First Gentleman with Wilson Orhiunu
After watching the Annual Festival of Remembrance 2014 on TV relayed live from the Royal Albert Hall to commemorate the fallen soldiers of the United Kingdom, my son told me he was ‘proud to be British’. Instantly my brain flipped to the ‘Naira equivalent’ of what I had just heard for that is what the Nigerian does. There is that exchange rate mentality that resides in our brains. I thought about my devotion to Nigeria and the excessive fondness we all have for anything Green White Green, and concluded that the Nigerians are the most patriotic beings on the planet. A strange kind of patriotism it is though. A ‘siddon look’ patriotism deciphered only by forensic experts (such as yours truly). I have sniffed out the patriots and this is my thesis.
Now let us deal with the elephant in the room. Can a man who complains about the state of his nation all day long be patriotic?
Being obsessed with national shortcomings is endemic to Nigerians but does the fact that they wake up thinking of their nation not make them patriotic? What about our biggest musician to date, the activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti? Was he patriotic? Were the millions who bought his music patriotic? Reducing the national leaders to Solider go solider come and Vagabonds in Power? Dia ris God o!
Everyone should formulate their own answer. It is natural to complain about ills especially when these ills in society are preventing the realisation of great national potential. Patriotism is a love for one’s country; everything that the country stands for, the culture, areas within the nation of outstanding beauty and the general idea of ‘Nigerianness’. To that add putting the country’s good in front of personal gain.
Two Americans born into prestigious clans spring to mind. Janet Jackson and JF Kennedy. I know you know where I am going with this. These two both born in May are known for two important questions- J Jackson’s “What have you done for me lately?” from her 1986 Control album (wetin Nigeria don do for me since?), and JFK’s, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” during his inauguration speech in 1961 (no ask Naija wetin dey? Ask yuasef wetin yu go take settle Naija).
Apart from complaining about the country, some citizens break the laws of the country. Are lawbreakers unpatriotic? What about a soldier fighting for the country, putting his life on the line yet he ignores the Geneva Convention and tortures captured enemies who happen to be fellow countrymen? Is he unpatriotic because he is involved in war crimes? The pickpockets, white collar thieves and armed robbers who haven’t been caught yet. Are they not capable of exhibiting patriotism?
Some say Nigeria is too big to love everything about it. The love has to be zoned and channelled into sectors. Zoning after all is our national philosophy.
I think that Nigerian patriotism needs interpretation. It is there but it has to be looked for.
It is possible to be disgusted with what you love. The Boko Haram insurgency drives Nigerians mad with good reason. Foreign observers who walk up to Nigerians in heated national discussions always assume we hate our country till they decide to join the country bashing with their own stories and are surprised that everyone rallies against them. BH in Nigerian is a bit like a nasty virus in the human body. While the symptoms of viral infection can be painful, the owner of the body still loves himself dearly despite the virus living within his anatomical borders.
Many Nigerians in the diaspora are patriotic to the point of obsession and they don’t know it. They claim to hate Nigeria when we chat at parties but the content of their plate betrays them. What of their apparel? Lace aso ebi in winter complete with fila. I met a guy who was complaining about Nigeria so much, he gave a lecture worthy of a Harvard tutorial in between mouthfuls of jollof rice and moin moin. He washed it down with Gulder and continued his talk. From 1954 to modern day Nigeria it was anecdotes and statistics galore, throwing in a few coup d’état and the civil war. He knew so much but claimed to be disgusted with Nigeria. To crown it all before he rushed off to the dance floor to Skelewu with ‘madam’ who was beckoning, he said he was ‘going home’ next week but complained that the ‘exchange rate’ was not favourable. As he danced we all commented on this strange fellow. He knew the dance moves, eats the food, wore the clothes, married the Naija girl, knew the history and the current affairs yet claimed he had no devotion to his country. You should have seen his face when the DJ slipped in a Chris Brown number. “DJ give us chop my money!” screamed the guy who hated corruption.
Waves of patriotism
In the sixties the waves of nationalism spread through Africa as each country fought for independence from colonial masters. Political ideologies came to the fore front as people clamoured for freedom. It took South Africa and Mandela a while but they got there in the end.
Post-independence nko? Confusion break e bone! Ye pa!! Countries in Africa were either going into war or coming out of war. Coup d’état and boundary readjustments were a daily occurrence. Survival was more important than patriotism in the early post- independence years.
Next wave – Peace at last?
Post war, everyone becomes suspicious, for one knows how to express love for a country whose armies massacred friends and family. Patriotism is thus expressed through the national football team, the movies and the music. And did I mention the romantic relationships with fellow nationals? Well, if you love the ogbono, you must love the woman who cooks it. All na patriotism.