This piece along with some others to be published was written during the administration of the then General Buhari. A major policy initiative of his regime was the storied War Against Indiscipline. Upon reflection I now understand why this adaptive challenge could only be framed as a militaristic technical solution akin to warfare. In the simplistic formulations of prosecuting a war, it ignorantly overlooked the deep behavioral and attitudinal mind set shift as well as the social conditioning necessary to change Nigeria. The work has always been with Nigerians and not Nigeria. To change Nigeria…change Nigerians. Enjoy
It is clear that, in spite of whatever arguments critics might raise about the superficiality and duplicity of the ongoing War Against Indiscipline, something is stirring. Whatever it is, it has struck a derelict chord in most
Nigerians are familiar with the crusade. Already the ‘queue culture’ seems to have taken hold (albeit an infirm one), and it’s only in cases of dire emergencies (like at bus-stops) that urbanities revert to their normal and disorderly instincts. Otherwise, the interminably long display of people queuing patiently under the scorching sun is more than enough evidence to prove to cynics that Nigerians can be orderly.
The second phase of WAI, which deals with punctuality, productivity, and proper work ethic, does not seem to have enjoyed the wide appeal of the first phase. And in spite of the initial indignities imposed by some state Governors on some members of their staff who reported late for work, most workers are still their sloppy, tardy, and venal selves.
Nigerians are no respecters of time, except if it is the ‘African-time’; and the Civil Service is still the quickest and surest way to assess private wealth in this country. But, by far the most important and controversial campaign of the War is the third counteroffensive that deals with the twin ideals of nationalism and patriotism.
The 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates, then under colonial rule, practically created the amalgam that is known today as Nigeria. It would be trite, and a boring historical excursion to explore the antecedents of Nigeria’s political history and her grope for nationhood.
What is relevant here is the inarguable consensus that we are still searching for a Nigerian nation. For the most part, we have chosen to ignore the intermittent flashes of nationhood; we prefer instead to grope in the cavern; it is much more fun, it seems, to play hide-and-seek in the dark.
But beyond childish games which translate directly into our inveterate ethnic prejudices, sectional fidelities, self-congratulatory hypocrisy and unabashed individual greed, lies the very serious business of getting this country going in the right direction. Since history, demography and geography have made us the greatest repository of the Negro race on this planet, such superlatives demand that Nigeria remain intact.
And conversely, with such great potential in Africa in general and Nigeria in particular, it becomes clearer why the Western world is bent on scattering our ranks, and throwing our country and continent into disarray.
But happily, up to this point we have survived, we have run the tortuous gauntlet of a neocolonialist first republic, a fratricidal civil war, revolving door coups, a putrescent second republic, and a change of the guards — but we are still not a nation. The logic is simple, if we were the third phase of WAI, would be irrelevant.
As a legal and geo-political entity, we have survived as a state; and as a state, the government has the power to require obedience and loyalty from its citizens. And it is in the exercise of this prerogative that the FMG has demanded through WAI, loyalty, patriotism and nationalism from Nigerian citizens.
Although these requests are not new, successive governments (and, I imagine, future ones) have often demanded the same. What is new is the determination of this administration to see that its demands are met. It wants to make patriots of all of us willy-nilly. The WAI propaganda machinery, since its launch in February, has cranked into action with a blitz of posters, badges, radio jingles, and by far, the most interesting television adverts, and programmes.
In this war, television is the “Panzer division”, and by now, urbanities are familiar with how to rout the enemy. It is interesting to ponder whether the War and its campaign has reached majority of Nigerians in far and remote villages that have no ready access to information about it.
But no matter what, by now T.V. viewers are familiar with “Andrew” and his girlfriend (or is it wife?) and their abortive attempt at leaving town. If not, the sketch depicts a rotund well-fed Andrew decked to the molars in a three-piece suit, with his rucksack slung raffishly over his shoulder; he is accompanied by his be-goggled and taciturn (or is it dumb?) female friend, and they are both strutting slowly towards the departures entrance of the Murtala Muhammed Airport. In his peculiar and guttural Americanised accent, Andrew lambasts the system, complaining bitterly about our poor public utility services, and bemoans the fact that “you can’t even get one bottle of soft drink”, he informs the viewer that he is “going back” – presumably to America.
But mercifully, a skeletal hand cuts short his hearsay, with a firm grip on his shoulder from behind, startling Andrew, who looks back to see the National Flag (or is it handkerchief?) sandwiched between his shoulder and the disembodied hand. At the same time, a chiding paternal voice reminds him that Nigeria belongs to all of us, and that we should stay back and savage— (sorry) salvage it together. A powerful, symbolic and graphic impression of the cowardly and unpatriotic Andrew, present in varying degrees in all of us.
This vignette and others, like the one depicting a man trying to stifle a sneeze while at the same time trying to keep his composure before the strains of the national anthem, are amusing, but the import is deadly serious.
To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done, if we are all to survive. And to survive, we have to have a strategy, and indeed a reason to want to survive. While one can raise countless reasons why Nigeria has to survive, it seems that we do not all agree on the strategy for survival.
The reason, off-handedly, is because there are too many individualistic and sectional interests at play, which tend to submerge whatever nationalistic awareness we have been able to generate these past twenty-four years. The result is the constant collusion of centripetal and centrifugal forces; a paradoxical symbiosis where many want Nigeria to survive as a whole so that their respective parts might benefit.
Therefore, since action and reaction tend to cancel out each other the result is static — in this case, the stagnation of nationhood we as Nigerians are so familiar with. And the cumulative effect of this paralysis is the ‘indiscipline’ that this government has launched a war against. How well the battle will be fought is left to be seen.
But one fact is clear, and that is, patriotism and nationalism cannot be imparted by sheer force. Patriotism is not a sensual appeal, or the forced and robotic recitation of an anthem, or the hoisting of flags. It transcends individualism, religion and sectionalism to become a fervent conviction about the rectitude of one’s country.
Patriotism lies between a state’s right to demand loyalty and a citizen’s conviction about the sincerity of such a demand, which in turn prompts an unabashed and selfless display of such loyalty. And for it to have enduring meaning, that sacred covenant between the leader and the led must be intact; the social contract demands that the governors put the interests of the governed above self and all else, all the time. Only then can a sincere request be made or harken.
And so, while WAI is indeed a laudable step in the right direction, it is doubtful whether ‘television patriotism’ and its ilk is the answer. Nationalism must be considered in tandem with patriotism; it is more genuine when it is constantly nurtured and not coaxed.
And in the words of a great American statesman, “nationalism requires not just putting the nation ahead of self, or tribe, it calls for patriotism, which is not just a frenzied burst of emotions, but a tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime cause of nationhood”. Now in commemoration of our 24th independence celebration, I now urge readers to reflect very deeply on the following words, and then afterwards ask themselves this question: Am I really patriotic, and do I REALLY believe in this country?
Arise O compatriots, Nigeria’s call obey
To serve our fatherland With love and strength and faith
The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain
To serve with heart and might One nation bound in freedom, peace and unity.
O God of all creation, direct our noble cause
Guide our leaders right Help our youth the truth to know
In love and honesty to grow
And living just and true Great lofty heights attain
To build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.
I pledge to Nigeria my country
To be faithful, loyal and honest
To serve Nigeria with all my strength
To defend her Unity And uphold her honour and glory
So help me God.
Tuesday, October 2, 1984