By Tonye Princewill
SOMEHOW, in the course of our short but eventful history as a nation, we’ve lost sight of a fundamental reality: Passion is an invaluable and inexhaustible national resource.
Politics steers a nation, while economic activity is essential to people’s material well-being. But it’s emotional fervour that really drives a country forward—a fervour which, I’m afraid, we Nigerians lack.
Like electricity, petrol or nuclear power, emotional energy can be dangerous and destructive when misused or unleashed without proper controls. We see tragic and gory evidence of this, almost daily.
Ironically though, the untrammeled bedlam and bloodletting that has engulfed us, makes the strongest possible case for tapping into our great reserve of emotional energy.
It demonstrates not only the power of human emotion but also the political prospects of a nation that can harness this enormous well-spring of social energy and put it to constructive and productive use.
This is done, of course, through the use of two psychic mechanisms which aren’t very well understood and, consequently are appreciated even less: These being nationalism and patriotism.
Socially, nationalism and patriotism function as adrenalin—the hormone our bodies release in times of anger, fear or desperation, to proved the extra energy we need to face a threat, prevail in competition or escape danger.
But while the two emotions serve a similar function, they are not exactly the same. The difference is, in a sense, like that of fire and flame.
Technically, “fire”refers to the complex array of physical and chemical processes associated with combustion—the release of heat and light energy, along with various reaction products, which we perceive mainly as “smoke”.
By contrast, a flame is merely the visible component of a fire: Specifically, the rise of hot gases whose varying temperatures radiate at wavelengths that our brain organises into the red, yellow, white and blue colours. These colours help us to judge the amount and intensity of the energy being released.
Continuing with this analogy, it is important to keep in mind that a flame does not have to be present for a fire to burn. Indeed, it is, in many instances, a simmering fire that creates the flame–and not the other way around.
Here the natural sciences of physics and chemistry have provided us with a very potent political metaphor. Again, that’s because the relationship between “fire” and “flame”is very similar to that of “nationalism” and “patriotism”—the former being comparable to the fire and the latter flame.
What we’re trying to do in Nigeria, it seems, is build a nation without any sense of nationalism. We kindle a feeble patriotic flame on certain ceremonial occasions, such as Independence Day, and then allow it to flicker out and die.
But patriotic rituals and ceremonies are clearly insufficient. We need, somehow, to build and sustain a simmering nationalist fire, a fervent and ongoing ardour that transcends periodic displays of political loyalty to the state.
I am aware that, in some foreign circles, “nationalism” is a dirty word. But when one closely examines the ethos—the traditions and values of those countries, as reflected in their art, literature, music, film and other cultural manifestations–a double standard is apparent.
Other people’s nationalism is “dirty”; but their own is sacrosanct!
Anything, carried to extreme, can have negative consequences. We have the Nazis of Pre-World War II Germany and the murderous Pol Pot regime in Cambodia to serve as horrific reminders.
But the use of these extreme examples to undermine the argument for nationalism in a developing nation like Nigeria is more than crass sophistry. It is downright dishonest and unethical and can, justifiably, be construed as an act of hostility.
After all, “nationalism”is simply a system of thought that extols the virtue of the nation and its people—its culture, traditions, values and landscape. It is exemplified by Dr. Agbada, a Muslim physician in Lagos, who ordered his tailor to produce the garment that has become our national dress.
Exemplifying the nationalist spirit as well, is the late Steve Rhodes who composed the eloquent and powerfully patriotic NTA News theme, with ivory horn riffs overlaying the cadence of talking drums.
The flame these and earlier nationalists, such as Rev. Majola Agbebe, ignited ought to be rekindled. The fires of national pride ought to be fanned and kept burning—not merely in our time of disparateness but always.
We need a naturalist poetry and fiction, for example, which can inspire a sense of awe and reverence for the beauty of the Fatherland and cultivate an appreciation of its abundant resources—beyond the foreign exchange they can earn. In the end, we need statesmen who can rise above individual interest and speak not for their regions but for our country and show the next generation why unplanned division is no better than unity based on dialogue and be credible while doing so.
If I had a chance to talk to Goodluck, Obasanjo, Atiku, Asiwaju, Buhari and Amaechi all at once, I would tell them that.