By Muyiwa Adetiba
Providence brought me within a few miles of the American seat of power in Washington around the Fourth of July, the day all Americans celebrate their independence.
A few days before the Fourth of July, the American soccer team had just been ousted from the World Cup in one of the most passionate matches of the tournament. Many people rooted for the American team throughout the world because of the passion with which they played. In any case, the Americans were more than able to root for themselves.
The shouts of USA, USA, USA were loud in the stadium and throughout America as the match went on. Before then, most of the news media in America treated the match as a significant news item, thereby whipping into frenzy, the well-known fervour and patriotism of the citizens. I told a friend that with this kind of backing, America would soon become a major soccer nation.
Shortly after the world cup, a downer of sorts happened through an unfortunate, but totally preventable incident in Israel when a Palestinian/American youth was brutalized by the Israeli police.
Again, the passion and loyalty to all things America came to the fore as the media and Government officials took up the case. The Israeli Prime Minister had to apologise while an investigation panel was quickly set up to bring the culprits to book. This would not have happened if the boy was not an American as Palestinians are brutalized and humiliated almost on a daily basis in that region. The message is thus clear; America looks after its own whether at home or abroad; whether in peace- time or war- time.
A friend once told me of an incidence during his student days in the 60s. He was with a group of American students who were voicing their resentments against politicians and the government. He joined them and offered his own criticisms. They stopped and glared at him with an unspoken message that was all too clear. ‘You may be our friend but you are still an outsider and you have no right to criticize our country in our presence’. It was a lesson in American patriotism that he never forgot.
I arrived Dulles Airport, Washington, a little over 24 hours to their Independence Day and the independence mood was already in the air. The immigration official who attended to me spent some of the time chatting with a colleague about his Independence Day plans. Almost every where you went, people discussed the Independence Day and it was not unusual to end conversations with ‘Happy Independence Day.’
On the eve of the 4th, I went to the University of Maryland College Park to see a friend. I was surprised to see cars parked on the lawns and on both sides of the road leading to the conference centre by people who looked very much like campers prepared to spend the night. There were people of all ages—from the very young to the very old— who came to participate in the revelries of Independence and the fireworks that would take place at midnight.
There are many things wrong with America and Americans; but you can hardly fault their loyalty to and pride in their country. But it is a loyalty that has been earned over the years as the country consistently makes it clear that every American is important; that an American in distress is a nation in distress; that justice, equity and the rule of law will drive their country.
Are Nigerians capable of such loyalty? such fervor? I believe we are. In fact, I am sure we are. We only have to look at our attachment to the National football team or the ties we all have to our Alma-mater to prove this. I speak I believe, for those who attended secondary schools in the 50s, 60s,and 70s when I say we have more positive than negative memories of our school days and are prepared to do anything to uplift those schools and keep the positive memories alive. These were institutions that nurtured us. More importantly, these were institutions that did well by us and helped shaped our future. It is a life- time bond for many.
I once saw a car sticker on a friend’s car in the 70s and asked if it was from a club from his university days. ‘No, from my secondary school. University is for all comers. ‘ He replied proudly.
In a couple of months we will be celebrating our own Independence Day. Speeches on unity will be made by people who are doing everything to undermine the unity of the country; by people who perhaps are behind the Boko Haram insurgency.
Messages on tolerance and brotherly love will be delivered by people who have demonstrated political and religious intolerance at every turn. Many economic and political decisions have been made by people who care more for self than the country. And the results have been, well, predictable.
Even now as we speak, in the State Assembly and the National Assembly, at the National Conference, in the State and National Governments, it is about sharing, not sowing; about self, not country.
The country is in need of role models; in need of new, more enduring ethos. October 1 provides another opportunity for national re-awakening. Too often, our leaders remove the ladder after they have used it to climb to the top. That is not the way to forge unity and equal opportunity. For us to love Nigeria, she must be able to meet our aspirations and must be able to stand by us whether we live in Chibok or Otuoke. In triumph or tragedy we must stand together. Or sink together.