Who Will Bury Mr. Taiwo?

the ministry of CULTURAL AFFAIRS

Who Will Bury Mr. Taiwo?

It took the Nigerian government 51 years to formally honour Taiwo Akinkunmi, the man who designed the Nigerian flag. Now, months after his death, his body remains in a morgue as his family awaits a state burial.
the ministry of CULTURAL AFFAIRS

Who Will Bury Mr. Taiwo?

It took the Nigerian government 51 years to formally honour Taiwo Akinkunmi, the man who designed the Nigerian flag. Now, months after his death, his body remains in a morgue as his family awaits a state burial.

This is where my grandfather is buried,’ Akinwunmi Akinkunmi said, pointing to a grave. It was earlier this year, in March, we were on Oketedo Street in Ibadan, and I peered at the grave through the afternoon sun. I could make out the name, John Makinde Akinkunmi, inscribed on the grey headstone. The headstone also indicated that he died in 1952—six years before his son and Akinwunmi’s father, Taiwo Akinkunmi, designed the Nigerian flag.

‘Beside my grandfather are the graves of my great-grandfather and great-grandmother,’ Akinwunmi said. The inscriptions on their headstones had faded so I could barely make out their names; but I saw they had died in 1926 and 1924 respectively. The patriarch lay in the middle, on a higher platform, his headstone slightly taller than his son’s. Unlike the graves belonging to the two men, which had a fancy web-edged cross, on top of each headstone, the matriarch’s grave only had a short slab for a headstone.  

‘And your father?’ I asked, though I done some research already and anticipated his response. ‘His body is still in a morgue. We have not buried him yet.’ Mr. Taiwo had designed Nigeria’s flag in 1958, two years before Nigeria gained independence. Until 1960, as a British colony, Nigeria had used the British Union Jack. After Mr. Taiwo returned to Ibadan in 1963, he joined the agricultural department of the regional civil service. He lived and worked quietly, unnoticed and uncelebrated, until 2010, when he was recognized as one of 50 distinguished Nigerians during Nigeria’s golden jubilee celebrations. When Mr. Taiwo died in August 2023, the government promised the Akinkunmi family a state burial to be held by December 2023; but as of March 2024, after I had reached out to Akinwunmi to confirm the status of the burial, the burial seemed to be on hold. I discussed with Akinwunmi over several weeks, but our conversations left me with even more questions about his father, his family, the flag and the burial. To find answers, I decided to take a train from Lagos to Ibadan; and that afternoon on Oketedo Street, the atmosphere was solemn, though the front yard bustled, alive with business. For a moment, Akinwunmi and I stared at the three graves in silence.


In 1958, Mr. Taiwo, a fresh-faced Nigerian student in London at Norwood Technical College, (later renamed Lambeth College) stumbled upon a competition in a newspaper calling for submission for Nigeria’s flag ahead of the country’s planned independence. The young Taiwo was interested and set to work immediately after he got to his room. He was not an artist, but he was convinced he had an edge. Born a twin in Ibadan in 1936 to a civil servant father and a trader mother (his twin brother died at birth), he grew up accompanying his mother on her numerous business travels to different parts of the country, especially the North. According to Akinwunmi, ‘this gave my father first-hand experience of Nigeria, as he travelled the nation with my grandmother in his teenage years’. On these trips, he took photographs of the places he visited. Akinwunmi showed me some of these photographs. In one, a woman from northern Nigeria was on a mat working. Behind the photograph, Mr. Taiwo had written: ‘Typical Hausa wife in Northern Nigeria engaged in one of the main occupations in that part of the country.’

For his entry into the flag design competition, Mr. Taiwo opted for a simple rectangular design, divided into equal strips of green, white and green. On the white strip, he drew a red sun. The green represented agriculture and the white symbolized peace, while the red sun represented energy. In 1958, Nigeria was largely an agrarian country, and this informed Mr. Taiwo’s representation of agriculture in the flag. Also, before he left Nigeria for the UK, he had worked as an agriculturist at the Western Region Secretariat in Ibadan as a civil servant. ‘My father also chose white to represent peace because he had visited many parts of the country and he knew we cannot progress without unity,’ Akinwunmi explained. ‘He told me he added the red firmament because we need energy, we need power, to drive agriculture.’ 

When Mr. Taiwo was done designing the flag, he mailed his entry through the Nigerian High Commission. About a year later, he received a letter from the London office of the Commissioner for Nigeria in the UK, informing him that out of more than 3,000 entries, his submission had been selected as the winner. When the flag was unveiled on Independence Day on 1 October 1960, however, it had been modified—the red sun at the centre was removed from the final design. ‘My father told me that he did not know why the firmament was removed as the meaning was symbolic,’ Akinwunmi said. ‘Nonetheless, he was happy that his entry had won and that he had contributed to Nigeria’s history.’ 

At midnight of 1 October 1960, Salaudeen Akano who was then a naval officer lowered the flag of the protectorate of Nigeria for the last time. The pre-independence flag was first adopted in 1914 following the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates. The flag was a modification of the Union Jack that featured a blue extension, a red disc, and on the disc, a green six-point star, and the word ‘NIGERIA’, inscribed in white below a gold crown. Akano’s brief exercise happened in Lagos, then the capital of Nigeria, during an event held by a platoon led by Onwura Zonyeuno Chiazor. There was silence as the floodlights were dimmed and the protectorate flag descended. When the clock struck midnight, a new flag, Mr. Taiwo’s flag, was hoisted. As the flag reached the top, fireworks erupted, the floodlights were turned on and the crowd at Race Course—which was later renamed Tafawa Balewa Square—went wild with jubilation as a new nation was born. 

The prime minister, Tafawa Balewa, who stood on the grounds that would later be renamed after him, gave a speech to usher in the new nation. He spoke about how many Nigerians had anticipated the day of independence and how, upon Nigeria’s independence, Nigeria’s relationship with Britain had transformed from that of colonizer and colony to one of partners. He recognized the efforts of many Nigerians in achieving independence, saying:  

Time will not permit the individual mention of all those friends, many of them Nigerians, whose selfless labours have contributed to our Independence. Some have not lived to see the fulfilment of their hopes on them be peace, but nevertheless, they are remembered here, and the names of buildings and streets and roads and bridges throughout the country recall to our minds their achievements, some of them on a national scale. Others confined, perhaps, to a small area in one Division, are more humble but of equal value in the sum-total. 

True to Balewa’s words, the names of many of those who contributed significantly to Nigeria’s independence were immortalized as roads, government buildings, bridges, institutions were renamed after them. But one name remained unknown: Taiwo Akinkunmi. His name was not acknowledged during the Independence Day celebration nor were any public amenities named after him. When he returned to Nigeria in 1963, there was no celebration to welcome him back to the country. He was, instead, welcomed by a handful of family members who were just glad to have him back. Such minimal recognition of his contribution to Nigeria’s history would define Mr. Taiwo’s life for a very long time. ‘We waited for more than 50 years for our father to get recognized,’ Akinwunmi said. ‘Now we are waiting again after he has died.’ 


It was a Friday in March 2024, and as the train from Lagos left the Babatunde Raji Fashola station in Agege where I had joined it, I opened my laptop and placed it on my lap. I couldn’t see my screen, though, because the seat in front prevented me from pushing my screen to a comfortable angle. I was already looking forward to meeting Akinwunmi, whose first name I had noted differed, from his surname by one letter.  

I went through my notes. Mr. Taiwo had died aged 87, ‘after a brief illness’, as the press had reported it; though I would soon find out that contrary to such reports, he was not ill before his death. The story of Mr. Taiwo’s death, I would learn, was full of misconceptions, half-truths and conjectures. First, however, I needed to get to Ibadan. 

The train ride from Lagos to Ibadan takes about two hours. This was my third trip to Ibadan in a year and, my sixth in two years. On all my visits, I had used the train service, which itself was rather new, having only launched in 2021. Until then, I travelled by road, a journey that could take up to four hours especially when the Lagos-Ibadan expressway was undergoing one of its frequent repairs. The air was festive the two times I was in Ibadan in 2023: the first was for my wedding and the second was with a couple of my friends to spend the weekend. This time, my visit was work-related, and I was going alone. I had booked my trip online (a first, as I had always paid cash at the station in the past) and selected my seat. Online, SEAT 1 was marked as the first seat in the coach and supposedly had more legroom. On the train, however, it was the last seat as the numbering started from the back and did not have the expected legroom. Soon, the train sped to Ibadan and houses turned into trees in the other direction. 

It was my editor-in-chief, Wale Lawal, who encouraged me to go to Ibadan, to visit Akinwunmi, talk to him, see and experience the house his father had lived in before he died. I started working on the story in September 2023, after I saw a Punch Newspapers story announcing Mr. Taiwo’s death. My initial plan was to call Akinwunmi, conduct a phone interview and produce a newsy report. This plan changed in January 2024, when I received a five-paragraph Facebook message from Akinwunmi claiming that his father had not yet been buried. According to Akinwunmi, ‘the initial date scheduled by the family for the burial ceremony was December 7th and 8th 2023 but was annulled by the State Government on the ground that none of the State Government official was present when the date was picked.’ Still, the government insisted that Mr. Taiwo deserved a state burial, leading the family to postpone the date of his burial to February 2024. 

Akinwunmi had reached out to me because he felt the conversations between the Akinkunmi family and the government had reached a dead end, and he needed an outlet. We spoke at length, and when I brought up the situation in an editorial meeting at The Republic, one question seemed to remain unanswered: Why has the body of the man who designed Nigeria’s flag remained in a morgue in Ibadan seven months after his death? More importantly, why is no one talking about this? 

‘We are approaching the Professor Wole Soyinka Train Station, Abeokuta…,’ the announcer said over the speaker, adding that the train would be stopping for three minutes to allow passengers to embark and disembark. Mr. Taiwo’s grandfather was born in Abeokuta and had grown up there before moving in the 1900s to Ibadan, where he spent the rest of his life. Three generations of Akinkunmis have since lived in Ibadan and consider the city their hometown.  

As the train left Abeokuta for Ibadan, I went over my notes on Mr. Taiwo’s return to Nigeria. I had read that on returning to Nigeria, Mr. Taiwo took a job at the Ministry of Agriculture, beginning as an agriculturist and worked his way up to the assistant superintendent of agriculture. He spent 31 years working in the ministry before retiring in 1994 to what his family considered a life of obscurity. Akinwunmi said his colleagues barely knew who he was because he kept a low profile. He recalled that:  

My father worked in the agriculture ministry all his life, and nobody knew he had designed the Nigerian flag because he did not brag to anyone about it till he retired. It was we his children that took it upon ourselves to start sending letters to Olusegun Obasanjo when he was president in early 2000. We felt as an Egba man, Obasanjo would come to the aid of my father and give his due recognition, but we did not get any response. Maybe the quality of the letters we sent did not meet the standard of Aso Rock. 

It wasn’t until 2006, 12 years into his retirement and while living on an irregular pension, that Mr. Taiwo got some public recognition. Researcher, Sunday Olawale Olaniran, was compiling a pamphlet on Nigeria’s history and decided to track him down to his family house in Dugbe. There, Olaniran found the man many thought had died. According to Al-Jazeera, together with an unnamed journalist, Olaniran wrote a story about Akinkunmi, which was published in a newspaper on Independence Day. On his blog, Olaniran wrote the story, ‘Taiwo Akinkunmi, Hero Without Honour’ noting that:  

Nigeria as a giant of Africa is greatly blessed with both human and natural resources. In the process of this book, I decided to appreciate the effort and contribution of some people who did one remarkable thing or the other in our Country by putting their biography in the this book. That was what brought about the inclusion of ‘section 4’ of this book which I tagged –Nigerian Heroes/Heroine- where I revealed the biographies of some foreigners like Lord Lugard who did the amalgamations, Flora Shaw who coined Nigeria, Mary Slessor who stopped the killing of twins in the country and Mungo Park who discovered the river Niger. 

As the research progresses, I just developed a thought in my heart that there is somebody left behind which I have to include. A man whose commands honour and respect among the over 20 million young ones everyday. Students (when singing national anthem) stands attentively to honour the flag of Nigeria which the man used his initiatives to design 48 years ago. Visit any School in the Country, you find it there, it’s hanged in many offices even in the Presidential villa in Abuja, it’s there and other Nigerian Embassies abroad. 

Recently, I and my crew decided on a trip to give honour to whom honour is due. We paid a visit to Pa Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi, the man who designed Nigeria National Flag in the year 1958. 

We were ushered in by his son named Akinwumi Akinkunmi and we had a brief interaction with Baba who just clocked 70 years on earth.  

This story gained some media interest and led to Nigerians going to Mr. Taiwo’s house to donate food and clothing. 

Two years later, a special edition of the TV gameshow, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, titled ‘Who Deserves To Be A Millionaire’, reached out to Mr. Taiwo to participate. The special edition focused on rewarding Nigerians known to have contributed to the country. On the gameshow, participants were paired with celebrities who answered quiz questions on their behalf. The more questions they answered correctly, the higher their winnings. On the show, Mr. Taiwo won N2 million, which he used in building his own house in the Aiyepe area of Ibadan. He painted the house in the colour of the Nigerian flag.

Akinwunmi’s participation in the gameshow led to another round of media popularity. The then minister of information, Dora Akunyili, visited Mr. Taiwo in his Aiyepe house where he lived with Akinwunmi. Following her visit as well as pressure from Olaniran and many Nigerians who wrote letters to the federal government, Mr. Taiwo was nominated for presidential recognition and selected as one of 50 distinguished Nigerians to mark Nigeria’s golden jubilee of 2010. Akinkunmi, now 74, was constantly ill, on medication and required Akinwunmi’s support. It had been 50 years since he designed the flag.  

In 2014, the Goodluck Jonathan administration awarded Mr. Taiwo the Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic and he had to travel from Ibadan to Abuja with Akinwunmi to receive the award. Now 78, Mr. Taiwo was frail and according to an Al Jazeera report, could not remember much of the event.  

In 2019, Akinwunmi, moved to the more upscale Harmony Estate in Ibadan which was more central and more accessible to vehicles. Naturally, he asked his father to move in with him. In 2021, on the invitation of the then-chief of defence staff, General Lucky Irabor, Mr. Taiwo participated in the unveiling of the largest flag in the world in Ibadan. This was the last high-profile event he attended before his death three years later.

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It was a good thing I spoke with, Kolawole, the taxi driver who took me from the train station in Omi Adio to my hotel. It was a 30-minute drive, but we started talking as soon as the drive started, after I complained about the heat in Ibadan.  

‘So, what brought you to our Ibadan?’ He asked.  

‘I am meeting with the son of the man who designed the Nigerian flag tomorrow,’ I told him. He shrugged before telling me he had heard of the man and that he knew he died in 2023. He then asked if I was in Ibadan for his burial. I answered in the negative, explaining that I was in Ibadan to find out why he had not been buried. 

‘From his son’s house, I intend to also go to his family house in Dugbe and finally, the house he built in Aiyepe,’ I said.  

‘How about you book me for the entire day tomorrow and I can take you around those places,’ Kolawole proposed. ‘That will be easier than trying to get a cab each time you need to go to the next place. I will also take you back to the station in time tomorrow if that is your plan so you don’t miss your train.’ I thought about it briefly before agreeing that it sounded like a good plan. By the time we got to the hotel, we had agreed on a price.  

My hotel was smaller than I expected. It was a bungalow on a hill, which gave it the appearance of being higher than it looked. I called Akinwunmi as soon as I got to my room to let him know I was in Ibadan. Then I called Toyin Adedokun, the photographer The Republic had commissioned for this story, to reconfirm his availability for the next day. In the evening, I spoke with Kolawole again to remind him to be on time. Everything was set. As I lay in bed that night, I thought of Theodosia Okoh, the woman who designed the Ghanaian flag and for many years lived with the fact that someone else got credit for her work. I marvelled at the similarities between the stories of Okoh and Mr. Taiwo, two people who did not receive the recognition they deserved in two West African nations that were former British colonies.  

The following morning, I swung my bag across my shoulder as I stepped out of the hotel to meet Kolawole at the car park. Toyin was already at Akinwunmi’s house when we left the hotel. When I tried to use Google Maps to direct the driver, we found out that the destination it was leading us to was on the other side of the town, farther away from the estate where Akinwunmi lived. I mentally thanked my stars for agreeing to let Kolawole take me to my destination as it was not easy to find Akinwunmi’s house and would have been a lot more difficult on my own or with a less patient driver. At some point, Akinwunmi asked us to wait at the bus stop where he came to join us to direct us to his house. After weeks of calls and exchanging messages, we were meeting in person for the first time. He was welcoming and shrugged off my apologies for putting him through the stress of walking a distance to meet us. He, instead, told us about how a planned interview with a media team from Lagos had to be cancelled because the crew could not find their way to his house.  

When we got to the one-storey building where Akinwunmi lived, I noticed some construction was happening on the side of the house even though the house looked complete. I made a mental note to ask Akinwunmi what he was building. I had expected the driver to remain outside while I spoke with Akinwunmi, but he seemed to have plans of his own because he walked straight inside, excited to be part of the story. It turned out to be another serendipitous move as instead of a stiff one-on-one interview, his presence led to us having a big unscripted, sometimes informal but ultimately revealing conversation. For the next six hours, I, Akinwunmi, Kolawole and occasionally, Toyin the photographer, spoke at length. 

The first thing a visitor sees when they enter Akinwunmi’s house is the Nigerian flag in different sizes, placed everywhere. That afternoon, a miniature flag decorated the TV area while a bigger flag was on a shelf that stood in a corner. Several awards and plaques belonging to Mr. Taiwo were scattered around on the shelf. (The photographer may have moved some of the flags around to take pictures before I arrived.) Another set of flags were on a table beside the door. There was a condolence book on the table, but it was closed. I wondered but did not ask Akinwunmi if it would still have been there if Mr. Taiwo had been buried. 

Many of the plaques, awards and framed pictures were old and dusty, but a few of them were dated early 2023. One picture had the chief of defence staff, General Lucky Irabor, shaking hands with Mr. Taiwo during the unveiling of the biggest flag in the world. The picture of Mr. Taiwo, when he received a national award in 2014, also stood out. It was not dusty, which suggested to me that it received some attention from the occupants of the house. Akinwunmi watched me in silence as I examined the awards and photographs until I took the one with the national award. 

‘That’s me in the background,’ he said pointing to the figure that stood behind as Mr. Taiwo shook the hands of former president, Jonathan. I noticed Akinwunmi’s quiet presence in many of the photographs Mr. Taiwo appeared in. ‘I was sort of his personal assistant,’ Akinwunmi explained. ‘Despite being the last child, I went everywhere with him. I followed him to radio and television stations for interviews. Towards the later part of his life when he could not travel to events, especially the ones that took place at night, I would go on his behalf.’ He spoke with a mix of pride and disappointment, a sense of fulfilment at having undertaken those special assignments on behalf of a man he felt had not received recognition until the later part of his life when he was too old, too frail to participate and enjoy such recognition. 

There were a few awards from 2010, the year Mr. Taiwo was named one of 50 distinguished Nigerians during Nigeria’s golden jubilee. However, most of the awards seemed to have come after the 2014 national honour. From clubs to communities to NGOs to social societies, several organizations had given him plaques commemorating his national recognition. There were no signs that he had been celebrated in his youth, however. Even his secondary school also seemed to have recognized him after the national honour with a small plaque.

‘We all attended Ibadan Grammar school, the same secondary school our father attended. All my elder siblings and I,’ Akinwunmi said proudly. I asked if the awards and plaques came with monetary rewards, and he responded with an emphatic no before adding that only a few had and refusing to specify which ones. There was a framed black and white photograph of Mr. Taiwo beside the television. In the photograph, he wore a suit, and the inscription said the photograph was taken before he left Nigeria to study in the UK. The image had been photoshopped to make it look like he was sitting beside a shiny sofa. I asked Akinwunmi if he still had the original photo without the sofa. He didn’t. It was one of his aunts who was now late that had sent him the picture on WhatsApp years ago. According to Akinwunmi, in the original photo, Mr. Taiwo was sitting in the middle of two other boys, who he guessed were his friends or colleagues. 

‘Are you from Ibadan?’ Kolawole suddenly asked. Akinwunmi said yes but became guarded when Kolawole asked which town in Ibadan he was from.  

‘Nobody can question my claim of being from Ibadan,’ Akinwunmi responded, in a tone that suggested he wanted to end that line of questioning. I did not understand his change in mood for a while until he opened up later explaining that his lineage was originally from Abeokuta but that he identified as an Ibadan indigene since his great grandparents were buried there. In Nigeria where identity and lineage are politicized, I wondered if this had caused any confusion as to whether his father deserved state recognition and burial in Oyo or Ogun States. Akinkunmi, however, was convinced that Ibadan was his family’s hometown as more than 100 years had passed between when the first Akinkunmi left Abeokuta for Ibadan. ‘I claim Ibadan and my father also claimed Ibadan and his grandfather also did the same. Former governor of Oyo State, Alao Akala, was kind to my father when he was alive,’ he said.  

‘What was it like growing up as the child of the man who designed the Nigerian flag?’ I asked moving on to what I believed was a safer terrain. Akinwunmi’s face lit up as he responded. He said his father rarely spoke about his achievements and chose to live a quiet life. According to Akinwunmi: 

Each time we question the fact that he was neglected by the government and was only remembered by a few people on Independence Day, he would say: ‘I have done my part for Nigeria. It is up to you too to do your own part.’ He was very patriotic and never said anything bad about Nigeria despite living in struggle after retirement. 

I recalled that Olaniran had made similar comments in the Al Jazeera report. Akinwunmi added that there was a time when he and his siblings vowed to not entertain any media requests for interviews with their father during Independence Day celebrations but that Mr. Taiwo in his usual soft-spokenness had calmed his children, telling them to instead focus on keeping the Akinkunmi name great. 

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‘My father was proud to be a Nigerian despite not getting the sort of recognition he deserved,’ Akinwunmi said. He explained that,  

After he died. I spoke at a candlelight ceremony organized for him in Abuja where I told the gathering that it was a shame that this man’s contribution was not recognized for more than 50 years. By the time the government did, he was already an old man and only wore the national honour for less than 10 years. If he had not lived up to 87 years, he would probably have not been alive to receive the award. Now the same thing is happening after his death. 

I asked Akinwunmi what he meant by the same thing was happening, and he explained that the family had not meant to keep Mr. Taiwo’s body in the morgue for such a long time. After his death in August 2023, the family had held a meeting in September and had decided to bury him in December that year. According to Akinwunmi,  

In November, we got a message from the state government in conjunction with the federal government that our father deserved a state burial so the family could not go ahead to bury him in December as planned. The senator who spoke with us said that because of our father’s status, we the family could not make sole decisions without carrying the government along. 

Because of this, Akinwunmi explained, the family moved their burial plans to March 2024 and informed the state government. By February, however, it became clear that the plan would not be executed due to the silence they were getting from the government. ‘Sometimes,’ Akinwunmi said, ‘we would call for days, and no one would answer us while we continued to pay the bill to keep him in the morgue.’ 

By late February 2024, the family was becoming restless as the delayed burial was becoming reminiscent of the long years it took Mr. Taiwo to be publicly recognized by the government. I noticed he was torn between damning the government and going ahead to bury their father, and waiting for as long as possible so their father could get the state burial. ‘We can bury our father without all the fanfare. With the support of family and friends, it would still be gracious,’ Akinwunmi said. ‘If you feel someone deserves something, can’t you give it when it is more prestigious instead of delaying for a long time until it loses its value?’ 

I wondered how long the family was willing to wait considering their plan to bury Mr. Taiwo in March seemed impossible. ‘You know, I read in the news that my father died after a brief illness,’ Akinwunmi said, ‘It was not true. My father just went to his room to lie on his bed that morning and never woke up. I found him unresponsive and took him to the hospital where he was confirmed dead.’ Until Mr. Taiwo died, Akinwunmi explained, ‘he was very positive-minded. When we lived in Aiyepe for five years where he built his house, he used to take evening walks and people who knew him would hail him as he passed. When he moved in with me, I had to limit his evening walks as I don’t have money for ransom if he is kidnapped,’ he said, laughing.  

I asked Akinwunmi if he believed the government would come through and he paused. Eventually, he said the family was initially told that the delay was due to Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde’s absence from the country. However, the governor was said to have returned to Nigeria a few days before my visit but, according to Akinwunmi, the family had not received any correspondence still from the government. According to Vanguard Newspaper, the federal government through the minister of information and national orientation, Alhaji Mohammed Idris, had promised during their condolence visit to Ibadan that they were ready to immortalize Mr Taiwo. Additionally, according to Punch, the Oyo state government had also expressed similar sentiments.  

I asked Akinwunmi what, if any, the family’s cut-off point was, and he responded with a tinge of disappointment that they would go ahead and bury their father without a state burial. He added that a few days earlier, he had appeared on a radio programme where he spoke about the delay in burying his father but felt his words were misconstrued to make it seem he had accused the government of delaying the family. 

‘Isn’t that the case?’ I asked. ‘Is that not why your father has not been buried?’ He responded that the government had its part to play and could decide how they wanted to bury their hero. It seemed to me that Akinwunmi felt conflicted: on one hand, he believed his father had lived through years of neglect from Nigeria and was being denied a state burial he had earned. Yet, on the other hand, Akinwunmi did not want to annoy the same government who were the key decision makers. Akinwunmi’s situation reminded me of ‘The Saint’, the short story by Nobel-prize-winning author, Gabriel García Márquez, about the efforts of a man, Margarito Duarte, to get his undecomposed daughter’s body canonized for 22 years. Ultimately, one realizes that in his perseverance Margarito is the saint. 

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I asked Akinwunmi if I could see the room in the building, where his father lived for five years but he declined saying we should instead go to the family house where he grew up in Dugbe. Outside, I asked about the construction I had noticed earlier and, eagerly, he explained it was for a museum in his father’s honour. ‘It is a museum I am building that will contain his pictures, documents and awards,’ he said. ‘When people want to know about him and his contribution to Nigeria, the museum will provide the service. That way, his name will not be forgotten.’ 

We drove to Dugbe, where Mr. Taiwo was born and lived with his siblings. It was also where Mr. Taiwo got married and had his children until he moved to his own house in 2014. Dugbe is a bustling business district, and, over the years, the front yard of the house had been converted to shops where electronic appliances were sold. It was only when we entered the compound (through a side entrance) that I noticed the house was painted in the colours of the Nigerian flag—though the coats were old and peeling. After seeing where his grandfather and great-grandparents were buried, I asked if the house had been sold considering the shops and several occupants I saw there but he clarified that it had not been sold. He explained that his father was the last family member to leave the house before it was put up for rent.

Aiyepe, about an hour away, where Mr. Taiwo also had a house, was quieter and less motorable than Dugbe. So, when we arrived, we had to park the car and walk down the street to where the house, which was also painted in green and white strips. A large banner announcing Mr Taiwo’s death was draped over the fence, and after Akinwunmi explained the reason for our visit, the new occupants of the building let us in. In its heyday, the compound held a bust that had been erected in honour of Mr. Taiwo. Now, the bust stood in a corner with its head missing. I asked Akinwunmi why he wasn’t building the museum there, but he said the distance from the city centre and the security situation in the area made that impossible. ‘You’ll notice that all the houses in this street have iron doors,’ he said. ‘This happened after there was a robbery incident a few years ago where every single house was affected. We were told the reason my father’s house was not affected was because one of the neighbours told us not to touch the house of “Mr Nigeria” and we were spared.’

As we walked back to the car, I thought about Mr. Taiwo taking numerous evening walks down this road as an old man, with his neighbours likely hailing him. In my time with Akinwunmi, I had learned a lot: mostly, that while both the government and the Akinkunmi family felt Mr. Taiwo deserved a state burial, only one party seemed ready for the burial. The family was getting frustrated with the delay but they were still being cautious, worried they might draw the ire of the government. 

It was getting late and I had a train to catch back to Lagos so I suggested we—I, Akinwunmi, Kolawole and Toyin—take a group photo. Just then, Akinwunmi’s phone rang and when he looked at the caller, he said excitedly: ‘It’s from the state government!’ I waited as he took the call. From his end, it seemed the caller wanted to know how the family was doing and to assure him that the state government was still ‘working on a plan’. The excitement faded as the call ended. I prompted him for feedback and he shrugged. ‘You know these people,’ he said. ‘I was told our file has been sent to the governor and the plan is to get him to assent to it before he travels out of the country again. I don’t know…’

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