Nigeria At 56: The Challenge Of Patriotism

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After 56 years as an independent nation, all indications points to dwindling patriotism as the reason for the sad state of affairs in Nigeria. OMONU YAX-NELSON examines how the absence of patriotism has undermined the full attainment of Nigeria’s potentials. 

“The greatest gift of life is to die for your people.” – Ken Saro-Wiwa.


In the 56 years of Nigeria’s journey of nationhood, the dearth of patriotism has been cited as the reason why Nigeria is a long walk away from fulfilling its potentials.

Patriotism has been understood variously, depending on the sides of argument one subscribes to. But in literally sense, patriotism is what makes a person want to give more to his/her country than he is ready to take.

An old Greek proverb said, a nation grows great, when old men plant trees, under which shade, they know, they will not live to enjoy. Similarly, nations become great, when greater percentage of its citizens are consumed with the love and service for fatherland.

Throughout history, examples of extreme patriotism are widespread and have championed the cause of change, irrespective of personal discomfort. Their ready attributes are that, they strive to give more to their societies than they ready to take from it.

One of the attributes of the unpatriotic is that, they place parochial and self-interest over and above collective interests.  But the patriotic put the interest of nation and general good above their own interests.

In Nigeria, patriotism with all its attributes analysts say, is in dire short supply. This has been explained as responsible for the greed, avarice and the extreme corrupt tendencies of the ruling class in Nigeria.

Nigeria has had its share of patriots but the dilemma is that, for a nation to become great; those who love it must be more than those who plunders it. Unfortunately, the Nigerians who loves Nigeria are fewer than those love it.

Professor Dora Nkemdilime Akunyili, though dead and buried, but the icon still lives on. Professor Akunyili was a woman of courage and inner strength, clarity of purpose, great passion and unwavering loyalty to the Nigerian creed. Her disdain for elitism came to the fore, when she courageously spoke-up, when men were hiding their heads in the dust; when late Yar’adua’s health became a matter of politics.

Before her appointed as the Director General of National Agency for Foods Drugs and Administration and Control (NAFDAC), over 95% of the drugs in Nigeria’s pharmaceutical market were mere white chalk and death instruments. It took her decision to take the incorruptible stand to restore the confidence of hopeless Nigerians in the nation’s pharmaceutical industry and preserve millions of lives. Until her demise on the 7th of June 2014, she was still serving her fatherland at the 2014 constitutional conference.

In her opening remarks at the conference, she quoted an old Greek saying that “A nation becomes great when old men plant trees under whose shade they know they will not live to enjoy.” In appreciation of her contribution to humanity, the epithet and out-pour of positive emotions that followed her demise is an eloquent testimony of her place in history.

Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi was another patriotic and selfless Nigerian. A legal luminary and known for the title the ordinary people and students bestowed on him ‘Senior Advocate of Masses.’ His legal carrier was more to him like an instrument for the liberation of the oppressed, than a career or a means of economic security.

In his defense of the poor, he was astute. In his cry against injustice, he was loudest. His fight against oppression, injustice and tyranny in the hands of the military juntas and civilian autocrats was dogged.

He confronted an unjust system that makes human beings smaller than they truly are; using his legal acumen. This was evident in his frequent visits to the most dreaded gulag (prison) in Nigeria, e.g Gashua prison.

The effects of his frequent incarceration were evident in his deteriorated sight and the lung infection that terminated his life on the 5th September 2009. That was the mark of heroic virtue.

Late mallam Aminu Kano and Alhaji Balarabe Musa are undoubtedly acknowledged as “TALAKAWA” leaders, which means advocates for the down-trodden. This statement stands to be corrected, these men stood up to the complete scrutiny of their character; which means that they are able to overcome the greed and avarice that is currently the hallmark of our nation’s political character. At the core of their values is; genuine peace can only be guaranteed, when the son of a ‘nobody’ has equal opportunity with the son of a ‘somebody.’

However, the lack of patriotism in our system can be explained the prism of skewed reward system. In Nigeria, according to observers, accolades, praises, awards and rewards goes mostly to the undeserved.

Nigeria’s reward systems is tailored against those who deserve it. Those who should be in prisons are being celebrated, rewarded, selected, appointed and elected, while those who should be in-charge of important public affairs are the ones who are being innocently thrown into prison.

The saying of the ancient Greek philosopher, AESOP, have profoundly found expression in Nigeria. He a said long time ago that, it is in the habit of man to hang small thieves while electing big ones into public office.

This, no doubt has had profound negative effect on the national spirit of our people. Because red carpet are laid for the dubious, every man is attracted into criminality. Since we have become a nation that celebrates wealth, no matter its source.

Nobody cares to know how somebody who could hardly feed himself yesterday, suddenly become a money bag. People who should be celebrated are derided and humiliated by the system.

Analysts has cited the case of Madam Margret Icheen as a sore point or an indictment on our value system. Mrs Icheen was the first speaker of the Benue State House Assembly in the fourth republic. She cried out when she uncovered a plot by highly placed officials of Benue State government to loot the state treasury. Instead of celebrating her, she was rewarded with impeachment. Politically, she has since remained in comma.

The government has refused to celebrate the Bauchi police woman who at the expense of her life tried to protect the Youth Corps members, who had ran to a police station to seek protection, as the aftermath of the crisis that followed the 2011, presidential election.

Also, analysts are wondering too; that at a time, important national monuments are being names after people of dubious means, those who paid supreme prize like Stella Adadevour, the woman, who at the expense of her life, withstood Patrick Sawyer, her Liberian-American patient, who attempted to sneak into the thick population of Lagos. Imagine what colossal damage it would have been? She is long forgotten.

Martin Luther King Jnr., was the man who saw tomorrow, as was evident in his ‘greatest speech of all times’ (I have a dream); this dream was all the weapon he needed to rent-down the racial walls that separates the Whites from Blacks.

The threat of paying supreme price didn’t deter his agitation for equal rights across-board in the United States. Though he was cut-down by assassin’s bullet and long gone, but one indelible trait among true icons, heroes and superstars is that, they never dies. The fulfillment of his ‘prophesies,’ “I have a dream,” changed permanently, the political landscape of the self-acclaimed ‘God Owns’ country.

The series of human rights available to the black population and other minorities in the United States today, is as a result of the selfless effort of this ‘enigma.’ Even the emergence of Barak Obama as the presidential candidate of one of the two biggest political parties in the United States in 2008, his subsequent electoral victory and inauguration as the first black president; climaxed his efforts.

Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu a.k.a Mother Teresa, a Catholic Nun, dedicated her life to service of humanity, when she felt the premonition that, God has placed the burden of the poor on her shoulder. She lived caring for the less privileged, especially, the fatherless/motherless children: the hungry, the depressed, the down-trodden and the wretched of the earth. She lived caring for children, even when she hadn’t any.

She founded many motherless babies and vulnerable people’s home across India. She usually packed her portion of the meal served in the fight, to feed the poor. When the pope visited India in 1963, the government of India bought the Pope a limousine car, when the Pope was departing India; he gave the limousine to Mother Teresa, in support of her charity work. Mother Teresa sold the car and used the proceeds to feed the poor.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the icon of anti-apartheid struggle. He gave all to humanity and did not take anything from life. For the oppressed, repressed, subjugated and depressed black people of South Africa, he gave his life. In his own words, as noted in his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom” “A thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments” produced in me anger…” He was jailed under inhuman condition at the time of Krushev and Kennedy and released 27 years later.

In the face of excruciating prison conditions and hard labor, he resisted government’s overture for a conditional release. He resisted a life of luxury promised him by the apartheid government. Instead, his indomitable spirit became the rallying point for all anti-apartheid crusades under the platform of the African National Congress (ANC). He became a global moral compass and a living example for all oppressed people world over. In recognition of his contribution to humanity, he received over 250 awards and accolades, countless streets, schools, airports and monuments named after him all across the continents of the globe. Of particular note are the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Order of Lenin from Russia.

The statue of Madiba, Mandela’s clan name; financed with the British tax payer’s money, stand side by side at British parliamentary square in London, with those of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. Mandela was a colossus that, in admiration, some people call him ‘a change agent, bridge builder, burden bearer, President Barak Obama of the United States call him ‘A giant of history, Raul Castro of Cuba call him prophet of peace, others think he is better called reconciler.

The respect the world accorded him was evident in the number of world leaders (91) that gathered at his burial, a phenomenon never seen in modern history. At his demise, what was left of his Estate after unrivaled humanitarian efforts was within the range of 4.5 million dollars, an amount far lesser than the proceeds from his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom”.


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