WE are days away from the 50th anniversary of Nigeria. It is time to talk about our heroes. In these parts, heroes are politicians, no matter their ideologies or lack of them, no matter their selfishness that has held the country back.
This parochial approach in assessing heroes accounts for the negligence that attends the efforts of others as they make their contributions to the development of Nigeria. Our heroes are those who make the most noise about their contributions. Those without resources to promote their efforts are forgotten, not minding the quantum of their contribution or the impact that they made in a given situation.
We would take Detimbir Chia as an example of how we fail to take heroes serious and how our country fails to benefit from them and motivate the next set of heroes. The 14-year-old secondary school student, in the inner recesses of Benue State, four years ago, was credited with spirited and courageous efforts that resulted in fervent rescue operations which saved lives of some passengers of a military plane that crashed in his village, Mbakunu, in Sangev Ya.
There are a few like him in a country where people are yelling at each other, are bitter, angry and above all disappointingly neglected by those who claim that they are in public office for the common good.
Detimbir could have walked away from the wreckage. It would have been understandable. At his age, with his rural upbringing and poor exposure to rescue operations, he could have been excused if he did nothing. He could have looted the property of the dead military officers. He could have been frightened at the sight of the dead, the destruction. The three-hour steep climb to reach the site could have kept him away. None of these did.
He had the presence of mind to put a call through to his father Anakula Chia, using a telephone he picked up from the wreckage. Anakula mobilised the village to join his son in saving the lives of people they never knew. They informed the authorities about the exact site of the crash. Government’s rescue team arrived almost a day after.
Where did the Anakula family get the resources to prepare food for the surviving crash victims and others involved in the rescue operations? What was theirs in setting up fire round the site to keep the survivors warm from the freezing winds of the mountain? Why did they not take revenge on these “big men” who they could have blamed for the neglect of their rural dwelling?
Detimbir, at his age, could recognise needs in a peculiar situation, he had never been through, and organised a solution. There are few people like him. Even fewer adults can play those parts as effectively as he did.
The abandonment of rural Nigeria, as if it is unimportant to the country has persisted. The same attitude informs the abandonment of Detimbir, who has receded in the memory of the authorities like promises made since independence. Rural Nigeria suffers from a pathetic neglect that is fast creeping into the urban areas.
The older generation is wont to blame the youth for many of the country’s problems. The point remains that with proper upbringing, there would be more Detimbirs taking up the challenges of rescuing a country that some delight in driving recklessly to the precipice.
Some in positions of responsibility spend some much time defending their inactivity or inappropriate projects that they do not realise the damage they are doing to the country.
Detimbir was promised a scholarship. He did not get it. The authorities were also quick in forgetting the efforts of those villagers who showed the leadership potentials that inept leadership locks up through excluding rural Nigeria from its development. Promises to make the village accessible were gimmicks as events of the past four years have shown.
We should pay more attention to rural Nigeria, so that patriotic youth like Detimbir are not lost to the irascible struggle for political power which we tend to mistake for leadership. The time is now — rural development for national survival should be a major plank in our overall national development.
The time for words is long gone: that was Detimbir’s message four years ago! Did anyone listening? Unfortunately, nobody did. After 50 years of independence we are still undecided on the importance of the contributions of rural Nigeria to the well being of the country.
If Detimbir were a politician or from an elite family, or if his parents had the money to make noise about him, we would have made a hero of him in quick pace. It takes some amnesia to forget Detimbir and the scores of other Nigerians, without whose honest efforts Nigeria would have been worse.
A country that does not know its heroes or ignores them cannot make much progress.