So Sad! The Tale of a Forgotten Hero

Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi, the man who designed Nigeria’s flag is still alive but his present living condition is that of a forgotten hero.

“I was well-known all over the place. Everybody was calling me Mr Flag Man,” Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi says. (Photo: Al Jazeera)
The famous man who designed Nigeria’s flag, Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi, is still alive but his present living condition is that of a forgotten hero. In October 1959, a year before Nigeria gained independence, He designed the flag and was paid – 100 pounds, equal to $281 in 1959.
Now at 79-years, the living legend now lives in one of the poorest areas of Ibadan. His house painted in colours of Nigerian flag is a distinctive feature in the area and it can only be reached by foot. However, Akinkunmi doesn’t have a car. He doesn’t even have a phone. He lives separated from his wife for two decades after his health started deteriorating and now his only companion is his 28-year-old son.
Pa Akinkunmi’s son built a house for his father painted with the colours of Nigerian flag (Photo: Al Jazeera)
According to reports, his health is so poor now that he can’t even remember what his age is. He is unable to remember what he was doing on October 1, 1960 when the flag was hoisted for the first time in history. “Well, I was just pleased,” is the only thing that Akinkunmi can recount.
He was reportedly forced to retire from civil service in 1993 due to his progressive illness, his pension payments were so irregular that he could not even feed himself. His neighbours had to come to his rescue, handing him food and clothes.
Sunday Olawale Olaniran says that when he first saw Nigeria’s forgotten
hero in miserable condition, he started to cry (Photo: Al Jazeera)
He was totally forgotten by authorities until Sunday Olawale Olaniran, then student in the University of Ibadan, managed to track down the designer of the flag in 2006. He says that when he first saw his state he burst in tears.
However, Sunday also says that despite Akinkunmi’s terrible living conditions, he never heard anything negative from the old man. “He would only say ‘God bless Nigeria,’ or ‘Nigeria is moving forward and will keep moving forward'”, Olaniran says. He also remembers that when he appealed to the press even the journalists couldn’t believe first that Akinkunmi was still alive.
Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi’s statue near his house commemorates his deed for Nigeria (Photo: Al Jazeera)
In 2008 Akinkunmi was given a cheque of two million naira as fee for his appearance on a TV show. Akinkunmi ‘s son used this money to build the house of dream for his father painted with the colours of Nigerian flag.
Akinkunmi received his first award from the federal government in October 2010, during Nigeria’s celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of independence.
The very first model of the green and white Nigeria’s flag designed by Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi in 1959 (Photo: Al Jazeera)
Finally in 2014, he received a national honour from then-President Goodluck Jonathan who granted him a lifetime’s monthly salary of N800,000 naira, equal to wages of a presidential special assistant.