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“Arise, O compatriots…” (Booooo!)

By Ochereome Nnanna

THAT was the second time it was happening. When the Nigerian National Anthem was played before the commencement of the World Cup qualifier between Nigeria and Mozambique in Abuja on Saturday, October 10, 2009 , rather than obeying Nigeria ’s call, a large section of the football fans booed.

And only last Saturday they also hooted rather than sing when our anthem was played before the start of the FIFA Under-17 soccer championship between Nigeria and Germany.

It is unprecedented even in this country whose many musicians have told Nigeria off in tones ranging from the mild (Nigeria is a Sleeping Giant) to the vicious (Nigeria jagga-jagga, everything scatter-scatter).

Yes, a good number of musicians have sung patriotically about our dear Nigeria , but deep inside they know there is really no other basis to boast or be proud of Nigeria apart from the fact that this is the only country we have. Traditionally, it is anathema to own up publicly to the fact that your mother is a bad cook even if she is.

I find it very disturbing that it was in Abuja, the seat of power and capital of Nigeria , that this open expression of disgust is coming from. Abuja has the best that Nigeria can offer, and its residents benefit from its ambience whether directly or vicariously. If Abuja residents can boo at the National Anthem, one of the symbols of this nation, then what do they expect the displaced people of Bakassi, Niger Deltans and other deprived groups to say?

It is obvious that the beef of Abuja soccer fans against Nigeria goes beyond the consistently poor outings of our national teams in international championship soccer.

The free-fall of Nigeria in soccer, the only aspect that binds us together, is a symptom of the disease in a system that increasingly has little or nothing to offer its citizens as dividends of governance.

Last Sunday, the Minister of Defence, retired Brigadier General Godwin Abbe and his colleague in the Ministry of Information and Communications, Professor Dora Akunyili, met senior editors at the Sheraton, Ikeja.

A prominent Abuja bureau chief of an equally notable national newspaper, during the question and answer session observed that our media managers knew that a lot was wrong in our preparations to host the world but chose not to report them.

When Madam Akunyili had the opportunity to speak, she thanked the editor profusely and remarked it was exactly what re-branding Nigeria was all about. It is a matter for debate as to whether Nigeria’s public affairs (the good, the bad and the ugly) should be laid bare or concealed in the name of re-branding.

I am not quite sure whether concealing the ineptitude and corruption of our public officers which led to those disgraceful shortcomings was more patriotic and in the nation’s greater interest than disclosing them.

However, one thing has become clear: Usually, those who carry megaphones proclaiming the greatness of Nigeria and pontificating about their own patriotism are usually public officers-in-office.

Few of them continue to spread the good news when they are no longer in office. It is their job to do so because their public office ensures that they enjoy free of charge the very things that ordinary Nigerians have to pay through their noses to afford (and those who cannot afford have to do without).

Apart from the fact that Nigeria is “our own dear native land”, those who run the affairs of the nation have not justified their call on us to obey when we hear “Arise, O Compatriots”. We cannot elect our leaders.

Our leaders are the ones who put themselves in power over our votes, and they are not willing to reform the electoral process to give us our power back.

Why should we listen to Dora Akunyili’s re-branding campaign when she was the one the Yar’ Adua regime mandated to announce to the nation its refusal to implement changes articulated by the Justice Muhammadu Uwais Panel?

How can you re-brand Nigeria when you retain the President’s power to nominate officials that will conduct elections in which he and his party are partakers?

Today in Nigeria, citizens have to provide their own electricity. They have to send their children to private schools if they hope to give them good education. They have to arrange for their own security to reduce their chances of being victimised by criminals. And now, the latest act of “self-governance” which the citizens have been forced to adopt is provision of their own roads!

We have complained bitterly about the state of federal roads in Lagos , especially our economic main artery (Oshodi – Apapa Expressway) and our petitions fell on deaf ears.

The roads around Berger Bus-stop and flyover had become so deeply scarred that it was a nightmare for those of us working in Vanguard and The Sun to get into and out of our premises. I expressed the fear that a fuel tanker might fall into one of these gorges, dump fuel and ignite a fire that could consume everything in the vicinity.

Happily, someone decided to take up the challenge by dumping tipper loads of laterite to close some of the holes. The bottleneck has cleared and potential disaster averted, at least for now.

There is a contract between the state and its citizens. The citizens obey the law and pay taxes. The state provides basic amenities, good governance and security. But when the state is no longer forthcoming with its indebtedness to the citizens it loses it authority to call citizens to pay their civic debt.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.