One’s unalloyed loyalty to their country, their degree of physical, social and emotional attachment to it, and their wholesome acceptance of all its virtues and vices all combine to define what patriotism truly is.
Patriotism is not a discriminatory preference of what is good over what is bad in a nation, neither is it a mere sedentary and superficial verbal expression of allegiance that is never reflected in actions. It is an unashamed, sometimes insane, more often peculiar and extraordinary demonstration of love for the motherland that can even lead to the patriot laying their life down in defence of its survival.
Patriotism promotes every conceivable human quality: it heightens the sense of responsibility, enhances physical strength, and galvanises the potential of the human mind beyond that of the mortal. Patriotism is like opium, it deadens pain and beclouds every sense of danger, family responsibility and self preservation. It is the need for this selfless devotion to one’s patria that makes the ever cherished 35th American President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy to say in his inaugural speech : Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
From Kennedy’s quote, it can easily be seen that patriotism cannot be viewed from the perspective of what is rewarding or not, or what is sensible or senseless, it is simply a blind devotion, period, and the by-products are disproportionately stacked in favour of the country. The assertion that national patriotism is a catalyst for Nigeria’s advancement to a developed state is, to me, even a modest and conservative one, put that way, most probably for fear of committing the fallacy of over-generalisation and absolutism – the theory of all or nothing. Otherwise it is defensible to assert that patriotism can exclusively or all by itself lift Nigeria out of its present doldrums, and launch it into the comity of the greatest nations of the world. This is because underlying every great and desirable act is a sense of love, belonging and patriotism. No wonder Jesus, in response to the question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?’ said ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind.’ Matthew 22, 36-37, New International Version. Let all Nigerians exhibit such love to Nigeria and everything and I mean everything will fall in place.
When we say Nigeria is backward, what do we actually mean? That the economy is in shambles? Of course it is, but then, it is so only because some people are stealing the country blind, the Nigerian borders are porous, the economy is dependent on oil and we export next to nothing. That our road network is dilapidated? Yes, it is but that is due to the fact that corruption is endemic in the country. If Nigeria is a democracy, it is also a kleptocracy, so say Campbell and Matthew Page in the book: Nigeria, what everyone should know is that our reputation outside the country stinks to high heaven? So it does, but the notoriety is caused by the nationals themselves. That the labour market is huge, employment rate is low and crime rate high? How can we expect a better scenario in a place where everyone is self-centred? Which of the ills and crimes that have been isolated so far is not caused or perpetrated by the human component of the nation?
The leaders and followers are bad in a near-equal proportion.
When you demand gratification before voting in a leader, you are, in a tacitum way, asking them to loot the treasury in order to recoup their investment. We now see why the words of the 19th century French philosopher, Joseph de Maistre, will remain ever green: Every nation gets the government it deserves. Let us examine a series of questions, rhetoric in the sense that the response to every one of them is ‘no’. Can a patriotic citizen dip their hands into the treasury of the nation? Can a patriotic leader demand a bribe before carrying out the tasks for which they are being paid? Can a patriotic citizen engage in scam knowing full well that it is capable of ruining the image of their country? Can a patriotic contractor abandon their project after receiving the mobilisation fee?
The journey of a nation to become advanced is slow, it is tortuous and it demands a lot of sacrifice from the entire citizenry. America did not become that great without the selfless service of people like George Washington, Henry Ford, Thomas Jefferson, John Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln and the Wright Brothers. Lao Zu, Confucius and Chairman Mao will always be remembered in the evolvement of the present day China. Talk Russia, talk Vladimir Putin. It is a well-known fact that most of the developed countries of the world today attained greatness partly as a result of the patriotism shown by their citizens. Unfortunately, the level of patriotism of Nigerian citizens is low. Without mincing words, this has contributed to the development of the country negatively.
According to John McCain, the man president Obama defeated in the 2008 US Presidential Election ‘Patriotism means more than holding your hands over your heart during the national anthem. It means more than walking into a voting booth every four years and pulling a level. Patriotism is a love and a duty, a love of country expressed in good citizenship. Patriotism and good citizenship are intertwined, and to give credence to this, McCain said ‘Patriotism and citizenship should not only motivate the conduct of public officials, but also thrive in the communal spaces where government is absent’. Patriotism refers to countless acts of love, kindness and courage that have no witness or heraldry; it is an action that takes place where nobody is watching. Nonetheless, the nefarious activities of some persons against our beloved country, especially the outrageous terrorist attacks by Boko Haram on the government, people and institutions in Nigeria, have really called for common-sense questions of ‘Where is the spirit of patriotism in your actions? ‘Where is patriotism when your fellow country men and women are dying before their times just because of your actions? ‘Where is patriotism when your actions bring shame and embarrassment to Nigeria, instead of upholding her honour and glory? Look, you can bomb Nigeria to pieces, but you can never bomb her to peace! Peace can only come through genuine dialogue and not through terrorism. You have no justification for your action. When conscience is an open wound, only the truth can heal it, so says Othman Dan Fodio. Where then is the conscience when Innocent Nigerians are dying because of your activities? A true patriot must not only take the responsibility, but also own the responsibility of protecting lives, property and the bedrock of ideas that gave birth to, and is sustaining our beloved country, Nigeria. A good citizen and patriot must honour the duties and obligations ascribed to him by the constitution. A good citizen and patriot must be faithful and loyal to the constituted authorities and not opposing every government policy without proposing anything. A good citizen and patriot knows that happiness is greater than comfort. A good citizen and a patriot must heed the warning of Mahatma Gandhi to his country men and women about the eight deadly monsters. These are wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, politics without principle, and right without responsibility.
To build the Nigeria of our dreams, all hands must be on deck, and just as the study of English Language and Mathematics are compulsory subjects in our elementary schools, the teaching of patriotism as a subject should also be made compulsory in both the elementary and tertiary institutions in the country. Patriotic deeds of individuals should be openly rewarded and publicized all over the country, so as to encourage others to be patriotic. Patriotism should be incorporated as one of the requirements a candidate must fulfill before he or she is cleared to stand for any elective position in the country. To do this, I suggest the establishment of the ‘National Agency for the Promotion of Patriotic Services in Nigeria’. This agency should be saddled with the responsibilities of monitoring, assessing and rewarding patriotic services in any parts of the country. The independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and political parties should demand for the evidence of patriotic deeds issued by this agency, before clearing and rewarding the names of candidates for elective positions in Nigeria. The civil society should also be more assertive by investigating and reporting any false claim by any politician about his or her patriotic deeds or services to the fatherland.
When all these postulations are implemented, Nigeria would not only be producing patriotic leaders, but leaders that meet the statement of Late Vaclav Havel, the former president of Czech Republic, ‘In all circumstance, try to be decent, just, tolerant and understanding, and at the same time, try to resist corruption and deception’.