The Man, The Flag: Patriotic story of Akinkunmi, designer of Nigeria’s national symbol

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By Balogun Kamilu Lekan

Photo: Aljazeera

Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi (OFR) is a retired Nigerian civil servant, famously known as “Mr. Flag Man”. 

He is the designer of the Nigerian flag; a vital national symbol.

Taiwo Akinkunmi was born on May 10, 1936 in Ibadan.

After his elementary education, Taiwo proceeded to Baptist Day School, Idi-Ikan in Ibadan before heading to Ibadan Grammar School (IGS) in 1950 where he obtained his secondary school certificate.

He then got an appointment to work as an agriculturist with the Western Region Secretariat in Ibadan. After working in this capacity for a while, Akinkunmi left to further his education.

Taiwo was admitted to the Norwood Technical College in London to study electrical engineering.

In 1958, while at Norwood as an undergraduate, Taiwo, 23, saw an advertisement for the design of the Nigerian flag in preparation for the country’s independence.

He opted for this and this earned him an uncontestable engraved spot in the history page of Nigeria.

His design was Green, White, and Green, which had a red radiating sun badge in the central white vertical band with a green vertical band on each side.

The judges found this design fascinating with its deep meaning in depicting the greatness of Nigeria. This prompted them to choose his design as the best of all the total submissions.

However, the red radiating sun badge in the central white was removed, but Akinwunmi still retains the patent for being the designer, with a reward of £100, which was equivalent to $281 (N42,150) at the time.

However, the flag was hoisted in place of the union jack at the country’s independence ceremony on October 1, 1960.  

Taiwo middle presenting the flag in 1960. Photo: Unknown

Akinkunmi returned to the country from London in 1963 to continue his work at the Ibadan secretariat, agriculture department. He worked until his retirement in 1994.

The flag has become one of Nigeria’s most used national symbols as it is seen in every government function, parastatals, and even private organization.

It became a unique identity that all Nigerians became proud of all over the world.

However, Akinwumni became a forgotten legend as the country didn’t accord him any accolades afterwards, except for the £100 reward he got for the design.

In 2006, an undergraduate from the University of Ibadan, Sunday Olawale Olaniran, needed materials about Taiwo for his project of compiling a pamphlet on Nigeria’s history.

Sunday embarked on a search for Akinkunmi. His search revealed that Taiwo lives in Ibadan in an environment and condition that doesn’t befit the national hero that he is.

This revelation led to good Nigerians donating, monies, clothes and other items to Taiwo. Media outlets too troops into his residence for a series of interviews and documentation about the forgotten hero.

Olawale recalled in an interview about when his meeting with Akinkunmi, he said “When I met him in 2006, he would never say anything negative,” Olaniran recounted.

“He would say ‘God bless Nigeria,’ or ‘Nigeria is moving forward and will keep moving forward.’ Even when you could see around him that he was not well taken care of.“

Two years later, Akinkunmi featured in a special edition of Who Wants To Be A Billionaire alongside Kate Henshaw and T-Mac.

He was given a cheque for two million naira on the show. Akinkunmi used the money to build himself a house.

Later in 2010, the then minister of information, the late Dora Akunyili paid Akinkunmi a visit at his Ibadan residence and for the first time after he designed the flag, the federal government accorded him a presidential award.

In 2014, Akinkunmi was honoured with an honorary life presidential adviser title and also a national award, OFR(Officer of the order of Federal Republic).

It was, however, reported that President Muhammadu Buhari celebrated the national hero on his 85th birthday in a statement.

On behalf of all Nigerians and the government, President Muhammadu Buhari sends warm felicitations to Michael Akinkunmi, OFR, on his 85th birthday, joining family members and friends to celebrate with the designer of the National Flag, whose creativity and patriotism remain remarkable.

“Akinkunmi, who is an honourary Life Presidential Adviser, upholds the values that every citizen should emulate for nation-building, which include humility, selflessness, integrity and a keen interest in seeking greater good for country and humanity.” The statement reads

In 2021, Akinkunmi was present at the unveiling of the Nigerian flag as the “World’s Largest Flag”. The flag covers an area of 3,275.6 square meters.

Akinkunmi at the event reportedly said, “I have always dreamt about Nigeria being at the front of every good thing.”

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