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Of liberty, enslavement and patriotism

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By Morenike Taire
LAST weekend, I had cause to sit at a roundtable of sorts with a bunch of passionate Nigerian youths. The word ‘youth’, of course, is used rather loosely here as we have the national tendency to do. We appear youthful in these parts much longer than they do in other places.

The word passionate is, however, not. Clichéd as it is beginning to sound, there are a million and one people- old, young and in-between- filled to overflowing with passion for Nigeria.

Some, perhaps the rather youthful ones, remember a time when there were department stores and malls in Nigeria with escalators that worked and Father Christmas trains that conveyed children to the grotto of the bearded benevolent.

Others, younger still, remember a time when manufactured-in-Nigeria aso oke was the fabric of choice for Nigerian parties in whatever part of the country, as opposed to all kinds of imported materials now being used for head tying.

The older ones remember- and long for-a time in cosmopolitan areas such as Lagos when everywhere was clean and morality was the unwritten common code by which everyone lived.

There is no doubt whatsoever that Nigerians long for the Nigeria of their dreams where things work and in which there is unity and peace.

But if passion for one’s country can be measured, these youths had enough passion to turn Nigeria around ten times over. It stirred a debate on why the passion of Nigerians for Nigeria does not translate into patriotism, a general feeling of nationhood and a sense of responsibility for members of our common nationhood.

There are, of course, things that will always unite us and inspire pride and pure love for our country, the most prominent being football, which is why it is one of the tragedies of our times that the national love for the round leather game has, instead of being translated to our own share of the football industry, tourism and leisure apparatus, has been transferred to the English and European leagues.

We have forgotten what it means to be patriotic.

Or perhaps we have simply redefined it. If patriotism means love and passion for one’s nation, why does the love and passion of Nigerians not translate into patriotism? Why do we want one nation but we in the South are suspicious of those in the North, while the North West cannot stand the South East?

Why can an Igbo man own 20 houses in Abuja and a Hausa woman cannot own one in Abakaliki? Why has it become virtually impossible for a Nigerian to render any kind of service to another Nigerian free of charge-just for the sake of country? Why do we steal from our own schools, companies, governments, families?

Why is it impossible to fund education, while millions are spent on Champaign and leisure trips across the country? What is the difference between Dakova and Dior?

Perhaps Dora Akunyili has a point. Perhaps people have to be taught how to be patriotic, the same way a talented writer or artist can be taught how to do his work better.

Or is it a lot more complex than that? Is it the terms of our nationhood that make it more burdensome, or is it poverty that that has enslaved us to the point that we have made thicker and thicker the line between personal and common good?

Both are plausible, particularly in our particular circumstances, in which the state has been hijacked by individuals, and it becomes difficult to reject one without the other.

In 2003, Royal Irish Commanding Officer, Lt Colonel Tim Collins, led a team of officers in search of a cemetery at Al Mara, Iraq, which was founded by the Royal Irish Regimen.

After the Gulf war, the cemetery had been abandoned by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, but a local family had tended the place absolutely free of charge ever since.

The Iraqi father of seven Hasan Moson, claims he had been threatened by Saddam’s people and promised to take his day job. He did not stop tending the graves, for the specific reason that he felt a loyalty stronger for the British soldiers who represented the British Empire, than he did towards the erstwhile leader of his own country.

It is clearly the Nigerian case. While Nigerians love Nigeria with indescribable passion, it has become too difficult, because of the shackles that poverty and inequality have put on our wrists, to make a distinction between the state and those who have hi-jacked it.

Nigerians want to do right by Nigeria, but are afraid of being pushed further into poverty and oppressed states. This, though, is where the analogy breaks down.

In the Nigerian situation, the animal has taken over, and the mad race for survival has set in.

Patriotism is nothing, if not a conscious choice.

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