In this concluding part of the series focusing on the lessons we can learn from the past few weeks and culling excerpts from my previous writing, I will once again continue to talk about patriotism. This, I believe, is an important quality for the good of a nation. Patriotism does not mean blind fidelity, no matter what. It means, rather, caring enough about one’s country to try to correct it when it goes astray and, when that is not possible, making a difficult choice. It should not be confused with nationalism.
Some years ago, I was invited by Nnamdi Azikiwe University to deliver the eighth annual lecture, with the theme being “Environmental Management and Conservation.” The university asked me to pick my related topic and so I decided on “Land Is Life.” The lecture was subsequently published, and when my son read the publication, he was fascinated because his son, my eighth grandchild, was named Anibundu by me, meaning land is life.
In the publication, I discussed the land of our nation in detail; the air that we breathe, the food that we eat and the water that we drink, the three most important components of life that come from the land and return to the land when we die. I also discussed the need to respect and give back to the land as much as we have taken, even possibly more, so that we can leave the land a better place than we met it. That part of the lecture invoked a lot of conversations, questions and answers between my son and I. The part that was of much interest to him was leaving the land a better place than we met it. He felt that, with so much political instability and disjointed economic plans destroying the environment, it would take a lot to bring the land and its people back to normalcy. I agreed with him but told him that, since we are still on this land, we may be able to put things right before departing it.
However, he wondered how long it would take to stop the insurgencies, militancy, herdsmen’s crisis, and the monumental corruption currently affecting development. To this, I pointed out that the quickest way to bring back Nigeria to the one nation it once was was to bring back PATRIOTISM. Nigerians no longer belong to Nigeria and we must find a way of giving Nigerians some sense of belonging, something to fight for, like hope, but not false hope. Security, not amnesty; opportunity to quality education, not contracts or appointments; justice, not politics without defined ideologies.
Nigerians know how to go from poverty to wealth despite the huge disadvantages in our economy. Nigerians also know how to handle ill health to good health without having to travel abroad for medicals. My son would like to work in every part of Nigeria the way I did. I told him that it was possible, but again we must first bring back PATRIOTISM by going back to those things that united us together, not the senseless political divisions, senseless religious ideologies and senseless ethnic boundaries that never existed but were created by men and women of fortune for selfish gratification.
Let’s start by looking at sports. In my days, we had national sporting competitions in schools and colleges. Nigeria’s young college students travelled all over the country to compete. From that level, we were able to develop athletes who trained on our land and competed abroad. Today, they train abroad and compete abroad. We had the national and West African sports festivals, and three major stadiums that were built to international standard in Lagos, Ibadan and Kaduna. The festivals were something the young all over the country looked forward to. Notable international athletes came to Nigeria to compete. The whole nation came together because it was beholding to belong.
We saw recently how children of immigrants won the World Cup; the whole of France forgot that the majority of their players were blacks and that the Far Right didn’t even want blacks in France. When Nigeria played in the recently concluded World Cup, as I drove past some grazing fields in my state, Delta, I saw some northern herdsmen clutching their telephones and transistor radios rooting for Nigeria. So, why is the unity of Nigeria going the wrong way? Why is it that we cannot explore the unifying spirit of sports to bring our nation together again?
Another way of unifying the nation is through art. I remember the World Festival of Arts hosted by Nigeria in 1977 (FESTAC ’77). It took the country almost 18 months to prepare; the whole nation was agog with preparations leading to the main festival. Most Nigerians did not realise how rich and powerful Nigerian Arts and Culture was until FESTAC ’77. Before then, Nigerians imported lilies, landscape paintings and drawings from Europe and Asia to decorate their homes and offices. But from FESTAC ’77 till date, most homes and offices and public spaces are now decorated with Nigerian art. It also became known that West African art influenced artists like Matisse and Picasso.
Today, Nigerian artists are millionaires as their works are sold in Europe, America and worldwide for millions of dollars. FESTAC ’77 also made us realise that Nigeria was the third largest owner of Nigerian art because, while we were importing foreign art, foreigners and expatriates were carting away Nigerian art. FESTAC ’77 gave us Festac Town and National Theatre. FESTAC ’77 brought Nigerians together not only for Nigerians but to showcase Nigeria to the rest of the world.
We did not develop on the novelty that FESTAC ’77 delivered to us. Like many other things, we turned our back on it. It almost feels like every time we are on the verge of something good, we self-sabotage it. The way things are today, most Nigerians feel that there is nothing to fight for and that their voices are never heard. The security agencies and the judicial system that are meant to defend and protect the rights of the citizens are either never there for them or do the exact opposite.
So, patriotism must be seen from the standpoint of every Nigerian belonging to Nigeria. The nation has gone through senseless wars, misrule and leadership deficits, insurgencies and political racialism. These issues cannot be corrected or rebuilt in four or eight years, especially when those years are still in the hands of sycophancy and incompetency. We must, therefore, seek leadership that can bring everybody together during these difficult times. That kind of leadership is one that does not colour within the tribal lines but provides the necessary infrastructure for all tribes.
It is leadership that can be held accountable for wrongdoing without blaming past administrations or everybody else. A leadership that eschews corruption by surrounding itself with people who have the appropriate skill set and not people with pending court cases of wrongdoing whether ‘proven’ or not.
The list is endless, but it is useless if we, the people, don’t demand it by seeking it out while neglecting the rest. Only then can we build a nation where peace and justice shall reign, as contained in the last paragraph of our National Anthem.