By Eric Elezuo
Can we really recall what most of us were taught during our formative years in the elementary schools about the symbols of Nigerian unity vis a vis the National Flag, the Coat of Arms and the National Anthem and Pledge. They were reputed as factors that bound the Nigeria people together. But today, it has been discovered that the Coat of Arms has a fundamentally flaw, which must not be allowed to remain.
Speaking exclusively to The Boss, an Environmentalist and Plants Expert, Thomas Emmanuel, disclosed that in his many years of observing the Coat of Arms, he has come to discover that a particular plant depicted in the picture is wrongly presented. While the plant is naturally yellow in colour, it is presented as red in the coat of arms. Emmanuel also noted that the position of the eagle, which is made to face the west, is wrong, suggesting that it should rather face the east. In his words, it is appropriate we begin our restructuring with those things that make for national unity, go back to the basis and fix the things that bound us together, and the national symbols, especially the coat of arms is uppermost in consideration.
Thomas, a Landscape Planner and Environmentalist with Dreamscape Resources, had taken it upon himself to bring to the knowledge of the Nigerian public of the indiscriminate use of the Nigerian coat of arms, with special interest in the colour of the special plant, COSTUS SPECTABILIS, better known as YellowTrumpet, used herein. He is of the opinion that the plant, which is very rare, is an item of great importance to the Nigerian nation, and should be treated as such. And to do such, the nation must by appropriating it its right colour on the coat of arms; the colour ‘yellow’.
But how did the quest to do the right thing as regards the plant came about. Hear him:
“I’ve been on this project in the last 12 years; working both on the Coats Of Arms of Nigeria and on the national plants of Nigeria. In 2007, I was doing a design as a Landscaper, and suddenly the name of this plant dropped into my mind because I was taught about it back in the days in primary school. I therefore, informed the National Plant of Nigeria as I believed it would help my design and it would be easy for me to find. But that was not to be. I never believed a national plant as such would prove difficult to find.
“I started by asking people who I thought knew about plants but none of them seems to have seen or heard about the it. I printed the picture online and showed a lot of people but none expressed knowledge of it. it was a tug of war. I even offered incentives to some just in case they come across it while I searched from garden to garden in between my official job description.
“It was not until 2016 that someone called and gave me hope at a location in Abuja. My journey to Abuja proved abortive as the person did not really have it. Again, I was told I could find it at Epe. It was at Epe that a man who deals in herbs confirmed he had seen it before, but they don’t have it anymore. It was a flicker of hope.
“Fast forwarding to February, 2018, somebody raised my hope and said I could find it in Jos. Again, I got my crew together and we set out for Jos. Right there, deep in the forest, we found it for the first time. I collected 25 of them but arrived Lagos with only one as the other 24 died on the way. I already learnt the act of cultivating the plant through a contact in Zambia.
“Now, looking at the plant in my hand, I was sure that what we have on the coat of arms was wrong because it depicts a red version of the plant. I’ve researched and discovered that the flowers were only Yellow in colour. So why do we have to colour ours red. Though the English name is Yellow Trumpet, it is however, not advisable to call it so because more than one plant can bear one common name. Let’s take for instance, a popular network company once put up a post on Instagram, asking if anyone knew the plant on the Nigeria Coat of Arms. In the their answer, they said yellow trumpet, but presented a plant called ‘Allamanda’. You see, if they had used the botanical name Costus Spectabilis, only one image would appear, and that would be the right plant. They were wrong!
“With the knowledge I had, I started making some product out of the plant. Then I approached the Ministry of Industry and Investment for a patent to protect my work rather my Intellectual Property. They told me that since it has to do with a national symbol, I have to get a letter from the President. Tough as it is, I made my move to the Presidency, to the Vice President’s office, to different Ministries, but there was no good response. I’ll continue the pushing because it doesn’t portray Nigeria in good light. How can we have over 20 different coats of arms all portraying different things and in different shapes and colours.
Thomas’ journey to finding the suitable colours and outlook for the national symbol has revealed and sadly so, that the coat of arms the President uses is different from the one the Vice President uses and further differs from those with the ministries, departments, parastatal and agencies, not forgetting the governors. To him, the confusion in the inability to adapt to the right status symbol cannot be far from the reason the country is in a topsy turvy situation.
“Everything that has been showcased in government establishments as regards the coat of arms is quite different from what we were taught in school,” Thomas lamented.
But are the differences in the coat of arms attached to various ministries and other high profile offices including the president and vice president’s office, deliberate? Just what if the government has decided to categorise the symbols based on offices?
A source from the Ministry of the Environment said without equivocation that there was no room for the differences, and that the symbol is supposed to be one and the same. A check also proved that some have eight yellow flowers, some have six, some others have six, eight, 10 red flowers, depending on who the artist is, and so the dichotomy continues.
“The difference is a huge mistake. It is not supposed to be. The symbol is meant to be one and the same wherever it is found,” the source, who craved anonymity informed.
A further check of the website of Nigerian Embassy reveals that Coctus Septabilis is the name of the flower on the Nigeria Coat of Arms but for ‘inexplicable reasons’, it is coloured red. But nobody, not even the embassy can explain these inexplicable reasons. What seemed to happen lies in the territory that someone just woke up one day and felt that red is a better colour for the plant or one uninformed artist has overzealously coloured using his own whims and caprice, and those who supposedly should know have looked the other way.
What is Emmanuel Thomas’ quest today as regards the flower
“In the first place, I am trying to get the authorities to correct the coat of arms, and once that is done, a bill should be raised in the National Assembly towards enacting a law that specifies exactly what the Coat of Arms of Nigeria National Flag should be in terms of colour and shape. Again, nowadays, the textbooks used in our various schools bear different coat of arms, all explaining different things. This is not right! And that explains the reason I carry the plants wherever I go; to show the students so that they can really see it. Currently, I am growing about a thousand plants in Lagos.
“Thirdly the plant has economic value, and a lot of things can actually be done with it. I have derived a by-products from it, and I am working on the second one. The intention is to make Nigerians understand that some of the things we have not done is because we are yet to look inwards and tap into our strengths. I believe that instead of trying to adapt to some strange technology, we can take advantage of the one particular to us, sell them to the world and earn foreign exchange.
“Another reason is that the plant is rare, and it shouldn’t be. The more I talk about this, the more people treat it with indifference. Some have even asked if the plant ‘dey put food for table’. Well, I see such response as the aftermath of our present harsh realities.
However, for those who have asked if the coat of arms has any part to play in Nigeria’s trade relations with other countries. In other words, inquiring about its importance in the scheme of things if eventually it is made consistent, Thomas said:
“Honestly, it is beyond the way we look at it. Good Name, they say, is better than silver and gold, and that inconsistency shows that we may not be able sustain development tomorrow. Nigeria Coat of Arms is beyond what we learn in school. I know a lot about symbols, and something is fundamentally wrong with our coat of arms.
“Let’s get this straight: the eagle on the Nigeria coat of arms symbolizes our strength, but this eagle is gazing at the west, and that does not support the meaning of the eagle. Be informed that all sort of energies come from the sun, and the sun rises in the east and sets on the west. The eagle cannot be gazing at the west where the sun sets; the eagle is meant to gaze at the east where the sun rises, where it derives strength. While the east symbolizes strength, the west symbolizes darkness.
“A source once said that the eagle’s position depicts a position to fight its aggressors, but do you fight your enemy in his comfort zone? Let me tell you how this has affected Nigeria; the country has been going out to fight against enemies of other African countries, just as its foreign policy objectives stipulate. But the country has left itself bare while doing that. Nigeria needs to change its policy, look towards the light and protect itself first, vis a vis its own people, economy, politics and all. We can launch out from home and not the other way round. We don’t want to eat our own locally produced food, we don’t want to use our locally produced items; it’s a problem from the inside and the coats of arms influenced it. So I have brought up a totally new design for the Nigerian coat of arms the one that reflect what our policy should look like, and I want the government attention. There should be changes and I think the real restructuring is getting the basic things right, focusing on the details.
What effort is being made to get the President’s attention so far?
“I have established communication with the office of the Vice President, and most ministries, but no response. However, maybe because Twitter presence, I got a response from the office of the Vice-President. I had to go to the state house and talk about it, but no appreciate solution in sight. The good thing is they agree something is wrong, and will be worked on. I will keep talking about it, because I don’t want it to be forgotten, I keep bombarding the President and Vice President on Twitter, but I think the Vice President should know that it is a very important issue.”
With everything not going as planned, does the environment has a second option to get attention to his project
“Nothing good comes easy, so I will keep the campaign alive and push harder. On one hand, I will continue the advocacy with the Federal government, and on the other hand, I’ll intensify exhibitions and workshops with primary and secondary school pupils. Next year, I will be speaking to students in Lagos then Kaduna, Delta states among others. I will also be publishing a book on my findings soon. The plant will be given free to anyone who buys a book.
Thomas understood that the fragile nature of the plant should be the reason behind choosing it as one of the objects on the coat of arms. He believes it speaks a lot about the fragile nature of the nation.
“I have tried reaching out to some museums and military facilities to find out the reason behind using the Costus Spectabilis, but as always, no one is willing to give a suitable response. However, I wrote to the Institute of Arms in the United Kingdom because the British gave us the coat of arms before independent. And they responded. Therefore, from their description, what we have today is not what they gave us at independence. They confirmed that the flowers given to us at independence were yellow and white. I requested for the original image, but found out it would 80 Pounds for a review. That explains why I don’t have the pictures.
At what point therefore, did the coat of arms changed, who changed it, who authorised it, and why is no one bothered that a national identity is not what it use to be. Time is now for all concerned to take another cursory look at the what makes Nigeria a nation.
“Lest I forget, it is important to add that the insertion or inscription of the coat of arms on the National Flag is wrong and inappropriate, and should be discontinued.”