4th February, 2015
By Rasak Musbau
Former President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, once said: “I like a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him”. Patriotism is a positive force to have in a nation. Just like filial piety, it is something that comes from the heart. It is inspired by sense of national identity. When a citizen is proud of his or her country, and is ready to sacrifice personal interest for the good of the country, such a citizen can be said to have developed a strong feeling of national identity and, therefore, to be patriotic.
Are Nigerians patriotic? Beyond just when our national football teams are playing against foreign teams, do we feel and talk as if we are members of one big family? It should trouble every one of us that after a century of amalgamation and 54 years of nationhood, Nigeria is still confronted with a poor structure. Most Nigerians are dissatisfied with the past and skeptical of the future. We have no commitments, only passing enthusiasm. The only thing we seem committed to is unrelenting cynicism which we parade like a mark of honour. Few days to 2015 general elections, Nigerians have retreated again into cynicism; threat of fire and brimstone over outcome of election that has never taken place has rent the air and political office seekers are being asked to sign superficial non-violence pact. We are faced with dangerous tendency of mutual distrust and total lack of confidence in our nation and seemingly ingrained attitude by many to hate the country. Beyond filling Nigerian as nationality for official document, the majority in the country are more at home with their various ethnic identities.
Today, what prevents Nigeria from being a real giant is our weak national identity and lack of unity. It is disheartening to see fellow citizens put up disposition and utterances that show absolute hatred for the country. Let me stress here that I am not trying to state that to identifying with one’s nation should entail being foolishly in support of the country even when the leaders and followers toe the wrong path. Rather, a proper national identification is one that prompts citizens to speak out against bad policies of the leaders and to correct those who misbehave and bring shame to the nation. But, this should be done with utmost civility.
Undoubtedly, Nigeria has some of the best natural and human resources in the world. Unfortunately, we have not really made much progress because of the hatred of Nigerians towards their own country. Perhaps, we lost our sense of patriotism due to the misfortune of getting very many selfish and misinformed leaders who survive by fanning the embers of ethnicity and sectional loyalties at the expense of nationalism. Through the selfish and parochial tendencies of some of our leaders, lots of Nigerians have imbibed wrong attitudes that have consistently jeopardised the process of nation building.
But in truth, it is only when citizens are loyal and willing to sacrifice for their country that a country is sure to be united, strong and developed. It is important to admit that it is not possible to ignite the fire of commitment from citizens whose welfare has become nobody’s business. It is because of this that the constitutions of democratic nations try to promote love of the country by providing for the welfare of the people. It is only when the peoples’ welfare is promoted that they in turn can fully identify with the nation. The Nigerian constitution recognizes the need to promote the people’ welfare as part of our struggle to build a democratic society. For example, Chapter 2 of the Constitution which describes the fundamental aims of government, states that the people are supreme. This presupposes that the essence of government is to serve the people, and not the other way. In fact, the Constitution states clearly that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”
Whereas leaders resort to national awakening, mass education and reorientation to spur transformation in most developing nations, here our political rulers are contented with the mass ignorance among the populace. They ride on the ignorance of the masses to get to power. To make matters worse, external forces have been using this internal combination of bad leadership and mass ignorance to further weaken our security and undermine the development of our nation. They have used economic sabotage, political interference and cultural penetration to undermine us. Through dirty business practices, they cheat our nation and take a lot of our natural and financial resources abroad and thus weaken our national pride and confidence in the nation. Many foreigners had participated and are still participating in the theft of our oil resources through illegal deals. Fake banks were once established by some foreigners to loot the nation with the support and connivance of unpatriotic Nigerians.
The solution to this problem is in our hands. In one of his popular songs, Juju maestro, King Sunny Ade, patriotically sings: “Nigeria belongs to us all. It must not crumble because we have no other country which we can call our own. So, let’s jointly develop the nation”. This line is quite instructive as it draws attention to the need to preserve our country. In reality, no matter how long one sojourns in a foreign land, there is actually no place like home.
This is the very reason why Nigerians should fully identify with the Nigerian project. A strong national identity will increase mass participation in public affairs as well as patriotism. Australia’s textbook reminds its citizens of the importance of a “fair go”, the principle that hard work and talent should always count for more than wealth or connections. In America, people are asked to memorize the deadline for filling of income-tax returns. Britain emphasizes the importance of being a good neighbour. This is the time for us to collectively come on board the ship of the Nigerian nation with genuine intent of ensuring that it doesn’t sink. This is how great nations of the world were built.
•Musbau is of the Features Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.