Through most of last night, I was embroiled in a “fight” on Facebook with some so called friends who take pride in denigrating the reputation of Nigeria or what is left of it. The tipping point, for me, during the “altercation”, was when someone described Nigeria as a zoo. I took umbrage and engaged him to the point that his cohorts and mine joined what could pass for a dingdong. As far as I was concerned, it was downright unpatriotic to ‘diss’ one’s country so blatantly to the point of referring to it as a place where animals are kept and, by extrapolation, painting the people of Nigeria as animals.
How then would we react, if a foreigner described us as animals or our country a zoo? Your guess is as good as mine, except and unless you are one of those who suffer low self-esteem or inferiority complex or both. In any case, after more than four hours of what could pass for a dialogue of the deaf, I gave up on the proponents of the unfortunate Zoo and Animals Theory, but I could not sleep a wink for the rest of the night. I was poring over the points-vexatious as they were-made by these “bad Nigerians” for characterizing their country in such disgracefully unflattering terms.
Perhaps, I should make it abundantly clear that I love Nigeria. I may not be proud of some of our leaders, past and present, but I am very proud of my nationality. I may be unhappy with and disappointed by our achievements as a country, but still I am among those who will fight and kill to keep Nigeria one. I strongly believe that we have a lot of strengths in our diversity-like the United States of America, the most powerful and most advanced country on earth. I am seized of the opinion that whatever differences existing among the peoples, if well managed, should not divide us and, by the way, are not as strong, as our similarities. That said, let me now delve into why my Facebook adversaries of last night and others like them are lacking in patriotic zeal or seem to have lost patriotic fervor for Nigeria.
I am oft reminded of a wise saying attributable to John F. Kennedy, a former US President in which he advised his fellow Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” A truly sagacious exhortation, the statement, which is said was originally made by JFK’s old headmaster, literally suggests that Americans should serve their country with their heart and might for pride not for compensation. I cannot tell which one has come first in this chicken and egg situation, but I can tell that most Americans are willing and ever ready to lay down their lives, literally and metaphorically, for their country. By the same token, America has a culture of not letting down her people. It is believed that America would do anything to ensure the safety of the lives of her people anywhere in the world, and will do anything to avenge the death of even a single American killed unjustly! Now, that’s a hard act to follow. Should Nigeria and other countries, in words and indeed, aspire to be like the United States? Now, that is the question that requires no answer but is ever so frequently asked by people who have felt hard done by in the past or in the present.
Two incidents quickly come to mind, and both co-incidentally come from the unfortunately messed up world of Nigerian football and it concerns two of the greatest footballers to ever come out of Nigeria-one dead, one alive. Stephen Keshi is one while the other is Samson Siasia. Aside being one of the earliest football exports from Nigeria, the late Keshi captained the Super Eagles during its glory days and came back later as Coach of the team with good results to show for the years he called the shots. Keshi was later to be messed up majorly by the Nigeria Football Federation and died a potentially avoidable death just before he resumed a job in South Africa. His funeral was shorn of the respect and honor he deserved as a good ambassador of the country, totally undignified. Samson Siasia, like Keshi played for the National team too within the same milieu. He coached the Super Eagles and the Under-23 teams at various times. He was drafted at the 11th hour to manage the Nigerian Football team to the recently concluded Rio Olympics, where he led the team to a Bronze-in spite of the shabby treatment he and his players got from the Football authorities. And now, he’s called it quits accusing the NFF of ingratitude and disrespect. Now tell me, how would other Nigerians feel after seeing or hearing what these two great Nigerians went through?
There is a surfeit of instances where Nigerians who have done the country proud in various professional areas have been let down so badly and left high and dry, while criminals, yeah criminals are rewarded with National Honors and plum positions in public service. If that is not demoralizing, then tell me what is! There are many Nigerians at home and in the diaspora with excellent track records who would want to contribute to the development and advancement of the country, but they are not sure it would be worth it-considering the risks involved and the thanklessness that attend to such effort, most of the time. As a matter of fact, what has been happening is a reversed philosophy of ceaselessly asking for what the country can do for us, as exemplified by the corrupt politicians and their accomplices in the various walks of life.
There are other reasons why people are not patriotic. A country like Nigeria that is so abundantly blessed with mineral and human resources should have its street paved with gold, but most of what we call streets is literally paved with potholes. Crude oil, which has been a blessing to countries like the UAE, has been a curse to the majority and blessing to only a few. Many Nigerians are sitting arrogantly on the Rich List on account of oil well gifted to them by chummy political leaders. Now, that’s gross, very disgusting-to say the very least. And it doesn’t seem like there is much we can do about that, more painfully. People, who one can describe as managing life or struggling-in a manner of speaking-suddenly, become very well-to-do as soon they are get into public service or just merely close to the corridors of power. That aside, some people believe that a Nigerian life is not worth anything in a situation where some herdsmen can plan to attack and actually attack a community and waste innocent lives and nothing happens! As a matter of fact, people are not even free to name their dogs-without obtaining approval from the police!
The fact that Nigeria still grapples with power generation and distribution is such a shame. What is even more shameful is the cluelessness of successive governments in dealing with the sorry situation. The power sector, like other sectors, is a cesspool of corruption and only God knows how Mr. BabatundeRajiFashola and his APC government are going to turn things around in the face of the economic crunch. Like electricity, water is also a very scarce resource. A bottle of good water still costs more than a liter of petrol! Most homes still depend on privately sourced water, like they do with electricity. Even foreigners are no longer shocked to learn that water and electricity, which they take for granted in their countries, are still very much like gold in Nigeria. And one can go on and on and on. What are we going to do?
I have said it before and I will say it again: I am proud of my country, but ashamed of our leaders! That said, I will not allow the bad behavior of a few people to define who I am. I think that is the way to look at pride in our country and patriotism as a virtue. We must look at the positives while working against the negatives. If everybody who is pained by the way we are now makes a firm commitment to behave well, then we are well on the way to changing the Nigerian narrative. We cannot expect others, be they leaders or followers, to behave well, when we do not have any intentions to do same. Charity must begin at home. We must sit ourselves (and our family members) down and talk to ourselves about how to make Nigeria proud so we can be proud of Nigeria.
Every leader was once a follower. So we must be mindful of what we do as followers for they will define us when we become leaders. Adhering to basic ethical conduct is incumbent on citizens of any country. Of course, this is followed by obeying the laws of the land and knowing that our rights end where the rights of others begin. As we say in my village, when bad behavior is tolerated for one year, it becomes culture and tradition. Impunity is fast becoming a culture in Nigeria and this is a clarion call to traditional and religious leaders, those who still have the moral courage to challenge this regrettable status quo, to urgently commence a campaign of ethical revolution. There was a time in this country when human rights organizations and organized labor acted like the conscience of the people challenging and engaging the government of the day. Those days seem to be long gone following the devastatingly corruptive influence of the military interregnum of the of the post-independence and post-2nd Republic eras. Aside the late GaniFawehinmi, BekoRansome-Kuti and his brother Fela, we truly didn’t have many altruistic, sincere human rights advocates. That is a story for another day.
For any leader to earn the respect and followership of the people, he or she must have a track record of demonstrable high ethical conduct. The blind cannot lead the blind. The time has come to keep sentiments aside and elect leaders who have what it takes, not necessarily cash, to be in public office and provide visionary leadership. The world is experiencing a seismic change in the choice of leaders, and the preference, understandably, is for the youthful, the educated, the experienced and the visionary. If we continue to drive in the opposition, while the rest of the world is moving forward, we cannot expect a miracle to change our fortunes. The miracle has already happened, with the abundance of human and material resources available in our country. What is left is for us to harness them creatively and strategically plan for a great future. Then, we can stand up proudly, without any hesitation, to say we are Nigerians and we are from the greatest nation in Africa. But while we are at it, we should show love for our country and pride in what is good about us. That, my friend, is the foundation of true patriotism. Let’s all join hands to make Nigeria great.
Oparah, director, corporate communications & CSR, contributed this piece from Lagos.

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