False Image of Ourselves
Achebe is stung by the hypocrisy and vain-glory common with Nigerian leaders. He is angry at the blatant self-deception by those who do not care to make Nigeria genuinely great, but who like to decieve everyone that Nigeria is great. He writes: “Nigeria is not a great country. It is one of the most corrupt, insensitive, inefficient places under the sun. It is one of the most expensive countries and one of those that give the least value for money. It is dirty, callous, noisy, ostentatious, dishonest and vulgar. In short, it is among the most unpleasant places on earth.” As if to confirm Achebe’s accusation, the Federal Ministry of Information under Dora Akunyili launched a “re-branding” programme during which we were told not to talk about our problems because every coountry has her problems. We were often asked to pretend we were over-fed for the sake of our “image” even though there was and still exists evidence that we are starving. It was the height of institutionalized hypocrisy; an era when radio jingles sounding rather like over-excited Sunday preachers, tried to “inspire” and “motivate” Nigerians into talking about the “good things” found in the country. But like Dora must have now realized, to create a good image for Nigeria “. . . is clearly beyond the contrivance of mediocre leadership. It calls for greatness.”
Professor Achebe believes a patriot “is a person who loves his country. He is not a person who says he loves his country. He is not even a person who shouts or swears or recites or sings his love of his country. He is one who cares deeply about the happiness and well-being of his country and all its people. “A true patriot will always demand the highest standards of his country and accept nothing but the best for and from his people. He will be outspoken in condemnation of their short-comings. . .” Does he think Nigerians are patriotic? No. “There is no doubt that Nigerians are among the world’s most unpatriotic people.” Why is it so? “It is . . . because patriotism, being part of an unwritten social contract between a citizen and the state, cannot exist where the state reneges on the agreement. The state undertakes to organize society in such a way that the citizen can enjoy peace and justice, and the citizen in return agrees to perform his patriotic duties.”
The above point is very obvious in our national life. The Nigerian state appears to have reneged on the “unwritten social contract” that would have given rise to patriotism on the part of its people. Following the recent oil subsidy removal during which activists and civil societies demanded that local refineries be made to work, officials of government openly confessed that government cannot run the refineries. This “inability” of government to “run” is not limited to refineries alone. The government of Nigeria is “unable” to run good schools and hospitals; it is also “not able” to provide power and employment for its citizens. In fact, the Nigerian government is actually “unable” to run even itself. In the prevailing circumstances, the essence of government has atrophied to budget-making, speech-making, appointment into and dismissal from public offices, with no impact whatsoever on the population. So how can the people become patriotic?
“Quite clearly patriotism is not going to be easy in a country as badly run as Nigeria.” But Achebe is not unaware that “. . . no matter how badly a country may be run, there will always be some people whose personal, selfish interests are, in the short term at least, well served. . . Naturally they will be extremely loud in their adulation of the country and its system, and will be anxious to pass themselves off as patriots and to vilify those who disagree with them as trouble makers or even traitors.” This is a very prominent phenomenon in Nigeria today. We have, especially at the state level, lots of intellectually bankrupt, morally diminished an socially insignificant individuals who hang on to government, and in sharing the spoils of mismanagement, sing very loud songs of patriotism and virtually turn the state radio into the ruling party’s mouthpiece, running inciting commentaries that seek to humiliate others who frown at their activities. As a result, every government comes to office with its group of “patriots” who become something else after after their tennure until they get another opportunity to “cut” the “national cake”; people who, like Shaka Sally of Voice of America’s Straight Talk Africa says, are “patriotic to their stomachs.”
Achebe states that “True patriotism is possible only when the people who rule and those under their power have a ccommon and genuine goal of maintaining the dispensation under which the nation lives.” This is not so in Nigeria. It is certainly not the goal of the people of Nigeria to maintain the current dispensation of mismanagement and deliberate arrogance. It is not the interest of Nigerians for oil marketers and other members of the “oil cabal” to waste 1.7 billion naira of subsidy funds and threaten and actually plot the removal of the Speaker of the House of Reps and his colleagues for daring to mention it.. Probably in an attempt to put patriotism in its people, the government sends high-sounding messages in both print and electronic media. But Achebe notes that “National pledges and pious admonitions administered by the ruling classes or their paid agents are entirely useless in fostering true patriotism.” At a time when the creature called Nigerian is more hopeless than ever, that is when our air waves are crowded with messages of “transformation agenda” that urge us to be “good people, great nation” which almost means we should not complain while government and its “stakeholders” perform the national task of sharing oil revenue. Achebe says “In extreme circumstances of social, economic and political inequities such as we have in Nigeria, pledges and admonitions may even work in the reverse direction. . .” He believes “One shining act of bold, selfless leadership at the top, such as unambiguous refusal to be corrupt or tolerate corruption at the fountain of authority, will radiate powerful sensations of well-being and pride through every nerve and artery of national life.” But he warns that this does not require “. . . sermons on patriotism; nor a committtee of bishops and emirs to innaugurate a season of ethical revolution for. . .” any body. It requires action.
To be continued