As Democracy Day draws near I would like to examine the issue of what exactly it means to be a Nigerian. I am not Nigerian by birth but I have lived here long enough to examine the various…ahem…idiosyncrasies that make up this interesting nation. Besides, being the wife and mother of two Nigerian men (respectively, before you think I’m weird) makes me a stakeholder in the game! I had the opportunity to have a long discussion with a very brilliant young man by the name of C. Ngwodo (whom I happen to be related to but I digress) and he brought up this intriguing observation: the average Nigerian does not know what it means to be Nigerian. This is an ambiguous statement to say the least.
The average Nigerian does not know who or what he is and where he stands in relation to the Nation and its government, what his rights are and what the benefits of being Nigerian are. This unawareness causes a vacuum in the consciousness of the Nigerian. This vacuum is then filled with something else: tribalism, nepotism, fanaticism and the like.
You see, you cannot have pride in your nation or be patriotic when it seems like your nation has nothing to offer you in return. For instance, let’s examine what it means for an American to be an American citizen. This is a country that knows EXACTLY where her citizens are per time. Here in Nigeria, the American Embassy has a database and keeps tabs on its citizens. When the crisis in Jos blew, representatives from the American Embassy were here with a convoy of vehicles and security to safely convey their citizens to Abuja. This is no joke: they actually came to Hillcrest school to pick up their people as well as any other children whose parents wanted them conveyed to Abuja! They knew exactly where to find each American citizen in the city of Jos!! Now why wouldn’t an American be proud to be a citizen of such a country? Or can you remember the Entebbe incident in Uganda in the 70s? The nation of Israel sent members of their elite security squad to rescue Jews in a land thousands of miles away! Would it that Nigeria cared that much for her citizens. If I remember correctly, an illustrious leader of ours once said, in response to a tragedy that claimed hundreds of lives something along the lines of “what are thousands compared to the millions we have (in population)?”
If one Nigerian gets kidnapped or killed abroad does the Nigerian Government even bat an eye? Do they have any idea who the Nigerians abroad are? I read an article recently in a newspaper that was written by a Nigerian in Diaspora in response to Mrs Akunyili’s claim that Nigerians abroad are Nigeria’s worst enemies. He stated that in all his 20 years of living in the UK (and going to the Nigerian Embassy to renew his passport every 5 years) never has the Embassy bothered to contact him or other Nigerians in the UK. This is so different from what you hear about other embassies in Nigeria. I know of Polish and Hungarian friends who are invited for a soiree to their embassies on a yearly basis! Their embassies take the time to try and reach out to all their citizens within Nigeria.
Many Nigerians equate being Nigerian with being maligned and looked upon with suspicion. I know of Nigerians who refuse to mingle with other Nigerians when they are abroad for fear of people looking at them as ‘419’ers. OPRAH and Dr Phil have done shows on fraud and scams being perpetuated by Nigerians. Oh yay, people: we’re on TV! We’re famous!! Is this what it means to be a Nigerian?
Does being a Nigerian mean giving up your life so that a few can enjoy the fruit of your labour? Well, from what I see that’s what it seems like. The Nigerian Government keeps squeezing the life out of the citizenry through ridiculous petrol prices, inflation, squalid and crumbling amenities, corruption and the like…all the while ‘imploring’ the masses to ‘be patient’. This coming from the 8th largest oil producer in THE WORLD! How do you expect the average Nigerian Youth to be proud of this country? Why do you think the British and American Embassies are being bombarded with thousands of visa applications on a daily basis? It is sad that some Nigerians feel it would be better to wash dead bodies or clean toilets abroad rather than stay and build the Nation. But then again, why would they want to stay behind when the same Nation holds no value to or for their lives?
There’s a massive vacuum in the consciousness of people, and that vacuum is being filled with all sorts of rubbish. It is easier for a Nigerian to identify him/herself as a ‘Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Tiv, Taroh, Ijaw etc’ person than it is to identify him/herself as a Nigerian. At least within our tribes we have a sense of belonging and we know what our rights are, what to expect and what we stand to gain. That is why we have a lot of ethnic tension in the country. People are ready to fight, not for the Nation as a whole but rather for their tribe. The same thing applies to religion. It becomes even more volatile when the tension is ethno-religious!
We have a leadership vaccum. I don’t mean that we have no leaders: we have people at the helm of government but we have no true leaders. Leaders are made of the stuff of Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyeyere, Jommo Kenyatta, Jerry Rawlings, heck even Muammer Ghaddafi (before you slice me up on that have you seen any Libyan beggars around lately? I rest my case). These are people who have given of themselves to and for the betterment of their people, leaders who truly wish to see their countries grow and progress. Who among our leaders can boast of that?
We have a spiritual vacuum. Oh yes, we go to Church and Mosque (and /or Shrine: take your pick) and go through the motions but do we really have the Fear of GOD? If we truly practiced what we preach then I should think there would be less corruption and more empathy around. I’m not talking about grand speeches or lip service here: I’m talking about genuine faith, humility in action! There is a sad decline in integrity and principles among Nigerians. People are so desperate that they are willing to go all the way to the top to get what they want, not minding who they hurt in the process. Do you have any idea how great this country would be if we combined the Fear of GOD with a true sense of identity and belonging? The sky is the limit!
When was the last time you were proud of being a Nigerian (and NO: football victories DO NOT count!!)? As a Nigerian, do you have any idea what your rights are within the Constitution? Have you ever read the Constitution? Do you know who the Senator of your Ward is? What about your Local Government Councillor or Chairman? Do you keep tabs on what is going on in your State House of Assembly? National House of Assembly? Do you really care? How many of these people were democratically elected…or SELECTED? What does it mean to YOU to be a Nigerian?
Anyway, there is hope. It’s a slow ride but we are getting there. I truly want to believe that in the next decade or two, Naija will be the place to be…and our generation will be PROUD to call themselves Nigerians! May the Good LORD help us on that journey and may we COOPERATE with Him as He does so! Happy Democracy Day to you!