Of all the houses on Emerald Street, Dugbe, Ibadan, Oyo State, Pa Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi’s house stands out. Its uniqueness is neither because it is the most beautiful, nor the most expensive with state-of-the-art facilities. It is because the edifice is the only house painted in the symbolic national colours of green and white; the colours of the Nigerian national flag he designed 59 years ago.
“Is this Mr Akinkunmi’s house, the man that designed Nigeria’s flag?,” we enquired from one of the occupants of the house, which now serves more commercial than residential purposes. She answered in the affirmative, “But Baba is no more living here!” she added. “He turned this house to shops some years back, after which he relocated to his new house at Aiyepe, within Academy area, off Iwo Road, Ibadan.”
Aiyepe is about 25 kilometres away from Dugbe. Although it was not easy to locate because it had no house address, we got a chartered car that took us to the three-bedroom bungalow reportedly built for him by the former Oyo State Governor, Alao Akala. The area is under-developed and the road leading to the house is not motorable because of the obvious damage caused by erosion. So, we alighted and trekked.
Ironically, Mr. Akinkunmi’s new place is not only painted in green, white and green, it is also the finest in the bushy and isolated area. It however lacks so many basic amenities that one would begin to wonder how a man of such honour survives in such a building.
Around 2:30pm on Wednesday, October 3, 2013, Pa Akinkunmi welcomed our correspondent, Rasheed Abubakar to his house, and for the more than 45 minutes we spent with him, no single person entered, either to entertain us or ask if the old man would be in need of anything.
From our findings, there were supposed to be domestic servants attached to him by the Oyo State Government, but none were available throughout our stay.
“Do you live here alone?” we asked him. “No”, he responded, “I have messengers and house helps.”
“What about your children?” we asked further. The 77-year old Mechanical Engineering graduate said, “Some of them are based abroad while most of them are in Nigeria, but not staying with me, although they come around.”
Pa Michael, who was putting on a green cap, might be a lonely man, but he is aware of happenings in the country. As usual, there was no electricity, but his battery-powered mini-radio is always on, with which he listens to the news. At the time we got to his house, he was listening to Koko Inu Iwe Iroyin (a popular Yoruba newspaper review programme).
“Can we start the interview proper? Do you want it done in Yoruba or English?” our correspondent asked, and his reply was, “I am very good at the two. You can choose either.”
Can you tell us briefly about yourself?
I was born in 1936 (He is today 83-year-old). I was born here in Ibadan and I was with my father till I clocked 8, when he relocated to the North. He was a civil servant and when he retired, we returned home. I continued my school here and when I graduated, I went to work at the Secretariat, saved some money and went for further education overseas. I studied Electrical Engineering at Norwich Technical College, West Norwich, UK. I returned home, got a job again at the Ministry of Agriculture, and I was there till I retired.
Before I retired, I was opportune to be interviewed by the then governor, Alao Akala, who asked me what I wanted. I told him I wanted convenience after labour. I was later given a house through the governor, and the education of my children is being sponsored by the government.
You designed the Nigerian flag. Can you still recollect how it all happened?
It was a competition and I was lucky to have come across the competition flyer in a library. I took details of what and what is expected to design a flag that would be used by a country that was about to witness independence. I took part in the competition and my design was selected as the best. That was 1958!
How did you feel when you were declared the winner?
I was very pleased when I was informed that I won. What was the prize? I won a prize of N100, 000.
How old were you then, because N100, 000 was big money at that time?
And how did your 25 year old self spend N100, 000 then?
I collected a bit of necessities. Yesterday (Tuesday, October 1, 2013) marked Nigeria’s 53rd birthday.
How do you feel witnessing another Independence Anniversary?
I am pleased to be alive to witness yet another Independence Anniversary. I am glad I was able to participate in the activities of the celebration.
(Although, Pa Akinkunmi is still alive, all efforts to get him interviewed proved abortive. Main reason we decided to republish this interview).
How did you celebrate the anniversary?
People came to pick me for the celebration at the stadium. Before I went, I was interviewed by reporters from the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) about my feelings about the Independence celebration. After all the activities, I was offered another vehicle that brought me home.
In what way do you think government can support you? What do you want from government?
I don’t feel like asking any favour from the Federal Government because it’s been a long time now since the flag has been in use by the country. Since 1960, and up till now, I have been enjoying my pension accordingly.
There are insinuations that you have been abandoned by the government. Is this true?
I don’t know what to say actually (paused again). I have not been lacking anything. Do you want more favours from government? I don’t want any favour from government. I am not expecting anything from them.
“My father deserves a national honour” – Akinremi Akinkunmi
We later spoke with Pa Akinkunmi’s first son, Akinremi, who debunked some of what his father told us.
He said, “Some of what he told you are false. He doesn’t remember many things and I think it is as a result of old age and health challenges. That is why you always see someone with him, but I was surprised when you said you met nobody. That should be the fault of my sisters.”
According to his son, it wasn’t former Governor Akala that built the house for his father. “Don’t even let us talk about Akala! He was only able to complete the building after several years with the N2 million given to him by the telecommunications giant, MTN, when he was a guest at Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in 2008.
“Also, let me say this, none of his children is schooling abroad through any government scholarship”
“I am the first of his children and I have three siblings, Folake, Omowunmi and Akinwunmi.”
Speaking further, Akinremi said, “When you visited the house, did you ask yourself if this is where somebody that designed Nigeria’s flag should be living? Is this the kind of life that befits him? These are some of the facts to tell you that he has been abandoned.
“As you see him, he has not been recognised by the government for his feat. Not even Member of the Order of the Niger (MON). Or do you think he doesn’t deserve it more than the recipients of the annual awards? The Federal Government knows he exists. May be when he dies, that is when they would recognise him.
Former President Jonathan’s Reaction
When President Goodluck Jonathan was asked about his plans for Pa Akinkunmi during the Presidential Chat he had with a group of editors on Saturday, September 28, 2013, he did not mention any particular plans for the hero who was yet to be honoured.
Jonathan only said the government would do something for him, but stressed that that should be the responsibility of non-governmental organisations.
A year after that reaction, the former President bowed to pressure as he conferred Pa Akinkunmi with a national merit award for his contribution to the Nigerian project. He also appointed Pa Akinkunmi as a Special Assistant with a salary for life.
– RASHEED ABUBAKAR This interview was first published by ENCOMIUM Weekly in October 2, 2013. Share this