.Social death frequently completes the rout begun by biological death.Some reputations glow like burnished gold across the ages; others rust like pitiable lead. Memory management has become a lucrative business in contemporary times (consider the frantic traffic in commemorations, dedications, citations andsundry souvenirs, and the ease with which the art of biography writing has degenerated into the scheme of hagiography peddling in contemporary Nigeria), but remembrance is much more difficult to control much less manipulate. So while memory is residual, non-obtrusive, remembrance is more deliberative, more energetic, much more amenable to personal drive and the will to recall.
But in the last analysis, there comes a point at which a hard and fast distinction between these two faculties becomes academic, even frustratingly pedantic. For the two can hardly do without each other. Remembrance needs a memory bank to draw upon; while memory can hardly do without the currency and disseminating agency of memory. To put it in the simplest terms, there cannot remembrance without memory; at the same time, memory without remembrance is like a ton of gold locked away in a dark, un-accessed vault. One of our problems in Nigeria is the low premium we place on memory, and our dangerous inability – and unwillingness – to remember. Col AdekunleFajuyi, the eminent subject of this lecture, is a prime victim of this malaise. But more on that later. . . .
Show me your hero….
You know a country by the kind of people it chooses to celebrate and valorize; you also know it by the kind it seeks todenounceand denigrate. Additionally, you know a country by the caliber of people it seeks to remember, and thetype it is anxious to forget. Show me your hero and I will tell you who you are.Because in Nigeria our memory is so scanty and skewed, we do not only remember differently; much more frightfully, we remember defectively. Our public spaces are filled with images of patent criminals; our musicians pollute the wind with praise songs for sundry scoundrels with obscenely deep pockets; countless associations mushroom (especially in our institutions of higher learning) peddling all manner of ‘prizes and awards’ to moneyed crooks on a shamefully cash-and-carry basis. The Federal Republic of Nigeria sanctions this gross devaluation of worth/integrity by the way it doles out its ‘national honours’to recipients many of whom are notorious treasury looters, election riggers and suchlike political jobbers, economic saboteurs such as the ‘round-trip’ pilgrims of the banking sector and the phantom oil-subsidy mafia, the ‘exporters, importers, and manufacturer’s representatives’ of a nation without factories. . . . . .A bizarre logic rules the purpose of the Nigerian national honours roll: the more heinous your crime against the nation, the higher the rank of your award, the more glittering your medal, the firmer the presidential handshake . . . .
So, those widely known to the people as abominable villains are decorated as national heroes. Those who should be rotting away in jail for crimes against the people are treated like ardent patriots and showered with accolades. A damned natural process, you would be right to say, in a viciouskleptocracy parading the mask of a decent democracy. Nigeria is a country with no set of positive values, a place where virtue is punished and vice is rewarded, a nation with a dwindling reservoir of positive models and mentors.
The foregoing issues were not far from the top of my mind throughout the composition of the poems in Early Birds, my three-volume book of poems for Junior Secondary. When in 2001 Chief JoopBrekhout, then owner of Spectrum Books, Ibadan, floated the idea about the necessity of appropriate poems to cater to the literary and cultural needs of students in the Junior secondary cadre, and his editorial team embraced the suggestion with contagious enthusiasm, hardly did they know they were tapping into a fervent desire I had nursed for years – to enter into dialogue with the minds of young folks through the medium of poetry, and get them to know that juvenile verse has a purpose and province richer, more socially engaging than those offered by the ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’ variety.
The poems in the three volumes covered all the essential topics and themes of poems for young readers, but they never came without a bit of ‘civics lesson’, for I have always believed that it is part of the function of poetry to show young people the world and where they stand in that world. For, for the poem to be holistically beautiful, it also has to be useful.
So, in addition to so many matters of cultural and social significance, I made sure each volume ended with poems on notable Africans: Tai Solarin, Mabel Segun, Gabriel Okara, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Nelson Mandela, men and women of grace and gravitas whose lives and ideas I consider both admirable and emulatable. When the manuscripts were in, a member of the editorial board wondered what such ‘heavy’ names were doing in books for children. My response: my intended readers are old enough to discern their heroes and choose their models, and I saw no sin in creating poems which pointed them in the right direction. Besides, no poem is innocent, not even the most naïve of nursery rhymes.Humpty Dumpty may spring a humbug, depending on how it isread, and by whom and to whom. I have always believed that singing and learning are not mutually exclusive activities in matters relating with lyrical verse.
Nigeria’s Heroes’ square is crowded with anti-heroes, and Nigerians need to know there are many, many positive alternatives to the crooks and scoundrels who dominate the country’s socio-economic and political space and poison the well of its values. Call it ‘Catching them young’ or showing them the way, this literary evangelism is powered by my belief that the songs we sing in our childhood days end up shaping the way we think in our adult years.
Fajuyi, OmoAyiye, Omoluabi
Were Nigeria a country with a solvent memory bank and anfaculty of active remembrance, AdekunleFajuyi would have his statue in prominent public spaces all over the country, and the story of his gallantry told and retold from generation to generation. For when those mutineers assailed the government house in Ibadan on the night of July 29, 1966,and demanded the head of his guest, General Aguiyi-Ironsi, Nigeria’s head of state, Fajuyi, in the true spirit of Omoluabism, refused to betray his Commander-in-Chief who was also his guest. He stood his ground. He barred theexit of honour from his household with his own body, with his own life. It is worth noting that even in those urgent and mortal moments, Fajuyi had a choice. He could have cut and run. He could have reached for the typical Nigerian option by trading the security of his guest for his own safety and possibly some plum position in the new government that was sure to emerge from the coup. Had he struck this deal and surrendered his guest, he would have triggered a development with far-reaching personal, ethnic, and national repercussions. Perhaps that decision would also have changed the course of Nigerian history and its ethno-regional complexion as we know them today. But he stood his ground. He chose the path of honour.Over my dead body, he said, and the mutineers took him for his word.It takes one akoni (somebody with exceptional courage and valour) to recognize those virtues in another.