If there is one group of Nigerians that has kept an abiding faith with the verdant vision of our founding fathers, even in times of our nebulous nationhood, it must be the common man. If there is indeed, one conscientious and committed class that has held aloft the tottering ship of state, relentlessly besotted by the wanton waves of gargantuan Greed; bailing out the waters of waste in every storm, it must be the common man. Certainly, not the profiteering political class. No! Nor, its close collaborators of the economic saboteurs, who have since metamorphosed from Nzeogwu’s ‘ten percenters’ of the sixties to the predators and pillagers of our common patrimony in the 21st Century. Not at all.
Either garbed in the gabardines of glowing graft or the well-starched khaki, they can aptly be compared with the metaphorical, Biblical “locusts, cankerworms, the caterpillars and the palmerworms”, as aptly described in the book of Joel, chapter 2 verse 25.But then, who really is this common man? Is he the popular plebiscite, the flotsam and the jetsam of our society, or the denizens of the street? That is the million (no,billion) naira question, more so now that our once hard and heavy-weight currency has been drastically reduced to a mere floating feather-weight, as means of exchange in the international market. Of course, by none other than the aforementioned thieves of state. To provide the answer, let us go back in time to the heady eighties.
That was when, the ace broadcaster and anchor man of the must-watch NTA Newsline programme called Frank Olise, or Olise the Frank took to the streets to find out who the common man really was. But yours truly quickly referred him to the poem I had written and got published in my column then with The Nigerian Herald, simply titled: The Common Man. It goes thus: Ask no more, who the common man is./Find no more where the common man lives./I am the common man./Common in the street/morning, noon and night,/common in the factories, schools and farms/ common in the shanties, shacks and ghettoes./ I am the grey-haired man still scrounging the hard-red soil to harvest a hope./I am the beggar in the street/the orphan in the orphanage
the homeless under the flyover bridge./I am the worker whose pay packet
is devoured daily by the inflation monster/and the parasitical dependence of fathers, mothers, uncles and friends./I am the man who slept yesterday without a hope for tomorrow/but never really wanting to die. I am the common man.
Ever since this poem was published, few, if any politician has looked out for, or even cared for the common man but rather for our common purse!
Truth be said however, our history would be incomplete if we refuse to acknowledge the noble roles played by this group from being forcibly recruited to the participate in the Second World War (World War11),through the quest for political independence, subsequently as voiceless victims of series of coup de tats, to the struggle for the return of our hard-earned democracy. And even up to our current prayers and pledge for common ‘good governance’. Some call it the delivery of the ‘dividends of democracy’.
In retrospect, it was the common Nigerian who shed their priceless blood at far flung places such as Dakar, Abyssinia, North Africa, Burma and Palestine during the World War 11.They, it was ‘who supplied food and materials and generously contributed towards the Win-the-War and Soldiers’ Welfare’ while the war raged, all in support of the British forces against the Germans in a calamitous war that claimed some 20 million irreplaceable lives!
Though the Nigerian Democratic Party (NNDP) was formed in 1922 by Herbert Macaulay, who was undoubtedly one of the most visible and versatile intellectuals of Nigeria’s 19 the Century, that did not stop the proclamation of the controversial Governor Clifford Constitution in 1923.It stirred instant ngst because it provided for four elected members(3 for Lagos and 1 for Calabar).The party’s membership made up of doctors, lawyers, landlords and market women did not take kindly to such constitution that sought to sustain Indirect Rule. The main instrument of the struggle at this time was the newspaper with the publishing of Lagos Weekly Record by Thomas Jackson in 1891,The Dawn founded in Calabar by Coulson Labour in 1910,Lagos Daily News by Herbert Macaulay and Ernest Ikoli’s Daily Times founded in 1926.All these were sustained through the avid readership and patronage by the common man.
According to Mokwugo Okoye in his bestseller, Storms on the Niger, true change came with the return from overseas of the Eyo Itas, Nnamidi Azikiwes,Olu Alakijas ”who woke the sleeping soul of the Nigerian masses and inspired youth to come forward for national service”. Another notable contribution to Nigeria’s struggle for national emancipation was the role played by organizations such as the Ibibio State Union in 1924, Ibo Union in 1934 and Egbe Omoduduwa in 1948.
Their influence may have waned with the formation of political parties such as the NCNC and NEPU. But the Nigerian Youth Movement which took off in 1934 as inspired by Prof.Eyo Ita inspired the formation of some 2,512 co-operative societies, which by 1957 boasted a membership of 134,000 across the country. These assisted to battle the economic depression of that period.
Still on the economic front, Nigeria recorded the first General Strike in her history precisely on June 21, 194.It was as a result of the prevailing hardship occasioned by the war which had just ended. It involved over half a million workers who demanded 100 % rise in wages as the cost of living had spiraled upwards by 150 %.The one-month notice served on the government was treated with levity. The sudden resignation of T.A. Bankole the workers’ leader under threat by the colonial masters led to the protest. The election of the new leaders headed by Michael Imoudu, F.O.Coker and Marcus Osindero was viewed as a contravention of Regulation156 of the Nigerian Defence Regulations of 1941 as the government sent ten of the leaders behind bars. But they were undaunted.
In a bold bid to protest against the Clifford Constitution, the likes of Herbert Macaulay, Nnamidi Azikiwe, Dr. Nimbe, Michael Imoudu, A.O.Omage and Oged Macaulay’s son toured the country to raise awareness on the evils of colonialism. It was the common man who contributed a total sum of 13,481pounds by December,1946 as transport fare for their journey to England!
It is most painful therefore, that 70 years after all such struggle and 56 years after independence our political leaders are still grappling with the levers of governance. And are still calling on the common man to make more sacrifices. If only for the memory of the blood of the innocent Nigerians who died during the civil war, those who were victims of the brutality of over a decade of military misrule and those who lost their priceless lives during the June 12, 1993 struggle for democracy, our current crop of leaders must wake up to the harsh reality that politics is no picnic!
Indeed, the ordinary Nigerian, or call him the Common Man deserves a better deal. God bless Nigeria.
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