Listening to radio commentaries, watching television, reading newspapers and going through online sources, I wonder if patriotism in Nigeria is a fable or just forgotten. I use patriotism here in its broad sense of loyalty and devotion to country, pursuit of the common good, standing up for truth and justice.
Growing up as a boy and later as a younger man, I heard stories and read about the patriotic zeal and actions of our leaders. They took on the colonialists with fervour and fought with pride for a new Nigeria free from the shackles of colonialism. It seemed that the founding fathers and leaders of the independence movement had patriotism in their DNA. Whilst they may have bickered or even fought each one another, they had something stronger in common – faith in the Nigerian project. These leaders sought for and defended the common good and it was the basis for trust in governance and leadership.
History is replete with courageous acts of these leaders, leaving us proud inherritors of their hardwork and sacrifice. One would have hoped that their descendants would have imbibed these values with a feverish love for country. But rather we have seen the patriotism wane and slefishness take centre stage. Loyalty to individuals, political, etnic or religious group, social class or professional interest are constantly placed above national interest.
There are several indicators of declining patriotism as well as reasons for it. I will highlight a few here. Listening to our highly respected political elite, who should be role models in matters of patriotism, their language promotes selfish interest, ethnic or regional agenda over and above national interest. It is rare to find amongst them those whose words and actions inspire love for country. There is for most of them one reason or the other why the country has failed them, not acknowledging the fact that they had an opportunity in the recent past to contribute to nation building. For the political class, there is neither national ethos nor ideals so nothing acts as a bond between them and national aspirations.
What of our youth? Apart from sporting competition involving the country and lately on matters of ‘showbiz’ they hardly take pride in their citizenship nor do they speak proudly of this country. Singing the national anthem, displaying the national flag and reciting the Pledge is either only for purposes of passing examinations or job interviews. Few youth have any form of emotional attachment to those national symbols nor do they have faith in the country. Worse still schools no longer promote civic responsibility or patriotism. This is in complete contrast to the patriotic passion of our founding fathers most of whom fought for independence from the colonial masters at their youthful age.
The hallowed chambers of our National Assembly should be the bastion of nationalism and melting pot of patriots. Listening to debate daily, it is obvious to the least discerning that apart from a few, Honourable and Distinguished members are champions of personal interest, of constituency and primordial interest above national aspiration and common good. The language of debate does not lift one’s spirit nor inspire hope of a great country where every citizen will feel a sense of pride and security. If the National Assembly, which typically should be the most nationalistic institution, is not dominated by persons who display unquestionable patriotic spirit I am afraid there is no where else to find role models. I concede that the military remains for today the becon of patriotism.
The story is no different in workplaces, whether public or private sector. Nigerians do not trust and respect each other. We do not take deliberate steps at work to support the ideals or values that unite us as a nation and promote equal opportunity for all regardless of ethnic or religious leaning. Language of discussion in work places promote nepotism and lack of faith in Nigeria and her institutions. The average Nigerian worker does not believe the country has been fair to him/her. Citizens encounter these workers daily, get sub-optimal service and further lose faith in the country.
Another indicator of waning patriotism is rise in abuse of public trust and criminality. Between 2015 and 2019 the number of criminal cases being prosecuted by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) doubled from 142 in 2015 to 378 in 2019. It is also a similar pattern in Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). EFCC got 103 convictions in 2015 but the number of convictions grew exponentially to 1,286 by 2019. The rise is clearly a function of public office holders placing their self-interest above common good. The argument could be made that the two state institutions became more effective but from what we know it is most unlikely. The truth is that the incentive to commit crime against the state and public interest is because nobody is held accountable nor punished for abuse of public trust or appropriating resources belonging to all that would have been applied for development purposes.
There are several other indicators of declining patriotic consciousness as there are reasons for it.
An attempt to interrogate the reason behind the decline of patriotic zeal amongst Nigerians has thrown up the question of what will be the basis for patriotism. There is the contention that if the country cannot provide them basic security; physical, economic and social security then you as a citizen is not under obligation to love and respect your country. It can be likened to an irresponsible parent who demands respect from a son or daughter he/ she did not nurture or care for. This school of thought contends that our country has not lived up to its obligation and it is the reason why citizens are emotionally and biologically loyal to family, ethnic group or religious inclination where those security can be provided even if informally. This partially explains the mass looting that has been going on in our society as a form of economic security where the state has failed to provide it. Whether this justifies the democratisation of corruption and abuse of office is another matter.
Failing or poor leadership is another reason often advanced for declining patriotism. Citizens across board feel disappointed with leadership perceived lack of vision, inability to maintain law and order and most importantly insecurity in all dimensions confronting us.
Corruption is another reason that has destroyed the basis for patriotism. Corruption and patriotism are parallel concepts that do not have anything in common. Corruption disincentivizes patriotic consciousness. The inverse relationship between the two concepts is made worse by the fact that young Nigerians watch a system which inadvertently supports people to get away with proceeds of corrupt practices against the citizens.
Growing lack of patriotism for whatever reasons is not a good omen or trend. It portends danger for nation building and signals insecurity in the near future. It is high time we pay attention to national values that are necessary to strengthen the foundation for a great nation.
Recent developments in the body politic are scary and more than any other evidence is convincing that patriotic consciousness is either dead, lost or abandoned. There is a near general consensus that we have lost this generation of Nigerians and Nigerian leaders to selfishness, greed and ethnocentric loyalty. It is time we make national reorientation a priority national project even if it is to recover the next generation of Nigerians and Nigerian leaders to put the country on the part of renaissance. After all, patriotism, like nation building, is a continuing experiment in the power of ideas and shared vision to bring diverse people together to share common aspiration.
By Dakuku Peterside