Patriotism, in its most literary translation, means love for country â€“ oneâ€™s country. This love is expected to manifest in a variety of ways the most important of which is readiness to serve and defend oneâ€™s country in spite of oneself. It also includes pride for products of oneâ€™s country which is demonstrated through patronage and such other outward manifestations.
The United States of America has often been cited as an example of a country where citizens demonstrate very high sense of patriotism. Americans, a writer once wrote, could go to any length and make any sacrifice and, at every opportunity, are prepared to pay the supreme price in defence of their country. This assertion, to an average Nigerian, may sound unattainable; but to anyone who has had anything to do with the American, it is by no means an exaggeration. History and modern records abound of heroic accomplishments and scientific feats achieved by citizens of countries like Britain, China, Germany, Russia and so on, purely for patriotic reasons. We still see and read about such accomplishments today.
Although we see and read of all these accomplishments and show of love of country by citizens of other climes, it is a wonder how many of us have pondered over the reasons behind the apparent unreserved and unalloyed love of these citizens for their country. In those countries, the average citizen has, probably more than a million reasons to love his country. These reasons could be found in the adequate socio-economic provisions made for him by his country. They could also be found in the respect for his fundamental rights as a citizen as provided in his countryâ€™s constitution and he knows that these rights could not be violated without any justifiable reasons. He pays his tax as and when due as an obligation because he knows that he is beneficiary to all the services paid for by the proceeds. He has equal opportunities with other citizens of his country to aspire to any position or height without regards to his colour, language, creed or state of origin. When it becomes necessary to make the supreme sacrifice, it is with the full assurance that it is not in vain.
Perhaps, the most important of all is that this average citizen holds the political destiny of his country in his hands. When he goes to the polls, it is with little fear of rigging, ballot snatching or any other electoral malpractices. The average leader himself is ever conscious of his obligation to the people. He keeps religiously to his electoral promises and his guiding principle is public accountability. At the slightest hint of loss of public confidence, be it as a result of personal or family misdemeanor, or even as a result of false accusations, he resigns without any other prompting.
There is no gainsaying that Nigeria would be a much better place today if her citizens are a lot more patriotic. Nigeria, no doubt would like to see her citizens being patriotic enough to undertake and achieve such accomplishments as obtains in other climes and be ready to defend and even give their lives for her sake at every opportunity. But, unfortunately, at age fifty, it is doubtful whether any Nigerian can stand up for Nigeria anywhere in the world except, of course, for official purposes. The reason for this will not be far-fetched when the entire aforementioned examples in other countries are put at par with what obtains in Nigeria today.
Take politics, for example. Since Independence in 1960, Politics has become a cut-throat affair, a deadly game played only by desperate people whose only agenda is to take control of the common wealth. It is, perhaps, the surest, quickest and easiest means to unprecedented wealth. As a result, it has attracted a horde of exploiters, confirmed thieves, murderers, drug barons, ex-convicts and other such characters. And because of this reason of personal gains, the politicians have made it impossible for the people to elect credible leaders.
There is, therefore, little or nothing more to expect from such characters than failed promises, looting of the public treasure, miscarriage of justice and disregard for the fundamental human rights of the citizens. The recurring political decimal since Independence has been for the politicians to approach the people and make promises of welfare and abundant life during elections only to withdraw themselves from the same people as soon as they get their mandate until the next elections when they come back with the same promises.
Unfortunately, this game has been played so persistently (and albeit successfully) over the years that the average Nigerian has resigned himself to the fact that politics is a game played by liars and no government can be trusted to deliver its promises to the people. Nigerians have, therefore, adopted the attitude of â€œletâ€™s grab what we can during the electionsâ€. As regards the provision of social amenities, Nigerians have become reconciled to the inadequacies of public utilities like the Power Holding Company of Nigerian, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Water Corporation etc.
Their fundamental human rights are often trampled upon with impunity by those they elected into office. Most times, to get admission into any institution of learning or get job placement, the average Nigerian has to belong to a particular tribe or religion.
Outside the country, the Nigerian is mostly on his own. Nigerians are yearly harassed, jailed and even killed overseas and even in our neighbouring countries, without the Nigerian authorities lifting any hand of defense. It is, rather, pathetic that when a Nigerian is arrested or inhibited overseas, our embassies turn their backs on them even when they have a genuine case. Yet, nationals of those countries â€œinvadeâ€ our country and exploit our resources for their own benefits while we seem not to mind.
As we celebrate our 50th Independence Anniversary, our year of Jubilee, therefore, there is need for our leaders, both incumbent and aspiring, to reflect on the anomalies that have deprived our dear country of patriotic citizenship. Let it be an occasion for sober reflection, an agenda-setting period when our thoughts should be refocused to positive thinking for our country. The truth is that the average Nigerian has become so despondent and apathetic to the affairs of Nigeria that it will take more than just patriotic slogans and radio and television jingles or lavish celebration of the 50th anniversary to refocus his mind to see this country as a nation to give loyalty.
Fortunately, we are at the threshold of a political rejuvenation. The forthcoming general elections provide us an excellent opportunity to recreate Nigeria and make her a country worthy of our pride and patriotism. By conducting a free and fair election this time and electing credible leaders; by making every vote count in the next general elections, we will not only recapture our prestige and glory as a nation, we will be sending a very strong signal to the world that we are ready to take our rightful place in the comity of nations. It is an opportunity we must not allow to slip away if we truly want to have a country in 2011 and a nation for generations yet unborn. Destiny beckons us all once again to salvage this country from the bondage of self-inflicted servitude. We must take hold of it and never let go again.
Happy 50th Independent Anniversary to all Nigerians.
â€¢Durugbo is the Special Assistant on Media to Gov. Fashola. He writes from Lagos.