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The state of being a Nigerian

By Owei Lakemfa

NIGERIA is blessed with very intelligent and even religious people. Thus, in our National Anthem, we pray God to help us build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.

But at critical times, such as the 2019 elections, many abandoned their intelligence and switched to the mode of the stupid; peeled off the clothes of the informed and donned the toga of  the ill-informed.

Some pan-Africanists I know became ethnic jingoists and experts in ethnic profiling. That was when they wanted to make uninformed arguments on who owns what portion of the country, or made outrageous claims that were not backed by any shred of evidence or historical fact. They distort history and claim that a racist like Lord Lugard who left Nigeria  in 1919 and died in 1945, is their witness.

Yet, this set of Nigerians who pollute the country with their false claims, would go to church claiming to be Christ-like, lay claims to being their brother’s keeper and loving their neigbour as themselves. Who told them the brother praying beside them in church who happens to come from a different part of the country is not their brother or neigbour?

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Some of them will go to the Mosque claiming to be Muslims, yet will not abide by the saying that to be a Muslim, you must treat other people the way you would love to be treated. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said in the hadith: “None of you (truly) believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”

Our traditional religion says: first cut yourself the same measure you want to inflict on another person to know how it feels. I know there are those who will attack me that I am preaching  morals when the issue is politics. True, but what is a human being without morals? How can we be humans if we do not have values and ethics that can differentiate us from animals?

The philosophy of ‘Every man for himself, God for us all’ is a bankrupt one. It is a dog-eat-dog philosophy which, as human beings, we should have outgrown.

All Nigerians I know, endorse Martin Luther King, Jr’s words: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.” But if I paraphrase and say: “I have a dream that Nigerian children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by their ethnic origins, but by the content of their character” there will be sharp disagreements.

Yet, the reality is that no Nigerian chose his ethnic origin himself; he was simply born into it. So how do you seek to punish a human being for what he had no hand in deciding? Why should a person be guilty of his ethnic origin?

I argued somewhere else that while a Nigerian can change his name, religion, trade, profession, abode, friends or political party, he cannot change his origins. While he can even change his nationality or claim to originate from Israel, Atlantis or Mars, that would not change his ethnic origins.

Hunger and an uncertain future is why many involve themselves in such demeaning campaigns. Tragically for us, those who sit at the table feeding fat on our common resources promise the hate campaigners some crumbs, and feed them fears of a bleak future.

Parochial or selfish interest is why amongst a large section our leadership, the concept of what is right or wrong depends on who is involved or who benefits. Many of our men of truth yesterday are today’s liars.

A man yesterday makes a forceful, brilliant and intelligent argument, and today completely contradicts his argument; and you point out the contradiction, and he says ‘You don’t understand.’ Of course I don’t, how do I understand a human being that abandons all principles?

There is enough for the needs of all Nigerians, but not the greed of all. The rich cannot continue to get richer at the country’s expense while the poor get poorer. Yet, as Nigerians, we can collectively ensure that: “The economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group.”

Nigerians can guarantee a country where: ”the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose and responsibility of government.” This will be in contrast to the abandonment of the people, and the wholesale slaughter we witness across the country.

Collectively, we can ensure that: “discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, circumstance of birth, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association” are things of the past. We can collectively build a new nation where there will be no right to hunger, where everybody will have a right to shelter, work and healthcare, and the children, a right to education.

As I indicated by using quotes, these are not my original quotes or ideas, these are contained in our Constitution. So all we need do, is push a different narrative and agenda, not those of elites whose interest  is to keep Nigerians divided so they can monopolise our collective wealth.

When Nigeria hosted the Second Black and Arts Festival, FESTAC, in 1977, we adopted the 1937 poem, For My People,  by the African-American, Margaret Walker as the festival theme song. It runs: “Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a bloody peace be written in the sky…Let the martial songs be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now rise and take control.”

It is time to actualise this song. The Nigerian people need to rise and take control in line with our Constitution which states that: “Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority.”

Yes, we can call those  professional  politicians who exploit us and mortgage our collective future and that of our children, to order. We can change our narrative from one in which   the voters queue, the thugs stuff the ballot box and our professors announce the results, to one in which the will of the people shall prevail.

We do not need to be entrapped in the old, dilapidated structures where people deceive people and promises are cancelled. This is the time for us all to begin building a new movement with a new song for a New Nigeria.

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