My Short List of Greatness
I once told Olumuyiwa Adejuwon and Simon Itodo about this. I face the mirror in certain times to scale my power of oratory. I am not planning to face Goodluck Jonathan in a presidential debate, the law and my present calling (BudgIT) won’t allow me. My effort usually ends up in mimicry of Barack Obama. I start on smooth sail with few familiar lines. I begin to rush into incoherence or even completely stammer empty words. I would peer of the lines of Martin Luther King, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton, Reagan et al wondering how men could craft words so apt. But I will get there. I am someone who believes that if you can’t win be talent, why not be persistent with effort?
This is my height of inspiration when I see poetic cadences either in speech or fiction flow with so much grace. But most importantly, I am that person in search of narrative of greatness which I believe words have a huge share. I am mostly unmoved by popular narrative of greatness. They seem the affirm the thoughts of the expedient. I mean people would tell you about Obafemi Awolowo and his glowing wave of change that put the west ahead. I run ahead of such raft to peer at the men behind the veil. The Emmanuel Alayande, Simeon Adebo, Bode Thomas and Ladoke Akintola and many more would not bask in same glory. Not that I derob the Ikenne sage of his immense place in history. It is just a restless me finding peculiar heroes who remain unsung or not draped in immaculate glory. Let me tell you of my new heroes who lived in great times:
Thaddeus Stevens: Maybe this makes me loves a close brother named Thaddeaus more but Thaddeus Stevens is a man you need Google. No better way to tell the legacy of this man than watch the new movie titled Lincoln. We were five in the whole Silverbird cinema who watched this movie. If this was a Timberlake ‘Friends without Benefits’ you will see colour-blocked ladies falling over their heels. Such is my generation.
Thaddeaus was a white man who spent his entire life campaigning for racial equality. He was bruised and abused for it and in those fiery days when blacks were regarded as three-fifths of a human being, when justice was blind to color and education was elusive to the colored race, Thaddeaus married a black lady. The emancipation of Blacks might have penned by the majestic pen of Abraham Lincoln but here is a man who hangs the millstone on himself to ensure that blacks are free. In the end, the Thirteen Amendment which frees all slaves was passed by a thin margin. On that night of victory January 31, 1865, when he told his black wife to read the Original Amendment to him while he slept, I left the cinema in tears. That’s greatness.
I will tell you about Bram Fischer. Possibly you never heard of him. He had no fancy airport named after him like an Oliver Tambo or not in the ranks of eminence like a Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and others. Bram was an Afrikaner and guess who the tormentors of the blacks were – The Afrikaners. They were the Botha, Vorster and Verwoerd of this world who believed the black man was socially deficient and cannot lay claim to common rights of life and liberty. At the Rivonia trial when Nelson Mandela gave his final address April 20, 1964, Bram Fischer, his lead counsel stood firm by him not because of the quick wages but because it affirmed his lifelong drive to see blacks free. He stood by his belief and went even to Robben Island to visit Mandela after losing his wife in a week. Hounded by on the surface of the earth and underneath, he was finally sentenced to confinement, where he met death through cancer. These are the words of Nelson Mandela on Bram Fischer “bravest and staunchest friends of the freedom struggle that I have ever known. From a prominent Afrikaner family, he gave up a life of privilege, rejected his heritage, and was ostracized by his own people, showing a level of courage and sacrifice that was in a class by itself”
So what do we give up for greatness? I have many more examples to tell of Robert Graetz and Clifford B. Durr who were whites but were scaled beyond the planks of passiveness to make it a lifelong cause to support Black freedom. They might not be a Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks who are forever lauded today but this people in their own rights and many unknown more stood on the side of defiance – disrespect to the status quo. They were committed in the face of ridicule and death. So what’s greatness? Is it having a lifelong battle to do something different even the popular narrative seems to be on a diverging course? Is it following your trail of justice and liberty not at the convenience of ourselves but for others and many more to grace the face of the earth. So my list can be short, there are many more unsung who toiled upwards against the norm the polluted their society. In their unmarked graves or present lives, these are great people. Let me end with Martin Luther King’s stinging words:
One of the prayers that I prayed to God every day was: “Oh God, help me to see myself in my true perspective. Help me, oh God, to see that I’m just a symbol of a movement. Help me to see that I’m the victim of what the Germans call a Zeitgeist and that something was getting ready to happen in history……Oh, God, help me to see that where I stand today, I stand because others helped me to stand there and because the forces of history projected me there.“