By Oluwafemi Popoola
The death of Pa. Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi commonly referred to as “Mr. Flag Man,” the designer of the Nigerian flag, would indeed be considered a loss for Nigeria and potentially for Africa as a whole.
His son, Akinkunmi Akinwumi Samuel, had announced his passing via his Facebook page on Wednesday, August 30, 2023. Pa. Akinkunmi was said to have died after a brief illness in the early hours of Tuesday, August 29, 2023.
He wrote, “Life is indeed transient; I can say boldly you live a life with a landmark. Continue to rest on, my father! Pa Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi (OFR), Great Man has gone.”
Pa. Akinkunmi, a native of Abeokuta, Ogun State, was born on May 10, 1936, in Ibadan, Nigeria. He attended Baptist Day Secondary School, Ibadan, Oyo State, for his primary education and Ibadan Grammar School, Ibadan, for his Secondary education. The late octogenarian started his career as a civil servant at the Ibadan government secretariat and later travelled overseas to study Agricultural Engineering at Norway Technical College.
Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi, then a 23-year-old, who was studying engineering at Norwood Technical College in London saw a newspaper advert calling on people to enter a competition to design the Nigerian flag. This was an iconic period for Nigeria which was moving closer to independence from the British government.
Akinkunmi mailed the submission of his flag to Lagos a short time later, and in October 1959, he received a letter inviting him to the London office of the Commissioner for Nigeria in the United Kingdom, where he was told that his green and white design had been selected. He won 100 pounds ($281 in 1959) as well as a place in Nigeria’s history books.
The Nigerian flag, designed by Akinkunmi, consists of three vertical stripes of equal width. The two outer stripes are green, representing Nigeria’s agricultural wealth, while the middle stripe is white, symbolizing peace. A white, vertical band on the hoist side of the flag features a green, five-pointed star, known as the “Nigerian star,” which represents the country’s unity.
Akinkunmi’s design was officially adopted as the national flag of Nigeria on October 1, 1960, when the country gained independence. His creation has since become an enduring symbol of Nigerian identity and patriotism.
During Nigeria’s golden jubilee celebrations in October 2010, Akinkunmi received a presidential award for being a distinguished Nigerian, the first time the Federal Government had publicly honoured him. Akinkunmi received the National Honours Award of Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR). President Goodluck Jonathan, while conferring him with a national honour award, also announced his appointment as a Special Assistant, with a salary for life.
Speaking on the reward to the national flag designer, then, the former president said, “As someone who contributed so much to the history of this country, the person who designed the Nigerian flag, Pa Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi, who was also honoured here, you have to place him on a salary of Special Assistant to the President forever.”
It is stating the obvious that Akinkunmi’s contribution to Nigerian history and nation-building through his design is widely recognized and celebrated. His work has left a lasting impact and his death would be mourned by many who appreciate the significance of the Nigerian flag and its representation of the nation.
“I have always dreamt about Nigeria being at the front of every good thing and I am delighted to be part of this historical event.”, the Nigerian flag designer said during the unveiling of the world’s largest national flag in Ibadan in 2021.
Now, that this icon, Pa. Akinwunmi, has gone to the great beyond, as it is often done for national heroes at their passing as a symbol of respect and mourning, will the flag fly at half-mast for the flag man?
May his soul find repose.
Popoola is a journalist, news aggregator and social commentator.