For much of its existence as a nation-state, Nigeria has been governed by third-rate leaders who, along with their cronies, have plundered the nation’s wealth and ruined the country’s institutions. It is a country that is living well below its potential. It is also a country that has managed to curtail its people’s hope, aspiration, and possibilities. It is a country that cannot conveniently provide public goods such as security, public infrastructures, and an enabling environment for decent living. Any wonder then, that the government has lost legitimacy in the heart and minds of Nigerians? And so, what we now have is a callous government at war with a wounded people. And because these conditions have been present in Nigeria for a very long time, it has led to a feeling of dissatisfaction and estrangement between the government and the people.
Even before this dissatisfaction and estrangement, Nigerians have never been at ease belonging to the current geographical entity. The current situation is like an arranged marriage that neither the bride nor the groom wants; yet, both parties have no idea about how to go their separate ways so they are locked in a miserable, unsatisfying and self-destructive union. It this estrangement and dissatisfaction, coupled with the mutual suspicion and disrespect between the ethnic groups that have led to a situation where most Nigerians do not think of Nigeria as their home; and have no respect, love, loyalty, and trust for the country and to for her political institutions.
Love, respect and loyalty are the primary ingredients for patriotism. Nigerians are devoid of these ingredients. Loyalty to the country takes a back seat to ethnicity. In other words – nationalism always trumps patriotism. Any wonder then that the great majority of Nigerians would never agree to die for Nigeria? Ironically, Nigerians are “trained” to bastardize their country. They are “trained” to pilfer the public treasury and to have no scruples when foreigners join in tearing the country apart. But when it comes to tribal matters, Nigerians would readily give of their life and their soul. A sickening but popular pastime of the elite is to yell “One Nigeria!” but the irrefutable fact is that there is mutual hate, mutual disdain and mutual disrespect and alarming suspicion amongst the majority of, and especially between the Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa ethnic groups — so much so that it seems there is always a continuous orgy of schadenfreude.
Nigerians are not bonded by common national goals. Nigerians are not bonded by the need to thwart or expel external enemies. Nigerians are not bonded by common ideology or bonded by pure economic interest. Take away the oil and gas and the various ethnic groups will go their separate ways within ten-years. Even the common man on the street knows this truth! And so when President Obasanjo – as recently reported by the BCC World Service – said, “any Nigerian who was not prepared to die for the country did not deserve to be a Nigerian citizen,” and that “the earlier such a person walked out of Nigeria, the better for the country,” he was just being devious. The vast majority of Nigerians does not give a hoot about the country and her institutions. Obasanjo and every other president before him know this and have known it for years.
The lay man knows that if you die for Nigerian – you die for nothing! Most Nigerian government has simply never cared about the country and about the people. Imagine what people like Sani Abacha and Ibrahim Babangida did to fellow Nigerians: they rained terror on our scholars and intellectuals. Imagine what they did to patriots like Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Ken Saro Wiwa, Wole Soyinka, Isaac Boro, Gani Fawehinmi, and countless students and student leaders. For so many years, there was an open season for arrest, imprisonment, and brutality without deference to due process of law. And for a great many years – and even today – government officials perfected the art of corruption, thievery, and indifference to the welfare and wellbeing of the common man. Any wonder then that Nigerians have no sense of gratitude to the country?
There can be no gratitude to a country that assassinates its best and brightest? There can be no affection for a country that encourages an atmosphere of fear and death. There can be no loyalty to a country that does not provide security, employment and other public goods for the vast majority of the populace. There can be no trust between a people and a government that is adept at encouraging mediocrity, favoritism and ethnic conflicts. Furthermore, because the government has never done anything worthwhile for its people – it is not in a position to repeat J.F Kennedy’s mantra of “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Nigeria has not earned this right.
What then is President Obasanjo talking about? What does he got to say to the nation and to the family of Bola Ige (the well-liked, well-respected, eminently devoted son of Nigeria)? What does he have to say to the thousands of police officer who gave their life to the service of this country? What does he have to say to the thousands of soldiers who died in Sierra Leone and Liberia and during the Nigerian civil war? What? Today, the Nigerian graveyards are full of men and women who were ready to die for their motherland — but where killed by Nigeria long before their time.
The government and the people of American honor the memory of their fallen patriots. The fallen are given decent burial; and their families are compensated. Decades after the Korean, Vietnam and other wars, America still spend millions of dollars to retrieve their bodies. If you die for America or die for a great many other countries around the world — these governments will express their gratitude and their regret to the family of the fallen by building monuments and by celebrating their lives. But not so in Nigeria! So, why care about a country that does not remember and does not care for its own?
Therefore, for President Obasanjo to be taken seriously there has to be a change of attitude on the part of the government and on the part of our leaders: educate the people; provide employment opportunities; foster an atmosphere of growth and joy; show some love and some understanding; and show some mercy. Show and prove that you care, and find ways to ameliorate some of the gaping cleavages and injustice. Then, may be then, Nigerians will reciprocate the love, trust and loyalty — otherwise, the vast majority of Nigerians would be unshaken in their conviction that Nigeria is not worth dying for.