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Midnight 1st October, 1960…

-Anietie Udobit,Abuja

 

Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a ferocious political tiger did not get the formal invitation for the Midnight ceremony of the lowering of the British union jack and raising of Nigeria green-white-green, but he would go all the same.  In his usual way, simply dressed, with a flowered Buba and Soro, his wife with more elaborate set of Iro, Buba and Gele to match, well prepared. At about 10.00pm, they left Ikeja for the race course, the venue of the ceremony.

Sitting at the back of the car, Awo, as was fondly called, was reflecting on the past, the present and the future, his contributions to what will finally take place in the midnight. The driver drove slowly since they still have more than one hour before the real event takes place.

As human, he felt a sense of having been cheated of his just desert.

The race course was like daylight with floodlights from the four corners of the course. Beyond the then consulate of the United States of America, a stone throw from the government house, Awolowo and his wife got out of the car and began to walk towards the venue.

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The Race course was filled up with men, the national bourgeoisies who have come to bid farewell to their former friends and foes, the British. Awos were allowed into the Race course by the policemen, though there was no more vacant seat.

Immediately, the news of his presence spread like wildfire: Awo had not been invited to the ceremony but has come on his own. The new black Prime minister looked around and did not see Awo, his leader of opposition. He turned to S.L. Akintola, who sat close to him and asked:Where is chief?

Akintola, the premier of western region and Chief Awolowo’s deputy, leaned towards the Prime minister and whispered into his ears. And the prime minister quickly responded:That cannot be true, I arranged for his invitation cards myself, I made sure of that, Give me that torch, I have to look for him!”

At that moment the lights went out. The whole of the Race course was plunged into stage-managed darkness. The prime minister was getting frantic: ‘Didn’t anyone see him come? Some policemen must have seen him, where is he?

Chief Awolowo saw the Prime minister from a distance, he knew that he was the one being sought but he would not lend any hand in his being detected.

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There was a roll of drums in the dark, as the British national anthem was about to be officially sung for the last time in Nigeria.

Chief, it is you I have been looking for.

Awolowo said nothing, took his wife’s hand and followed the Prime minister. The whole Race course reverberated with the British national anthem. Then, there was a sudden burst of light, which left people temporarily blinded by its brilliance. The green white green flag of independent Nigeria was slowly climbing up the flag staff. It unfurled limply and dropped as it reached the top. There was another roll of drums and the Nigerian anthem began:

Nigeria we hail thee

Our own dear native land

Though tribe and tongue may differ

In brotherhood we stand

Nigerians all

And proud to serve

The voices that had sung the British anthem with enthusiasm picked up the first line of their national anthem, but by the end of the second line most of the singers were lost, the voices dropped off in embarrassment, unable to sing a song they did not know.

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Then there was cheering and the fireworks went high into the Lagos night. The guns began to sound, and the Prime minister began his short speech.

It is the beginning of a different struggle…

Awolowo and his wife slipped out of the audience and found their driver fast asleep on the steering wheel. As they drove back in the slightly warmer than usual night, Mrs. Awolowo asked her husband how he felt.

“Mixed feelings; they cannot even organize things properly, But that is not important; did SLA (S.L. Akintola) greet you tonight?” he responded.

“He did, but his wife did not, although I am sure she saw me.” Mrs Awo answered.

Awolowo looking out into the night breathes in deeply:

It is the beginning of a different struggle,

But his wife asked:What do you men?

Awo retorted:You think we can go on like this? When there are competent people around to have incompetent people in charge? Look at what happened tonight!”

 

-Culled from-‘Midnight Stroke:the Oedipus Impulse’, written by Anietie Udobit (2015 revised)

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