By Rotimi Fasan
THE best period to know an individual’s true character is in times of crisis. Anybody can lay claim to being anything when all is well but when the tide turns only then is true character reflected. It is for this reason I wonder what it would be like to conduct a patriotism test on Nigerians in this time of economic crisis, the worst in about three decades.
The country is officially now in recession we are made to understand but there is nothing facing Nigerians right now that they have not seen or felt in the last one and half years or more. What may be different is the degree of severity of the crisis. How much longer can things hold, to what extent can Nigerians truly say that they are proud to be Nigerians to say nothing of taking pride in how the country is being governed?
Faced, for instance, now with some form of external aggression how many Nigerians would be willing to fight for the protection of their fatherland? Readiness to serve one’s country in times of war is often seen as a sign of patriotism. Should Nigeria be confronted with such situation now, who are the patriotic Nigerians that would be willing to take up arms against the enemies of the country?
In talking about patriotic Nigerians, I’m by no means talking about our political leaders. They are professional patriots to the same degree they are professional politicians. While government leaders all over the world are well known for their rallying call for their people to be patriotic, Nigerian leaders are especially eager to urge patriotism on their compatriots.
They appear to eat and drink patriotism but all they have to show for this is the bankruptcy of their leadership. This patriotism test is therefore not for them. But for the rest of us who can feel the bite of recession, who now have to make do with far less. For the Nigerian who is now at a crossroads as to where she would get money for the sustenance of her family- put food on the table, pay mortgage or house rent, pay school fees as the schools reopen for another session- how much more is such an individual expected to endure, what more sacrifice can they make?
In practical terms, patriotism is a show of forbearance and a readiness to make sacrifice for the common good. While those who are fed by the state, live in free housing and whose cars are provided by and fuelled on the bill of the state can glibly talk about patriotism and ask their less resourced compatriots to make sacrifices, it is the ordinary people who bear the actual burden of patriotism. It’s they who take on the burden of sacrifice. And now there is great hunger in the land should the same people be expected to take on additional burden of sacrifice?
Nigerians are not happy about the state of the nation. They worry about their future and the future of their children. There is very little available to meet their needs. They often have to go without the basic necessities of life while their so-called leaders live in unearned opulence. Left with very little to share, they tear at one another and see their equally afflicted compatriots, ordinary people like themselves, as the enemy. They go on to demonise one another forgetting they are all victims of a system created by a cruel leadership that has cornered the commonwealth and turned into personal wealth.
In this time of crisis when inflation has wiped off people’s savings and made nonsense of their ability to conserve for the future, it is easy to be painted bad, be made to appear unsympathetic to the situation in the country. With the army of young Nigerians, graduates of several years struggling to secure their first job, with others past middle age being laid off work and made jobless in the prime of life, not many would be keen on platitudinous talk of patriotism. The reality of deprivation strikes home too closely to be a matter of glamour. When a Nigerian whose only qualification is that she was once the wife of a president could lay claims to hundreds of millions of dollars and asserts her right to own such amount in these lean times, any talk of patriotism must sound like a crude joke if not a curse.
It is just because the gains of citizenship are not being equally or at least equitably parcelled out that it has become difficult to see ordinary Nigerians proudly identify with their country or their leaders. Nigerians were once proud to be so identified. Their pride showed in the way they celebrated things Nigerian- the local football league, the then national carrier, the Nigerian Airways and in the infectious manner people spoke of the Nigerian spirit. The murder of a Nigerian leader once united the people in national mourning.
Even the worst critic of government mourned the death of Murtala Mohammed. His ethnic origin didn’t matter, nor did people care whether he was a Muslim, Christian or Traditionalist. What counted was that he was a Nigerian nationalist cut down in his prime. But today people couldn’t be bothered what become of leaders who make it a career purpose to empty the national treasury to acquire property in different parts of the world.
If President Buhari and members of the All Progressives Congress, APC, rode to power by turning the word ‘change’ into a campaign slogan, it was clear that Nigerians expected to see that change. They invested so much in the hope that the future would be different. But just one year after, the people appear cynical and are no longer buying into the change song of the government in power. What does this make them? Unpatriotic? Certainly not! The pain of survival has sullied the hope of change and not many are keen on giving a quarter to a national leadership, not just the APC, that has failed them serially.
The government of the day is fast realising this and has changed tack. From the change the APC promised the people, the party is now urging the people to be the change they desire to see. But the people have suffered for so long they see this change of song as yet another sign of betrayal. They are not convinced that they’ve not again been taken for a ride. They want answers that the present government is either unable or is in no position to provide. The more talk of change they hear, the more things remain the same, if not worse. Hunger pervades the land, the day’s government preaches patriotism and forbearance. But what can patriotic talk do for a hungry nation?