Cover Stories, Interviews

Nigeria’s flag designer, PA TAIWO AKINKUNMI (77) finds joy in old age

‘I’m not expecting anything from govt.’

1-IMG-20131002-01455Among 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 the state-of-the-art facilities. But because this edifice is the only house painted in the symbolic national colours of green and white, the colours of the Nigeria’s national flag he designed 55 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 purpose than residential. 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 km drive from Dugbe. Although, not easy to locate because it has 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 but the finest in the bushy and isolated area. Yet lacks some basic amenities that one would begin to wonder if the man of such honour stays in that building.

Around 2:30pm on Wednesday, October 3, 2013, Pa Akinkunmi welcomed ENCOMIUM Weekly’s correspondent to his house. And for the more than 45 minutes 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 are 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 househelps.”

“What about your children?” we asked further. The 77-year old Mechanical Engineering graduate, who speaks incoherently, 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’s aware of happenings in the country. As usual, there was no electricity, but his mini-radio working on battery is always on 24/7 where he listened to news. At the time we got to his house, he was listening to koko inu-iwe iroyin (briefs from the dailies).

“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, depending on the one you choose.”

 

Can you tell us briefly about yourself?

(Paused for minutes before he responded) I was born in 1936. I was born here in Ibadan and I was with my father till age 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 opportuned 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 Nigerian flag. Can you still recollect how it all happened?

It was a competition and I was lucky to have come across the competition 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 because N100,000 was a big money that time?

About 25.

And how would a 25 year old boy spend N100,000?

I collected a bit of necessities.

Yesterday (Tuesday, Oct 1) marked Nigeria’s 53rd birthday. How did you feel witnessing another independence anniversary?

I’m pleased to be alive to witness yet another independence anniversary. I’m glad I have been able to participate in the activities of the celebration.

How did you celebrate the independence?

People came to pick me for the celebration at the stadium. Before I went, I was interviewed by the members of National Television about my feeling concerning the independence celebration. After the whole 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 have any feeling to ask for any favour from the Federal government because it’s a long time now since the flag has been in use for the country. Since 1960, and up till now, I have been enjoying my pension accordingly.

There are insinuations that you’ve been abandoned by the government. Is this true?

I don’t know what to say actually (Paused again). I have not been lacking anything.

What more favour do you want from government?

I don’t want any favour from government. I am not expecting anything from them.

 

‘My father deserves a national honour’ – AKINREMI

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’s as a result of old age and health challenge. That’s 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 him, it wasn’t Akala that built the house for him. “Don’t even let us talk about Akala! He was able to complete the building after several years through the N2 million awarded 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’m the first born 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? If this kind of life 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 Order of the Niger (MON). Or do you think he doesn’t deserve it more than the recipients of the yearly awards. Federal government knows he exists. May be when he dies, that’s when they would recognise him?

PRESIDENT JONATHAN’S REACTION

When President Goodluck Jonathan was asked his plans for Pa Akinkunmi during the Presidential chat with a group of editors on Saturday, September 28, 2013, he didn’t say any particular plans for the hero who is yet to be honoured.

President Jonathan only said the government would do something for him, but stressed that should be the responsibility of non-governmental organisations.

 –  RASHEED ABUBAKAR

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