I AM A PATRIOT

‘The man dies in all who KEEP SILENT in
the face of tyranny.
– Wole Soyinka

In the short period that I had allotted and devoted most of my time on facebook to discussing topical political issues I have received many commendations from friends, acquaintances and people I have never even come across in real life, the commendations have been overwhelming and I deeply appreciate them; and as it is with all ventures, I have also received condemnations and criticisms. Initially, the criticisms were along party lines, for example, while speaking against the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) critics were fast to refer to me as a member of the opposition, particularly the Action congress of Nigeria (ACN) and when the table turned against the ACN, the same people called me a PDP apologist. An end was, however, brought to criticising me along party lines when it dawned on this set of people that I couldn’t be a confused idiot switching loyalty between political parties in split seconds. I think those people finally came to realize that my views were not based on hatred for a political party but rather a word against perceived wrongdoings and a quest for change. I still wonder why no one ever thought of linking me with the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in blind defence of their bashed political parties while those blind criticisms persisted!

Not long ago, while sharing my view on a particular subject someone accused me of being unpatriotic simply because of my refusal to KEEP SILENT. There are many people who shout because they see nothing good in this country and it’s rather shameful, but I don’t belong to that group. I belong to a group of people, patriots, who speak out about the wrong things in this country so that there can be a change. I have learnt that when people express an opinion on you that’s not refuted, they believe they were right about you. I therefore think it wise to make it clear that I am only being alive to my responsibility as a patriot when I choose to speak out against broad daylight deceit and falsehood, otherwise I could have chosen to adopt the wetin concern me style of the fabled mother-bird that lives in the midst of evil but yet ‘hears no evil, sees no evil and speaks no evil.’

Patriotism is largely misunderstood by people, not only in Nigeria but all over the world, the 2002 article, ‘What Does It Mean to Be Patriotic?’ by American author, Tamim Ansary proves this. It needs be said that Patriotism is not equivalent to sycophancy, neither is it cosmetic re-branding while failing to tackle the existing evils. Patriotism is not an act of rubbing the president’s head, or rubber stamping his every opinion or being gullible to believe that our ‘Comrade Napoleon is always right.’ No, our loyalty is not to Comrade Napoleon but rather to our nation and that loyalty places on our shoulders the responsibility of ensuring that we help our Comrade Napoleon get back on track and move our nation forward. The words of the 26th President of the United States of America, Theodore Roosevelt will help drive home this point, he said,
‘Patriotism means to stand by the country.
It does not mean to stand by the President
or any other public official save exactly to
the degree in which he himself stands by the
country.’

As a young boy growing up in a boarding school I faced several challenges from my peers who were not comfortable with the existence of a boy who showed no love for football. I always took it calmly until the criticism was taken to the stupid extreme of labelling me unpatriotic simply because I didn’t support the National football team in international tournaments. These same bigots who were ‘patriotic’ with football didn’t even know that the country had a cricket team, let alone support her! I used to tell them and still believe that patriotism extends far beyond being an unofficial member of your country’s football supporters’ club. You are not more patriotic than me just because you cheer the Super Eagles when I don’t, that is just an avenue for many to show their enthusiasm and fanaticism for football, in most instances having little or nothing to do with patriotism. Patriotism is loyalty to the nation and it goes far beyond placing the national flag in your car or wearing a ‘proudly Nigerian’ lapel pin, all these could be pointers to the love you have for your country but they are not indices to measure it. This is because failure to do these things doesn’t make you less patriotic. Jehovah’s Witnesses who don’t recite the national anthem, the national pledge or salute the national flag are not less patriotic than the rest of us who do. Your participation in all these rites doesn’t make you patriotic, just as sleeping in the garage doesn’t make my dog a car!

It is often said that if the purpose of a thing is unknown then abuse is inevitable. Let me use this opportunity to explain the rationale behind the things I write on facebook. My signing up on facebook which initially was for the sole purpose of connecting with old friends was however switched to commenting on contemporary and pressing political issues after I saw that in my hand lies a tool which I can use in voicing out and speaking out against perceived wrongs in my society. I realized that I could use that facebook wall of mine to draw the attention of my friends to wrongs happening right under our noses. I didn’t set out to pull down or run down my country but rather add to the ever-increasing voices of the youth of our nation who earnestly yearn for change. There exist on twitter many young Nigerians who are interested in moving our country out of its rot and they go about that mission using sarcasm, wit and parables to pass across the message. Some of these people point out the evils in our society while living in distant lands but that doesn’t deprive them of the right to be seen as patriots.

Patriots are sometimes misunderstood because patriotism, itself, is not well understood. Patriots are not always appreciated. Chinua Achebe, a patriot, was incarcerated in 1966 because of his book, A Man of the People. In the book he ‘predicted’ a coup d’état as the likely fallout of the high level corruption and oppression in the society and coincidentally, a coup did break out in Nigeria on the exact day the book was released into bookstores. He was detained for warning the government against a time bomb waiting to explode; Wole Soyinka, a patriot, speaks against oppressive and insensitive governments and is usually considered a foe by the government. He was locked up by the Yakubu Gowon government in the wake of the Civil war and was later ‘sent’ on exile by the government of Abacha ; Omoyele Sowore, a patriot, and the brain behind Sahara Reporters reports the high level corruption and decadence in present day Nigeria in order to bring about a change and reformation. Omoyele and his companions at Sahara Reporters top the government’s “security threat” list pasted at all points of entry and exit in Nigeria, they have been locked out of their motherland for daring to speak the truth; Gani Fawehinmi, a patriot, sued almost all governments in Nigeria for the love of the common man on the streets, an act of courage and bravery that earned him the rank of Senior Advocate of the Masses (SAM), making him the first and only person so accorded till this moment. Yet, Fawehinmi was a regular visitor of the gulag during military regimes; Fela Anikilapo-Kuti, a patriot, spoke against corrupt Nigerian leaders and suffered untold hardship in the hands of ‘unknown soldiers’, most probably sent by the government, who destroyed his residence, killed his mother and incarcerated him. Space will not permit me to speak of other patriots like Ken Saro Wiwa, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola and his wife, kudirat Abiola and many others. The fact that these patriots suffered persecution in the hands of the State doesn’t t make them unworthy of being patriots. After all, the Yorubas say ‘olooto ilu ni ota ilu’ (truthful people are often hated).

I am not less patriotic because I cry out against the evils in Nigeria while others blend into the rot so well that they don’t complain; I am not less patriotic simply because I speak out while most are silent about our problems. Patriotism doesn’t mean hiding the truth under our pillow. I shouldn’t be branded as being unpatriotic simply because someone doesn’t like my approach. I realize that our country is in a mess and what I am doing is to contribute my quota of cleaning the mess. I am only being patriotic when I speak out against injustice, mediocrity, nepotism, corruption, etc! My fight is not limited to posts and comments on facebook. As a lawyer working in a support office of the ‘Lawyers Without Borders’, I dutifully carry out the responsibility of enforcing the fundamental rights of innocent citizens who are the victims of a corrupt and inefficient police force, a slow judicial system and a culture that displays brazen disrespect for human rights. I love Nigeria my country and in my little way and from my small corner of the world I am rooting for change! I am not comfortable with what I see and so I am lending a helping hand to build the land of my dream, a Nigeria that my children would be happy to call their home. I want to see the birth of a Nigeria that is indeed a great nation of great people. I am interested in seeing Nigeria become the most desirable place on earth to live in by the year 2025. I am only being a patriot when I refuse to keep shut and siddon look. I am only being patriotic when I speak out! I refuse to be silent and counted among the dead.

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