It has been 58 years since Nigeria got Independence from being a British protectorate.
It is important to know where you've come from in order to know where you're going. For a blast from the past, here are 10 Nigerian cultural icons worth celebrating on Independence Day.
From the man who coined the term "Naira" to the voices that led independence, we can never forget the roles that these figures played in the cultural and political development of Nigeria.
1. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe
Dr. Benjamin Nnamdi "Zik" Azikiwe was born on the 16th of November, 1904 and is known as one of the founding figures of Nigerian nationalism. He was the first president of newly independent Nigeria. He believed so much in the concept and practices of pan-Africanism and promoted the pro-African nationalist agenda. When he returned to Nigeria in 1937, he founded the West African Pilot and later, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) in 1944 alongside Herbert Macaulay. Azikiwe's portrait adorns Nigeria's 500 Naira currency note and the has the Nnamdi Azikiwe Internawtional Airport Abuja and Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka named after him.
2. Fela Anikulapo Kuti
Fela Anikulapo Kuti's legacy and legendary is untouched. He was a brilliant artist and a tireless activist. He used his skills in saxophone, piano, guitar, dance, voice, drums, to voice out truths about the human condition and the Nigerian state. He formed his own kind of art and resisted formalism in art and music. He was a staunch believer in pan-Africanism even in the face of adversity and brutalities from the Nigerian government. He renamed himself "Anikulapo" meaning "He who carries death in his pouch" after the countless jail times and beatings he had received from soldiers. His charismatic music is known all over the world till this day.
3. Wole Soyinka
Born on July 13, 1934, Professor Wole Soyinka is a living legend. His mother, Eniola Soyinka, co-founded the Egba Women Union with Mrs. Funmilayo Ransom-Kuti and played a prominent role in decongesting Nigeria of colonial manipulation. Her son, Wole Soyinka continued the work of cultural hero by being an academic, scholar, award-winning writer, playwright, poet, novelist and theorist of the human and African condition. He damned all consequences and took a chance by meeting Col Odumegwu Ojukwu in 1967 to seek a way out of the civil war. He spent two years in jail for this but continued to lend his voice to the truths and critique, even while in solitary confinement. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1986.
4. Sir Tafawa Balewa
We cannot talk independence without talking about the first and only prime minister of independent Nigeria. Tafawa Balewa was a trained teacher and a vocal representative of Northern interests as one of the few educated Nigerians of his time. He was nicknamed as the Golden Voice of Africa because of his oratory skills and due to his efforts towards independence, is known as one of the founding fathers of Nigeria. He delivered an epic Independence speech on October 1, 1960. He was assassinated in 1966 during the first coup.
5. Chief Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti
Chief Funmilayo Ransome Kuti was a radical feminist and Nigerian activist who believed in freedom and justice. She was a major force in Nigeria’s anti-colonial struggle and inspired and articulated the Nigerian feminist movement principles of suffrage and equal rights for Nigerian women long before the second wave of women’s movement in the US. Because of this, she was known as "The Mother of Africa" and the "Lioness of Lisabi." She represented Nigeria's culture by always adorning her traditional attire wherever and whenever she appeared. Ransome-Kuti was thrown from a third-floor window of her son Fela's compound when it was stormed by one thousand armed military personnel. She passed away on April 13, 1978 after months of being in coma from the fatal injuries.
6. Chief Anthony Enahoro
Born on 22 July, 1923, Chief Anthony Enahoro became Nigeria's youngest editor at the age of 21 in 1944 at the Southern Nigerian Defender, the newspaper established by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. After which he joined the struggle for independence by leading protests, and was jailed on two occasions jailed for writing satiric articles. In 1953, he became the first to move the motion for Nigeria’s independence, though unsuccessful. He died on December 15, 2010.
7. Chinua Achebe
Born on November 16, 1930, Chinua Achebe was a cultural hero and literary legend in whose words and writings our collective memories live. Along with other writer-activists like Wole Soyinka, Buchi Emecheta, Ken Saro-Wiwa, he challenged western and white supremacist thinking, changed the way African cultures imagined representing themselves, and got his stories heard by those who didn't want to hear them. He documented the independence and the war in his books, There was a Country and book of essays, The Education of a British-protected Child.
8. Chief Obafemi Awolowo
Chief Obafemi Awolowo was one of the pioneer leaders that fought for Nigeria’s independence and among the three national heroes along with Azikiwe and Balewa. Along with his agitations for the termination of the British rule, he introduced free education in the western region in 1955 and helped found the Society of the Descendants of Oduduwa, Egbe Omo Oduduwa, an organization devoted to the study and preservation of Yoruba culture. In 1954, he became the first premier of the Western Region. During his time as Commissioner of Finance, he coined the term "Naira" and his portrait adorns the front of the 100 Naira notes of today.
9. Margaret Ekpo
Margaret Ekpo was a women’s rights activist and one of the pioneering female politicians in the country’s first republic. In the era of male dominated movements towards Nigeria's independence, She rallied women, along with other Nigerian women activists, beyond notions of ethnic solidarity and played major roles in grassroot and nationalist politics in the Eastern Nigerian city of Aba. She became president Women's wing of National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (N.C.N.C) and was nominated into the regional House of Chiefs in 1953. In 1950, she alongside Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti protested killings in an Enugu coal mine. In 2001, Calabar Airport was named in her honor.
10. J.P. Clark
John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo is a cultural hero. He is a thinker, dramatist, classicist and poet. His poetry celebrates the physical landscape and recentred the way the world viewed Nigerian narratives. He was also a journalist, playwright, and scholar-critic who conducted research into traditional Ijo myths and legends and wrote essays on African poetry.