This is one question that has bothered many Nigerians. As much as many of us would readily declare their love for Nigeria and haughtily proclaim that the “unity” of Nigeria is not negotiable, I have never stopped asking myself if any of these apostles of Nigerian patriotism or unity would be willing to put their lives on the line for the sake of this country. This question has become very germane in our present situation where the Nigerian state has offered scorpion in place of fish and stone for bread. I think that time has come when we need to tell ourselves the home truth. In trying to answer this question, I would like to draw from an age-long anecdote, which I heard from my father.
Once, in a certain community, there was a king who was reputed to be much loved by his people. He owned large parcels of arable land; uncountable cash crops and livestock. He offered his resources in the service of his people for a fee. A man who cultivates on his would share his harvest into two and give the king half. If the harvest is poor, the king still took his share. But he was known for his lavish parties where the benighted villagers usually come to gorge themselves. Suddenly, the king took ill and the chief priest, after consulting the gods, declared to the villagers gathered in front of the king’s palace that the gods required one of them to sacrifice himself so that the king can recover. From the balcony of the King’s Court, the Chief priest said he would release the feather of a fowl and on whose head the feather rested that person would be used for the sacrifice. The feather was released but interestingly all the villagers kept their faces up; blowing air upwards such that the feather remained in the air. It never rested on any person’s head. Despite their proclaimed love for their king, none of them was willing to die for the king.
This is vintage Nigeria. Despite our pretensions about the unity of a Nigerian state, despite our pontification about our love for Nigeria, nobody in this country is willing to die for Nigeria. Not too long ago, I heard a former President of this country say on national television that any Nigerian who was not prepared to die for the country did not deserve to be a Nigerian citizen. According to this former president, the earlier such a person walked out of Nigeria, the better for the country. This former president was apparently referring to a former governor who had said emphatically that Nigeria is not worth dying for. I also recall a former minister for power, who is late now, who said that he was sure that Nigeria is worth living for but he was not so sure that it is worth dying for. I have heard some say that they would love to die for Nigeria; but not Nigeria in its present condition. A market woman once asked me what I consider a rhetorical question. “Oga”, she said, ‘we are suffering too much in this country, so how do you expect me to die for Nigeria? She queried.
The truth is that in Nigeria, people think of themselves and their primordial loyalties first before thinking about Nigeria. But I recall that late US President J.F. Kennedy once urged Americans not to ask what their country could do for them but what they could do for their country. In Nigeria, this type of clarion call is strange basically because Nigerians seem to be united in saying that the country must first inspire their patriotism before asking them for sacrifices.
But what is patriotism? The standard dictionary definition of patriotism says it is “love of one’s country.” Stephen Nathanson, in his philosophical study of patriotism argues that the term involves special affection for one’s own country, a sense of personal identification with the country; special concern for the well-being of the country and willingness to sacrifice to promote the country’s good. Chinua Achebe defines it as “insisting on the best for your people; and demanding the best from your people”.
It does appear that if one is to be a patriot of his/her country, the country must be his/hers in some significant sense; and that may be best captured by speaking of one’s identification with it. Such identification is expressed in patriotic feelings: in pride of one’s country’s merits and achievements; and in shame for its lapses or crimes when these are acknowledged, rather than denied. Thus, patriotism can be defined as love of one’s country, identification with it, and special concern for its well-being and that of compatriots.
Such identification is rooted in a sense of “we-feeling” or what the sociologists call “espirit de corps”. It is festooned by pride for one’s home country; a feeling of commitment and assurance that in sacrificing for the country, his/her future and the future of his generations are guaranteed. This type of feeling arises when there are common values upon which the people owe allegiance. In Nigeria, this could be defined as pan-Nigerianism. This is both a philosophical and intellectual movement which aims to build an autochthonous Nigerian state from a colonial contraption; a philosophy that seeks to enthrone the ideals of Nigerianism above ethnic considerations; a mindset that would make each and every one of us first and foremost Nigerians before members of our ethnicities.
Nnamdi Azikiwe, easily the father of Nigerian nationalism, sought to enthrone this philosophy of pan-Nigerianism, which he hoped would encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between the various peoples of Nigeria. Based upon a common fate of lumping all of us together in a geographical space call Nigeria, Zik’s idea was to extend his philosophy of “one in brotherhood” beyond ethnic frontiers. Zik’s pan-Nigeria was anchored on the belief that unity, tolerance and understanding among the various ethnic groups that constitute Nigeria, irrespective of religious and cultural affiliations, is vital to economic, social, and political progress of the country. Borrowing from the concept of pan-Africanism, Azikiwe’s pan-Nigerianism aimed to “unify and uplift” Nigerians of all walks of life in the belief that the fate of all Nigerians, ethnic and religious persuasion notwithstanding, are intertwined. At its core, Zik’s ideology of pan-Nigerianism was a movement premised on the belief that Nigerians all around the world shared a common destiny.
That spirit of pan-Nigerianism was dealt a mortal blow in the Western House of Assembly when the forces of tribal politics betrayed Zik, and according to Chinua Achebe “sent the great Zik scampering back to the Niger, whence he came”. An unbiased reading of Achebe’s There was a Country would suggest that there was a time in Nigeria when people felt strong about making sacrifices that would inspire change.
Our intention at independence was to hand over to our children a banner without stain; to build a nation where no man is oppressed. These lofty ideals constitute the second stanza of the old Nigerian national anthem. That stanza said: And this we count as gain/To hand on to our children/A banner without stain/O God of all creation,/Grant this our one request/Help us to build a nation/Where no man is oppressed/And so with peace and plenty/Nigeria may be blessed.
Today, we have stained the banner of the Nigerian State with the innocent blood of over three million south-easterners in a genocidal pogrom; Ndigbo have been oppressed, marginalized and alienated and the blood of our people is crying out for redemption. We have thrown away our ozo titles; preferring the garlands of infamy and wickedness. Nigeria has become a cesspool of corruption and religious intolerance. Day after day, we see, hear and read of macabre slaughter of innocent people all in the name of religion. The State has done nothing to offer reprieve. The government is run by a mafia-type Gestapo that has become notorious for self-perpetuation at all costs. Today, there is a deeper commitment to ethnicity than to the country as a whole.
The present situation in Nigeria has resulted in millions of deaths due to starvation and hardship. How can anyone die for a country that refuses to be transparent and accountable to her citizens? How can anyone die for a country that boasts of some of the best brains in the world yet suffers heavily because of corruption? If Americans, Britons, Germans or even South Africans are willing to die for their countries, it is because there are incentives for them to do so. If they are willing to die for their nations, it is because there are functional systems of performance and reward; social welfare packages, accountability and transparency in governance, a sense of commonwealth and faith in the collective.
In Nigerian, there are no such incentives that can move anybody to stick out his/her neck for the disaster called Nigeria. If the rich politicians and treasury looters in Nigeria feel confident in talking about patriotism, they do so because they are being well-taken care of by the corrupt system, which they strive so hard to sustain. If the successive governments in Nigeria had protected and taken care of the masses, then perhaps the people would feel patriotic and ready to die for Nigeria.
The truth is that for much of its existence as a country, Nigeria has been cursed with inept leaders who, along with their cronies, have plundered the commonwealth and ruined the country’s institutions. Nigeria is a country with awesome potential for regional and continental dominance but has wasted every opportunity that came its way. Nigeria is a country that has aborted the hopes, aspirations, and possibilities of its people; a country that cannot provide basic public goods such as security, public infrastructures, and an enabling environment for decent living. This is a country that has killed the love, respect and loyalty of her citizens and to that extent murdered the spirit of patriotism in them. This government has worsened the situation and has also lost legitimacy and has estranged itself from the people.
In truth Nigeria is not worth dying for. Like I always say, there is no basis for what we call Nigerian unity safe for the interest of those who benefit from the rot. Nigerians are not bonded by common national ethos or values; they are not bonded by the need to exist as a country nor do they have any known common philosophy except the ideology of corruption and primitive accumulation. There can be sacrifice for a country that sacrifices its very best on the altars of Molech and Ashtoreth. A country that assassinates its very best is not worth dying for. A country that stealthy promotes and sustains religious terrorism is not worth dying for. A country that has lost count of its unemployed youths roaming the streets is not worth dying for. A country that incites and participates in ethnic and religious cleansing is not worth dying for. No! Nigeria is not worth dying for. That is my verdict.
By Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo