..thoughts on patriotism and Nigeria
Peter Enahoro’s “How to be a Nigerian” remains one of my most favourite books about Nigerians. It is a humorous take on how Nigerians conduct themselves in diverse situations and across all spheres of life.
Fifty-Five years later and we are still the same Nigerians that he described then. Elnathan John’s book, “Becoming Nigerian: A Guide”, also adds a slightly more modern take to the conversation. Reading both books always leaves me in stitches: Nigerians are truly in a class of their own.
So, who exactly is the Nigerian? What would come to mind if you had to answer this question? Do you immediately think of the constitutional definitions of citizenship? By birth: having parents or grandparents who belong/ belonged to an indigenous Nigerian community pre-independence or are Nigerian citizens? By registration or by naturalisation?
Do you consider being brought up and spending a significant part of your life in Nigeria as a sufficient qualification? Do you think in terms of traits or values typically ascribed to Nigerians such as resilience, smartness, or even fraudulence or dishonesty?
Is it by the clothes we wear (agbada, dashiki, isi agu, aso-oke, etc) or the music we produce and consume (fuji, highlife, afrobeat, afrobeats etc)? Is it by the food we eat (swallow, efo riro, banga, miyan kuka, etc) or the drinks we guzzle (paraga, kunu, palm wine, etc)?
Perhaps we can be described by the languages we speak (Yoruba, Efik, Ijaw, or even pidgin English) or our linguistic nuances? For example, we often say things like, “na our way”, “na so we dey do” but what do we mean when we say these things? What exactly makes us Nigerian? I have pondered on this question more often than not in recent times, and I know you probably have as well.
Nigerians are undeniably proud people. We call ourselves “the Giant of Africa”, and we are quick to announce how rich we are in natural resources. We pride ourselves on being highly optimistic: irrespective of whatever happens to us: we believe tomorrow will be a better day. But as we think great thoughts about ourselves, we are also quick to dwell on polarising words and actions. We allow our differences to separate us instead of harnessing the strength in our diversity.
It is easier for us to emphasise tribal or religious differences. We think “she is not like me because she is Muslim” or “we cannot do business because my tribe historically does not trust yours”.
We are quick to perpetuate sterotypes and ascribe certain crimes and evil practices to people of different tribes or religious leanings. Kidnapping or banditry? Fulani herdsmen. Yahoo Yahoo? Yoruba boys? Anything for money? Igbo boys. Drug abuse? Hausa people. By no means does this indicate that some tribes do not have a higher representation when it comes to being identified with these ills. The issue, however, is that we are rather quick to dissociate ourselves from such issues instead of seeing them as national concerns.
And what about our penchant to congregate along religious, tribal, or cultural lines? We have always had socio-cultural associations. There is nothing wrong with this since they tend to focus on preserving their cultures and advocating for representation within the political space. However, many of these associations have become more nationalist, for lack of a better word.
If you listen to the news on an average night, you would probably hear that an association from one part of the country, has condemned an action or position taken by people from another part of the country. If you don’t hear that, it could be another association supporting a decision taken by Governors within its region which apparently may not favour another region. Honestly speaking, many of these issues have always been present, like cracks on the wall. Now, the pressure from within has broken down parts of the wall and exposed gaping holes.
The Nigeria of today is more divided than it has ever been before. The signs are clear and there are many reasons for this. A key contributing factor is disruptive utterances and inactions or selective actions by political leaders. The quest for self-sustenance, irrespective of its effect on society, and the race for survival and self-preservation, are also factors. How then can people be expected to be patriotic when they are focused on achieving their own goals irrespective of the costs to others?
Many will argue that it is hard to require patriotism from citizens when it appears as though there is no reason to be patriotic. Considering all of our national issues, this must be a cogent reason, right? How about we also realise that we have arrived at this destination exactly because many citizens have not been patriotic? It has always been easy for us to complain about our situation whilst accepting the status quo. Many of us often feel inadequate, like our small actions can never amount to anything but is this true? How many of us participate in the electoral process, whether as active party members, candidates, or the electorate? How many people know and engage their political representatives and hold them accountable?
Yes, our political situation may not be the best but what can we make of it within the existing constraints? Should we continually give up and allow the greater minority to dictate the direction of our collective future while we support them with our inaction? Nothing will change overnight but if we persist, surely, we can inspire change slowly?
We need to take responsibility for this collective future, realising that our individual progressive actions, when put together, can go a long way to changing our destiny. Many of us find it easier and more expedient to influence the course of our lives in estate associations, social clubs, etc. We can channel the same energy to our immediate communities. What can we do to improve our communities?
As we observe (because I am not sure we are celebrating) our 61st Independence Day, I earnestly pray that we do not give up on our country. I won’t lie, I often feel helpless when I think about where we are: this isn’t the life we desired. We look towards many nations who appear to have sorted themselves out. Many of us have even Japa’d to those nations, but we all cannot leave this country.
I desire a Nigeria that works for its people. Where ethnicity, religion, and all other discriminatory conditions are seriously downplayed. I want a Nigeria that provides greater opportunities for its people to employ their skills in improving their lives. I want a Nigeria that is safe again, where people can move around without fear. Maybe we can have this Nigeria if we can all do something different.
Our little actions could be significant enough to change the course of this nation in some way. Yes, we can do this, I truly believe we can, and this is the way I see things today.