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Nigeria’s heroes

Ed Emeka Keazor’s work should change this deficit, forever.

Ed is a barrister. He was Legal Advisor to a large UK charity for a number of years before deciding to go back to university in order to better pursue his research passion of past 15 years: the making of modern Nigeria. He obtained a PhD in history. Now, as well as being a musician, writer and blogger, he researches, writes about and presents his findings on the many noteworthy but little-known Nigerians that have made a positive and substantial contribution to Nigeria’s history.

Few people have ever heard of the many individuals Ed knows about. Take, for example, Ohen Okun who was Nigeria’s first Ambassador to Europe (Lisbon to be precise) in the 1500’s. He represented the administratively sophisticated government of the Kingdom of Benin. Or take Dr Yewande Savage who, in 1929, became Nigeria’s first medical doctor.

News in Nigeria is dominated by stories of corruption and violence. This focus on the negative overshadows the efforts and accomplishments of many other individuals who could act as a source of inspiration to those seeking to achieve their goals and further the goals of their nation.

Ed’s passion for these heroes of Nigerian (or sometimes West African before the borders were defined) history was obvious during his presentation to the African Book Group. He was so full of information his mouth couldn’t work fast enough to get the stories out. He was careful to describe the context in which the individuals lived and worked, explaining that seemingly simple acts today – like becoming a doctor – was, for a woman of the time, a mountain of a challenge.

Ed’s presentation focussed primarily on the achievements of three types of returnees to Nigeria:

  • The Saro – those who came from Sierra Leone;
  • The Amaro – those who came from Cuba and the Caribbean region;
  • The Aguda – those who came from Brazil.

These individuals were either direct returnees who had been captured in West Africa and returned as free men and women, or were the descendents of returnees.

There was, for instance, Professor RA Coker who was a distinguished classical pianist. And Oreoluwa Green who in the early 1900s became a midwife, pharmacist and dietician but could not find a job as a woman so worked as a freelance consultant.

These returnees should be recognised for leading the way in professionalism, nationalism and entrepreneurship in the evolving history of Nigeria. However, the education system was first set up by missionaries and later by the colonial government. In both cases, little or no attention was paid to the local point of view, history and values in devising the curriculum. Since independence in 1960, education has deteriorated. Though there were laudable attempts to ‘nationalise’ the curriculum and make it more relevant, the quality of instruction has steadily decreased in the vast majority of schools nation-wide.

It was the hope of many of us who attending his presentation that his work could pave the way for a renewed and more nuanced understanding of historical movements in the country and the generation of pride for achievements of Nigeria’s heroes.

 

 

Ed published works include: The History of Nigerian Afro-Funk; Sir Louis Mbanefo: A Study in Courage and Excellence; and The Nigerian Story in Pictures. He has recently acted as Consultant Historian on the official Government documentary on the History of Nigeria, commemorating the nation’s centenary.

 

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