Am I A Nigerian?

In this opinion piece, Muiz Banire asks if we are concerned about patriotism in Nigeria in the contemporary period.

leaders of Nigeria

Once again, Happy New Year to my readers. Are we are concerned about patriotism in Nigeria in the contemporary period? I am sure you will be wondering why I am asking that question. Two incidents threw up the enquiry.

The first came up during a discussion with a cousin of mine seeking admission into a university in Nigeria. The poor boy scored over 300 marks for a professional course for which he was eventually denied admission whilst a classmate of his from another state of the country with less than two hundred marks aggregate was admitted based on what, in our clan, is known as quota system.

This led him into asking the above question: Am I a Nigerian? The second and totally unrelated incident arose out of the quest for employment in one of the federal agencies by a friend’s son. In a circumstance similar to the above, he lost out incompetents as a result of federal character, despite his superior performance at the examination. Again, the boy became so agitated to the extent of raising similar enquiry as to his nationality.

The expectation of any State or Nation is for her citizens to be loyal and patriotic to her course.

This is a natural thing that should flow from the citizenship of that country. Whereas Section 15(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Altered) prescribes loyalty to the nation over and above sectional loyalties as an end to be achieved by the State through fostering a feeling of belonging and of involvement among the various inhabitants of the Federation, Section 24 of the same Constitution may be regarded as a summary of the elements of patriotism to the nation in terms of the duties of the citizenry.

It is, however, doubtful if this ideal state of nationhood can be said to have been attained in Nigeria. The aggregate of opinions today, including government pronouncements, is that our people are not that patriotic. However, going by my interactions with several of our citizens, the feeling is that the spirit of patriotism is lacking due to so many factors.

In this write up, I am concentrating on the basic ones and looking at the issue from various angles. We must remember the often-quoted statement of John F Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. In as much as this is true, the sense of it is that, just as framed by the makers of our Constitution, it seems the feeling must not only be mutual but reciprocal.

This implies that the country itself must be there for you in order for you to be there for the country. This is premised on the social contract theory between the citizens and the State. A cross-section of opinions in Nigeria will seem that the country is never there for the citizens, hence the lackadaisical attitude of her citizens towards patriotism.

A citizen captured the situation in Nigeria thus, “there is a limit to patriotism in this country, I can’t die for Nigeria”. The import of this is where there is a conflict between a citizen’s interest and that of the nation, personal interest will override.

This is the expectation where there is a limitation to the sense of patriotism nursed by the people. Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, of blessed memory, was once reported to have said: It is sinful to be law-abiding in a lawless country.

This statement became very famous among activists during the anti-military campaign days. It is certain that failure of a nation to meet the legitimate demands of its citizens definitely justifies resistance and this has been a rationale for civil disobedience. Do we begrudge those with that feeling? I certainly do not.

“Who are we? What does it mean to be a citizen? What is it that binds us? What’s our history? What is uniquely Nigerian about us to drive patriotism? Is there a ‘Nigerian’ culture? Language? Volksgeist (‘National Spirit’).”

In Nigeria, the obligations of the nation to her citizens are captured largely in Chapter 2 of the Nigerian Constitution, which deal with fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy.

The question, therefore, is, how has the state fared in this respect? Let us use some of the objectives of the state as demonstration. With respect to security of lives and properties, can any Nigerian citizen confidently say that he is secure moving all over Nigeria today without vigilantly watching his back? To what extent is the state providing quality education to her citizens? Social welfare is still largely a mirage whilst our health system is still comatose. 

You can continue to replicate these to the extent that the summary these days is simply that you are your own local government by providing not only the infrastructure necessary for your survival but virtually everything you need.

In the midst of all the above, it is, therefore, difficult for a reciprocal arrangement in terms of patriotism of a citizen to the Nation. To worsen the already bad situation, policies, such as quota system with its twin, federal character, do not encourage the disadvantaged or rather the victim, to be patriotic.

But what factors deny Nigeria of patriotism from its citizens? Without assuming a sense of righteousness and knowledge of what is accountable for the loss of patriotism in Nigeria and which has substantially contributed to political decay in the sense of absence of institutions that can promote patriotic feelings, I chose to interact with a number of respondents whose zeal for Nigeria’s progress I can establish.

The responses indicate individual contributors view to the destruction of patriotism as a requirement to national development.

In the view of a colleague and a Professor of law, who, as a respondent to my patriotism question, rather posits that the problem is not basically material or resource-oriented but the problem is the larger question of NATIONHOOD?

In the rhetoric of my friend, “Who are we? What does it mean to be a citizen? What is it that binds us? What’s our history? What is uniquely Nigerian about us to drive patriotism? Is there a ‘Nigerian’ culture? Language? Volksgeist (‘National Spirit’).”

He recalls that the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in the quest to truly unveil what we were and forge a unity enduring, said many years ago that, “Nigeria is a mere geographical expression.” He queries how we can be discussing patriotism when we don’t even teach history and civics to our children again? He would rather see some of the responses below as effects, not the cause of our dislocation and that the problem is at the root, not the branches.

To one of the respondents, Nigeria has lost patriotism from its citizens fundamentally due to poor implementation and lack of development visions and programmes. Policy somersault and development projects abandonment are common and political leaders need to be sensitized on putting society’s interest first and committing to development visions and programmes.

He cited the golden era of Nigeria’s development and referred to the Gowon administration’s launching of the Second National Development Plan with 5 main goals of building: (1) A free and democratic society, (2) a just and egalitarian society, (3) a united, strong and self-reliant economy, (4) a great and dynamic economy and (5) a land full of bright opportunities for all citizens.

Fifty years after the Plan was launched in 1970, according to this respondent, none of its 5 goals has been achieved. Instead of a free and democratic society, what we have enjoyed over time is a militarized Nigerian society, with a great havoc done to the psyche of the citizenry.

Similarly, the Obasanjo-led federal government of 1976-1979 introduced the operation feed the nation.

The Shagari government of 1979-1983 came up with the Green Revolution programme which was a major agricultural policy embedded in the Fourth National Development Plan and “was intended as a programme to ensure self sufficiency in food production and to introduce modern technology into the Nigerian agricultural sector largely through the introduction of modern inputs such as high yielding varieties of seeds, fertilizers and tractors.”

To what extent the aims of this programme have been achieved is questionable.

Identical experiments are currently ongoing and it is yet to be seen how sustainable the effort will eventually be.

Due to the failure of the development visions and programmes in Nigeria as a result of poor handling by corrupt bureaucrats, growing poverty symptoms, including electoral frauds; untrue and inefficient political and economic representation; pervasive violence: religious crises, crises in the Middle Belt and Niger Delta regions, hostage taking and cultism; food insecurity; low agricultural production; illiteracy (that also weakens democracy); crime; high mortality and morbidity rates; prostitution and poor health and national image; low GDP and GNP and high unemployment rate all developed.

This response, correctly, in my view, denotes the evil inherent in wrong leadership thereby rendering the term patriotism unknown to the average Nigerian.

Another respondent queries the idea of derivative principle grounding the allocation of resources and resulting in 13% allocation formula to the states producing particular mineral resources. He is of the opinion that this has created a sense of “entitlement” promoting laziness among the youths and residents of certain communities.

For instance, he referred to the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria where many people are of the opinion that the resources are meant to be shared among the fittest.

All this, to the respondent, confirms that all the regions still see Nigeria as a temporary project, a marriage of convenience with loyalty to the tribe or ethnic area, and that if we ever get to the point where all states dispense with unhealthy competition, envy, undue comparison and see Nigeria as “our own”, it wouldn’t matter whose natural resource contributes more income to our national purse.

An excellent example is the raging legal battle between Rivers State and Bayelsa State with its attendant tension. He felt that when the oil dries up anyway (as it soon might), we will all be forced back to the drawing board.

My view however is that the use and management of these resources by the States to whom 13% allocation has always been given is the most important, much more beyond the derivation principle.

It is in this context that I once again agree with my colleague, the professor of law whose view I alluded to earlier that the derivation principle is the effect and rather than the cause of lack of patriotism.

While most of the Governors of these States see this 13% allocation as their personal entitlements, mismanage a greater percentage of it and use the remaining to oil patronage of some elements in the State at the expense of the majority whose education, health and economic existences are left to rot.

These states are among the worst in terms of infrastructural development and one wonders what conscience dictates the consciousness of the citizens of these States who have not really been known to hold their leaders to account. Rather, they have visited their anger on the innocent Nigerian nation.

The other respondent’s position is in no way different as his opinion is to the effect that since patriotism speaks to the pride and devotion of a citizen to his homeland, several policies and omissions by successive governments erode the pride and devotion which a Nigerian has towards Nigeria.

He mentioned successive governments’ approaches to the fight against corruption which many Nigerians feel are inadequate if at all sincere while the issue of insecurity, falling standard of education etc. constitute part of the reasons for non-committal stance of an average Nigerian when it comes to patriotism.

Many Nigerians are equally not comfortable with what they see as nepotism, ethnic and religious bigotry on all the divides and levels of governance in Nigeria which many feel characterize appointments into government offices. It is true that patriotism fails where a people feel they are regarded as second-class citizens and other people of the same ethnic origin with a leader are unduly favoured.

The last respondent, moving away from the general to a specific, is of the opinion that some of the CBN cashless policies imposing charges on selected states leaving out other states are capable of militating against patriotism.

Why should the location of a transaction determine the charges a citizen will be subjected to? The view is that you do not trigger a process once you are not ready with infrastructure all over the Nation. The discrimination does not promote patriotism.

This takes us again to an aspect of our discussion relating to quota system as an unrelenting factor that could continuously weaken the patriotic zeal and efforts of Nigerians.

It is, therefore, irrefrangible, that the retrogressive policies of federal character and quota system continue to militate against patriotism. As in the pictures painted in the scenarios above, how can such a victim be patriotic when he cannot enjoy nor lay claim to the same rights as his contemporaries from other parts of the country?

The two concepts or policies of federal character and quota have become spent. As at today, there is no part of the country that is disadvantaged in any regard again.

The northern part of the country that used to be categorised as educationally disadvantaged is no more so. From my interaction with my brothers and sisters from the north in almost two decades now, the region can boast and supply more than sufficient academically competent hands for all offices in the nation. The same applies to all other regions.

Let me remind us that the genesis of the policies which lies in reverse discrimination always have a terminal date. It does not inure in perpetuity as we are branding it to be in Nigeria. I state again that the continuous application renders people to ask the question, “am I a Nigerian or a Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo man?”

To promote the spirit of nationalism and patriotism, we must urgently jettison these policies. I say no more on this as my forthcoming paper on Patronage will take the issue further.

Interestingly, in an open discussion with a brother from the North, he drew my attention to a recent study done by a State in the North in collaboration with a foreign non-governmental body that actually revealed that quota system as it applies to the Northern part of the country does not even favour the Northern Nigeria states.

The avoidance of the two scenarios above spell out the issue of nationalism and patriotism.  This is how, literally, patriotism can be promoted. This brings to the fore again the Kennedy aphorism referred to earlier of putting the country first. An analysis of the Kennedy statement presupposes the duty owed by the citizens to the country without correspondingly indicating the duty of the state to the citizens.

It is instructive to remember that the basis of state existence lies in social contract. It is that which apportions responsibility between the state and her citizens. The latter gave up part of her natural rights to the state or society and makes contribution to the sustenance of the state under reciprocity for protection and provision of certain rights by the state.

In the face of all the failures characterizing governance in Nigeria, the citizens seem to have given up hope and, therefore, sees no reason to be committed to any nation that does not care about them.

A large proportion of the citizens have become their own local governments to the extent of even grading the roads that lead to their houses as alluded to earlier.

“am I a Nigerian or a Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo man?”

What does patriotism mean to such a person in this stead, just as in the cases of persons mentioned in the scenarios above? Absolutely meaningless. To worsen the situation, obtaining a passport of your country is like struggling to pass through the eye of a needle. Apart from the complexity and frustration involved, compromise is mostly inevitable.

I have heard the new Minister of Interior, a friend and brother, lamenting over this, times without number. This is supposed to be a right and guaranteed by the state. Alas! This is not to be. It remains a herculean task to obtain Nigerian passport which is an insignia of nationality.

The same applies to common national identity card. That equally remains inaccessible. To register as a resident and a Nigerian comes with attendant roadblocks whilst the actual issuance comes nowhere close to realization. I have registered months back now but no card yet. People who registered long ago have told me the fact they are yet to receive their cards also.

The current imbroglio with the prospective candidates for joint matriculation examination registration is a clear confirmation of this frustration.

In fact, as at two days ago, after numerous complications experienced by those who intend to obtain the registration as a pre-requisite to the registration for the examination, the examination body had to cancel the requirement when there was solution in sight due to the confusion ravaging the process of registration and issuance of the national identity cards.

Is this not a shame that such instrument of nationalism and by extension, patriotism, is impeded by hiccups? How do you convince the victims of this unholy baptism to be patriotic?

Lastly, as opined by a colleague in his response, ignorance remains another major obstacle to the promotion of patriotism in our people. Our people don’t understand the import of patriotism or nationalism and no serious effort on educating them on the subject is being given.

In Britain, I am aware of a subject that is taught and examined called ‘citizenship’. Similar courses incorporating the virtues of citizenship were taught in our own days under social/civic studies. I am not too sure that this much, in terms of content, is still being taught in our schools now.

Furthermore, the proper history of the nation, particularly in terms of the heroes who served this nation meritoriously, with or without holding any public offices are never reckoned with.

Names, such as Simeon Adebo, Ojetunji Aboyade, Tai Solarin, Adamu Ciroma, Jerome Udoji, Allison Ayida, Dipcharima, Alli Monguno, Gani Fawehinmi, Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Adekunle Fajuyi, Ademulegun, Kaduna Nzeogwu are not sung as to engender any sense of patriotism in anybody.

Except we start celebrating authentic public service as against the nouveau richie (aka “money miss road”), patriotism will remain a mirage. Even in Nollywood, pioneers such Herbert Ogunde, Oyin Adejobi, writers like D. O. Fagunwa, Akinwunmi Ishola etc ought to be celebrated.

In conclusion, if we do not want a situation where people continue seeing themselves from ethnic or tribal angle but as Nigerians, it is imperative the state starts taking her citizens seriously in all ramifications, particularly ensuring equity as against equality.

The two terms appear identical but attract different implications and consequences. The present policies of state attempt largely to promote equality but not equity. We have to start providing level playing field for all the citizens to compete and be entitled. This is equity!

Written by Muiz Banire

Muiz Banire SAN Ph.D. is a lawyer and activist who served as three-term commissioner of Lagos State, former National Legal Adviser of the All Progressive Congress and former Chairman of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON).

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