There exists a statue of a white-mustached man who stands proudly in front of the 15-storey Church and School Supplies Bookshop House, 50/52 Broad Street Lagos. The name of this man is Olayinka Herbert Samuel Heelas Badmus Macaulay who happened to be the founder of Nigerian nationalism. At a time when the sword was held aloft and the subjugated country was proliferating with oppression, this man stuck out his neck to defend the interest of the downtrodden. His courage never failed him. By the time he dropped the baton of life on May 7th, 1946, everybody agreed that he died as a true champion of the masses.
Aside from the annual Herbert Macaulay Memorial Lecture and Merit Award usually organised by the Association of Lagos Indigenes, naming of Yaba Library in his name and government’s naming of few streets after him both in Lagos and Abuja, Herbert Macaulay has been largely confined into the archive of history. And as blunt as historians have always been, as quick to criticize and condemn as they are, it is to the man’s eternal credit that, after taking his life’s inventory, historians have never found any negative thing to say against this great grandfather. His praise is always on every lip because it is to him that Nigeria owes the remnants of its liberty. On a general note however, his exploits have been largely forgotten. Even the currency that has his portrait is almost obsolete.
But life has a way of reminding us of big things through other incidents. Sixty-eight years after his death, Macaulay’s heroism was rekindled in a great dimension by his great grand daughter who sacrificed her life in order to save a country from the widespread of a disastrous epidemic. The late Ameyo Adadevoh was an endocrinologist at the First Consultant Hospital. She was the most senior of the medical team that attended to Sawyer, the Liberian-American who brought the deadly Ebola Virus to Nigeria. She contacted the virus after treating the index case.
It was Adadevoh who took the initiative to intimate Lagos State Ministry of Health concerning the index case, she physically prevented Sawyer from moving out of the hospital and substantially to her credit the moderate containment is owed. Adadevoh and another Nurse in the hospital, Justina Obi Ejelonu eventually paid with their lives. Many have called on the government at all levels to ensure that these fallen heroines are immortalized. Before we get carried away with sensational tributes to these fallen heroines and before we mourn them in deep grief and lamentations, it is apposite to suggest that the greatest tribute we can all give to them is to pledge ourselves to their families, their husbands, and in many cases, unfortunately, their children, that we will avenge their death by showing ourselves worthy of their trust and of their remarkable high example.
It is also unfortunate and pathetic that due to the nature of what caused their death, they are not likely to get decent and befitting burials. If there is a spark of human feeling and citizenry solidarity left in our leaders, these supreme sacrifices of Dr. Ameyo and Nurse Ejelonu and their pathetic ending should shame them to mobilize all that can be mobilized in this country in order to ensure that not only health sector recovered, but that every sector of the country is up and running. This is why we must not limit our remembrance of them in the naming of buildings alone but ensure that their sacrifices will not be forgotten. Those sacrifices must lie buried in our spirit. We must remember them by strengthening the Health Sector; we must immortalize them by building a country that will be safe for their children and grand children to live. We have the brain, the brawn, the reserves and resources. Then let us remember the dead by putting in place the developmental structures the surviving men and women of Nigeria badly need.
No sacrifices are too great in honour of the women who, on their part, considered no sacrifice too great to be made for our safety. Indeed, because of their modesty and humility, we are too often unaware of the intensity and magnitude of the sacrifices of health practitioners. This modesty and meekness is best exemplified by the health workers, who put their lives on the line of danger, at the First Consultant Hospital. The best tribute we can pay to them and to all those men and women like them who continue to sacrifice their lives so that we can have ours is to make the country a better place for all to live in and to improve the working conditions of health workers across the country.
The death of Dr. Adadevoh should also make some of our reckless leaders to have rethought. Politicians, some wealthy institutions and individuals have always portrayed ‘we are less concerned’ attitude whenever there is a call to join the crusade for good governance. They proceed on false hope that their great wealth and positions can protect them. They send their children abroad so as to avoid the k-legged educational system at home. They keep their savings abroad and make their investments abroad. I have even come across few of them who try to be like the white man. They refused to employ Africans and pride themselves in having white cooks, white stewards and white mistresses. They labour under the illusion that their private affairs can survive the downfall of the nation. They failed to realize the fact that no one can be safe in the midst of violence because the poverty of the generality of the society is a threat to the wealth and safety of a few. History has made it to be so and there is nothing any mortal can do about it
Dr. Adadevoh’s great grandfather, Herbert Macaulay, was a good man who doesn’t deserve this kind of generational reward. It is pretty obvious that Herbert Macaulay would not have imagined we will be in this mess after 100 years of amalgamation. He died demanding self-determination for Nigeria. Unfortunately, the nation he fought for later became so complacent that it slept off and eventually woke up but in chains. The greatest compensation the government can give to the Herbert Macaulay family for this monumental loss is to break the country from its fetters and put it back on its feet.
Our government erroneously believes that remembrance and honouring the dead is about naming building or other monuments after the dead. They are fond of seeking immortality in the things which are perishable. How to remember them is to follow what the constitution articulates: cater for the common good of the living ones. Put more people in jobs: give more people houses, let them have an unfettered access to free and qualitative education and let them be able to afford sound healthcare facility. This is the only decent and acceptable way to honour the dead.
It is saddened to note that Late Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh contacted the deadly virus at a hospital in Obalende, Lagos, not very far from where her famous ancestor was once imprisoned by the British. Let the nation always remember the sacrifices of this great family. Considering the men and women that the world has immortalized, I found that it was due to their sacrifices and not their selfishness. Late Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh will not be remembered for any great temporal power that she had, because she had none. Late Nurse Justina Obi Ejelonu and other fallen heroes will not be remembered for their wealth, because, they too had none. None of these falling heroines will be remembered for their befitting burial, because, again, they would have none. Yet, they will never be forgotten.
Let the enfant terrible amongst us learn great lessons from the exemplary lifestyles of these fallen citizens! The men and women that we shall remember are those who, like late Herbert Macaulay, Ameyo Adadevoh and Nurse Obi Ejelonu, laboured selflessly, not only for the preservation of their own generation but for generations to come. All those who seek immortality should learn from this that it does not lie in how much we are served but in how serve. It does not lie in how much we take up but in how much we give up. May the hope and energies which they have invested in the country’s future not be disappointed.
Adewale Stephen Head of Programme Africa Dialogue Mission (ADM) 252A Maina Court, Herbert Macaulay Way Central Business District Area Abuja, FCT 08031509489