Am I a Nigerian? (1)
Once again, happy New Year to my readers. Are we concerned about patriotism in Nigeria in the contemporary period? I am sure you would be wondering why I am asking that question. Two incidents threw up the enquiry.
The first came up during a discussion with a cousin of mine seeking admission into a university in Nigeria. The poor boy scored over 300 marks for a professional course for which he was eventually denied admission, while a classmate of his from another state of the country with less than 200 marks aggregate was admitted based on what, in our clime, is known as quota system.
This led him into asking the above question: Am I a Nigerian? The second and totally unrelated incident arose out of the quest for employment in one of the federal agencies by a friend’s son. In a circumstance similar to the above, he lost out to incompetents as a result of federal character, despite his superior performance in the examination. Again, the boy became so agitated to the extent of raising similar enquiry as to his nationality.
The expectation of any state or nation is for her citizens to be loyal and patriotic to her cause. This is a natural thing that should flow from the citizenship of that country. Whereas Section 15(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as Altered), prescribes loyalty to the nation over and above sectional loyalties as an end to be achieved by the state through fostering a feeling of belonging and of involvement among the various inhabitants of the federation, Section 24 of the same Constitution may be regarded as a summary of the elements of patriotism to the nation in terms of the duties of the citizenry.
It is, however, doubtful if this ideal state of nationhood can be said to have been attained in Nigeria. The aggregate of opinions today, including government pronouncements, is that our people are not that patriotic. However, going by my interactions with several of our citizens, the feeling is that the spirit of patriotism is lacking due to so many factors.
In this writeup, I am concentrating on the basic ones and looking at the issue from various angles. We must remember the often-quoted statement of John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Inasmuch as this is true, the sense of it is that, just as framed by the makers of our Constitution, it seems the feeling must not only be mutual but reciprocal.
This implies that the country itself must be there for you in order for you to be there for the country. This is premised on the social contract theory between the citizens and the state. A cross-section of opinions in Nigeria would seem that the country is never there for its citizens, hence the lackadaisical attitude of citizens towards patriotism.
A citizen captured the situation in Nigeria thus, “there is a limit to patriotism in this country, I can’t die for Nigeria.” The import of this is, where there is a conflict between a citizen’s interest and that of the nation, personal interest will override. This is the expectation where there is a limitation to the sense of patriotism nursed by the people. Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, of blessed memory, was once reported to have said: “It is sinful to be law-abiding in a lawless country.”
This statement became very famous among activists during the anti-military campaign days. It is certain that failure of a nation to meet the legitimate demands of its citizens definitely justifies resistance and this has been a rationale for civil disobedience. Do we begrudge those with that feeling? I certainly do not. In Nigeria, the obligations of the nation to its citizens are captured largely in Chapter 2 of the Nigerian Constitution, which deal with fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy.
The question, therefore, is, how has the state fared in this respect? Let us use some of the objectives of the state as demonstration. With respect to security of life and property, can any Nigerian citizen confidently say that he is secure moving all over Nigeria today, without vigilantly watching his back? To what extent is the state providing quality education to its citizens? Social welfare is still largely a mirage, while our health system is still comatose. You can continue to replicate these to the extent that the summary these days is simply that you are your own local government by providing not only the infrastructure necessary for your survival but virtually everything you need.
In the midst of all the above, it is, therefore, difficult for a reciprocal arrangement in terms of patriotism of a citizen to the nation. To worsen the already bad situation, policies, such as quota system with its twin, federal character, do not encourage the disadvantaged or the victim to be patriotic.
What factors deny Nigeria patriotism from its citizens? Without assuming a sense of righteousness and knowledge of what is accountable for the loss of patriotism in Nigeria and which has substantially contributed to political decay in the sense of absence of institutions that can promote patriotic feelings, I chose to interact with a number of respondents whose zeal for Nigeria’s progress I can establish. The responses indicate contributors’ views to the destruction of patriotism as a requirement to national development.
In the view of a colleague, a professor of law, the problem is not basically material or resource-oriented but the larger question of nationhood. In the rhetoric of my friend, “Who are we? What does it mean to be a citizen? What is it that binds us? What’s our history? What is uniquely Nigerian about us to drive patriotism? Is there a ‘Nigerian’ culture, language, Volksgeist (‘National Spirit’)?”
He recalls that the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in the quest to truly unveil what we were and forge enduring unity, said many years ago that, “Nigeria is a mere geographical expression.” He queries how we can be discussing patriotism when we don’t even teach history and civics to our children anymore? He would rather see some of the responses below as effects, not the cause of our dislocation and that the problem is at the root, not the branches.
To one of the respondents, Nigeria has lost patriotism from its citizens fundamentally due to poor implementation and lack of development visions and programmes. Policy summersault and abandoned development projects are common, and political leaders need to be sensitised on putting society’s interest first and committing to development visions and programmes.
He cited the golden era of Nigeria’s development and referred to the Gowon administration’s launching of the Second National Development Plan, with five main goals of building: (1) A free and democratic society, (2) a just and egalitarian society, (3) a united, strong and self-reliant economy, (4) a great and dynamic economy and (5) a land full of bright opportunities for all citizens.
Fifty years after the plan was launched in 1970, according to this respondent, none of its goals has been achieved. Instead of a free and democratic society, what we have enjoyed over time is a militarised Nigerian society, with a great havoc done to the psyche of the citizenry.
Similarly, the Obasanjo-led government of 1976-1979 introduced Operation Feed the Nation. The Shagari government of 1979-1983 came up with the Green Revolution programme, which was a major agricultural policy embedded in the Fourth National Development Plan and “was intended as a programme to ensure self-sufficiency in food production and to introduce modern technology into the Nigerian agricultural sector largely through the introduction of modern inputs such as high yielding varieties of seeds, fertilizers and tractors.”