The lamentation of Nigeria’s flag designer
konknaijaboy | On 13, Jun 2013
KEMI OLAITAN writes on the expectations at independence, the disappointments, pains and agonies of Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi, the man, who at 25, designed the green-white-green flag.
When Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi, at the age of 25, joined other Nigerians of his age to participate in the competition for the design the country’s flag during the run up to the independence in 1960 and won, his expectations, like any other Nigerian, was that his country will take care of him, most especially, at his old age. But this has not been the case with the Egba-born retired agriculturist, who now lives a life of recluse in his three-bedroom bungalow located within Academy area, off Iwo Road, Ibadan. The building came the way of the man, who is now down with a disease that makes him speak incoherently in 2008, courtesy of ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’, quiz programme sponsored by Global System Mobile communication firm, MTN Telecommunications.
The telecommunications giant had, in November, 2008, awarded Pa Akinkunmi, a sum of N2 million for his rehabilitation, in recognition of his notable contribution to national development. It was that money that the old man had utilised in acquiring the then uncompleted property which was subsequently put into shape for the accommodation of his household. Until MTN intervention, Pa Akinkunmi had, for ages, been dwelling within the extended family compound at Ekotedo, near Dugbe, in the centre of the ancient city of Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, as he could not afford the luxury of a personal house.
Lowering of the pre-independence flag on October 1, 1960
At Nigeria’s independence in 1960, Akinkunmi was resident in London as a student. He took part in the grand contest for the design of the national flag as independence beckoned and emerged the winner of the keenly contested competition. His imaginative presentation of the Green -White-Green flag was quite meaningful. The green symbolises the nation’s prospects, particularly her rich agricultural endowments just as the white portrays unity and peace. At the time he contested and won the national flag competition, Akinwunmi was studying Electrical Engineering at Norwich Technical College, West Norwich, and his presentation was adjudged the overall best. On completion of his education in Britain, he returned to Nigeria in 1964 and had a civil service career in the then Western Region, where he worked in the Ministry of Agriculture from where he retired in 1994 as a Principal Agricultural Superintendent.
Despite that his name is supposed to be a household name, for the rare feat he archived and his role in the country’s independence in 1960, unlike his contemporaries in other climes, a first time visitor to his area in Ibadan will find it difficult to get him as many people do not even know that he was living in the area. It is only by motorcycle, popularly known as ‘okada’ that one can get to his house but most of the okada operators do not know the location of his house, until a retired teacher, who also operates an okada came to the rescue. The road to the green-white-green house is in bad shape that it will bring tears to the eyes of many and it further depicts the condition of the occupants of the house.
When National Mirror visited him, Pa Akinkunmi was sitting in a sparsely furnished sitting room, with a television that has seen many years perched precariously on a table. With no electricity in the area, the old man was sweating profusely where he was seated, being attended to by one of his sons, Akinwunmi.
Looking dejected and speaking with the assistance of his son, Pa Akinkunmi lamented that his design of the nation’s flag had rather positioned him “larger than life” in the society and sees the national feat as a paradox to the reality of his obscured living standard. According to him, the irony of it all was that, while people were always eager to catch a glimpse of his person whenever and wherever his name was mentioned as the designer of Nigeria’s national flag, many find it unbelievable on sighting his personality, which was an opposite of the expectations of the people of the fame the design should have bestowed on him.
Akinkunmi, who is currently relying solely on his monthly stipend as a pensioner to survive, is full of lamentation that even his household, like many others in the nation, is having its fair share of the country’s problem of mass unemployment. He said many of his immediate family members, among who are graduates, are still searching for the elusive gainful employment, despite their enviable disciplines in the tertiary institutions.
Discernible on the walls of his sitting room are many awards bestowed on him and these include trophies and shields such as the Grand Master of the Order of the Niger of the Students Union of the University of Ibadan (2005); Merit Award of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Oyo State Council (1996); Merit Award of Support to Services to Humanity of the Nigeria Council of Women Societies (2004); Merit Award of the WAI Brigade of Nigeria, Lagos State Command (2009); as well as the Human Rights Hall of Fame Award of the Centre for Human Rights Research and Development (2005).
Pa Akinkunmi, speaking on Nigeria at 52, said that at independence, Nigerians had dreamt of a country where everybody will experience good governance, fairness and rule of law in all its ramifications with security and social justice being uppermost in the agenda of the leadership.
But, unfortunately, he submitted that the country’s attempts and efforts at moving democracy forward ever since, have always received blows even from those at the helm of affairs, with corruption already eating deep into the main fabrics of the nation. He stated that the wish of the people has been suppressed by temporary wielders of power and authority.
His, “This is not Nigeria of our dream. Our leaders are self-centred. Things are not going the way people expected. Our leaders should have the fear of God for the country to be able to attain great heights among the comity of nations.”
One other thing that has also continuously worried Pa Akinkunmi is that, even though Nigeria, since independence has continued to grow physically, this has been without much to show in terms of economic and social emancipation of her citizens. He said the average Nigerian live far below the poverty level in the wake of corruption and mass unemployment that have engulfed the nation.
But isn’t the labours of this unsung hero past already in vain, in contrast to the first stanza of the national anthem? Perhaps, Pa Akinkunmi’s neglect by his fatherland would, one day, become a parameter to study why Nigerians are no longer patriotic and have, these days, taken their destiny in their hands to amass as much wealth as they could while they have the capability
Source: National Mirror