Viewpoint: What it means to be Nigerian

Nigeria fans at the World Cup The disparate groups in Nigeria join together to back the national football team

Why are we Nigerians not vociferously proud of our nationality?

I suppose patriotism is not the sort of thing that excites a lot of us. In fact any talk of patriotism is likely to induce a yawn or suspicion about the motive of the person raising it.

But that is not the same as saying that Nigerians have no sense of pride.

To understand patriotism's uneasy place in Nigeria, you have to go back to 1914 when the Southern and Northern protectorates and Lagos Colony were brought together to form a single country.

In the process about 250 disparate groups - including the three major ones of Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba - were welded together in a "Tower of Babel" of sorts.

To this day, this uneasy coalition is still struggling to stay upright.

In fact, the story of Nigeria for the past 50 years seems to be characterised by a great deal of mutual distrust and suspicion between the various groups. And this state of affairs means that most Nigerians, consciously or not, see things from their tribal or factional perspective rather than from a common national point of view.

It appears that what many eminent Nigerians, including the celebrated writer Chinua Achebe, have referred to as the country's "failure of leadership" has meant a weakening of the national commonwealth and subsequently a lack of patriotism among its citizens.

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Nigerians care for their country and still believe that one day its much talked about potential will be realised”

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Still marginalised

At the centre of this is the growing corruption of Nigeria's elite which has given rise to anger and disillusionment throughout the country.

The fragility in the Nigerian project - or a lack of patriotism, call it what you will - is even visible online.

Raise any issue that mentions Nigeria in an internet forum and you are likely to see many comments which betray the ethnic, sectional or religious bias of the writer. In reference to the challenges that we face today, some still refer to what they call "the mistake of 1914".

On a more serious scale, such perceptions have also fed into the muted separatist tendencies of organisations such as the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (Massob).

This group came to prominence during Nigeria's civil war 40 years ago and is still hankering after an independent Biafra state - home largely to the Igbo people. Although today Massob seems to be a fringe group, the sentiments it champions continue to resonate among a surprising number of Igbos.

Many feel that they are still marginalised because, in the years since the end of the civil war in 1970, they are yet to hold the presidency.

In the oil-producing Niger Delta region, an uneasy amnesty programme has eased some of the separatist innuendos of the former militants who, earlier this year, swapped their weapons for some skills training and a promise of jobs.

But with general elections around the corner, it is unclear if President Goodluck Jonathan, an indigene of the Niger Delta who took the reins after the death of Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, will be able to get an elected term on his own.

If he is fails, who knows what this could mean for national pride in the troubled region?

Patriotic awareness

But not all belief in a united Nigeria is lost.

A Nigerian football fan at the World Cup Nigeria's government wants people to be more patriotic

You need look no further than sports competitions - especially football - for evidence of our patriotism. It is there that you will find Nigerians, irrespective of age, tribe or creed, enthusiastically cheering on the national team.

In fact, a growing trend in Nigeria's major cities is the display of the country's flag on vehicles whenever Nigeria appears in a tournament. That rare display of pride in something Nigerian is what many of the country's leaders want to see in other areas.

As a result, many government programmes now promote patriotic awareness and zeal.

An example is the current rebranding campaigns to show the positive sides of Nigeria and efforts to get people to buy Made in Nigeria products. The problem is that these efforts have not produced many tangible results, apart from providing the country's intrepid stand-up comedians with something to poke fun at.

While the comedians provoke mirth and laughter, it pains me to see the way we sometimes denigrate our national institutions in the process. A prime example is the army which, at the very least, has been making efforts to serve its civilian authority democratically.

But I am always proud as a Nigerian when at a gathering, everyone joins in rendering the national anthem without the aid of a recording. And when you go abroad you can always tell the Nigerian from other Africans judging by his self-confident, some would say cocky, way.

The biggest mistake a non-Nigerian can make is to try to criticise the country or to even innocently join the Nigerian pastime of self-condemnation. That is when you see that, in spite of all the negativity, Nigerians care for their country and still believe that one day its much talked about potential will be realised.

With the continent's biggest population of over 150 million, almost a million square kilometres of mostly arable land, vast quantities of mineral resources - most of which remain untapped - and the can-do spirit of its people, it is difficult to see why not.

I believe that in the next 50 years, Nigeria is likely to confound those who have been telling tales of its fall. Better elections will help to strengthen democracy by producing leaders who are more likely to inspire others who believe that it is possible to have a Nigeria where differences in creed, tribe and tongue are no barrier to nationhood.

Are you in Nigeria? Do you feel patriotic about Nigeria, or should it be split into different countries? Will you be commemorating independence?

It is difficult not to agree with this viewpoint but I think Nigerians are a very patriotic people. The negative comments made by Nigerians about their own country emanates more out of chagrin than sincerity. The low level to which our leaders have dragged this country to has made it difficult for the common Nigerian to openly express his pride for his beloved country. Nevertheless, I share the optimism that greater things are in the offing for Nigeria. The fact that Nigeria, miraculously, still remains a single entity after 50 turbulent years is a sign of good things to come. The masses just need to sit up and demand from the leaders what is theirs.

Samuel Maiwada, Jos, Nigeria

It would be ideal to have the whole of Nigeria as a single state but haven't we tried it for 50 years? We are worse off and the reason is not the size or the population - look at China and India. It is leadership deficiency syndrome. If dividing the country will make the rich resources trickle down to the poor masses, why not? The so-called first world are not helping matters either. Billions of dollars of wealth are banked in those countries by Nigerian government officials and they all turn a blind eye to it.

Innocent L Ukejelam, Alayi, Nigeria

Nigeria is a dream worth striving for because we are unique among Africans. All we need to do is revamp the system by which we elect our leaders, devolve power from an overweening central government to local authorities, diversify our sources of revenue, make corruption and election rigging crimes punished by death for now (desperate times call for desperate measures). This way we'll be on our way to becoming an economic powerhouse of global dimensions. That's the Nigeria I live for. Otherwise, I'll be living in France by now. One thing I fear the most is that my children will grow up in the Nigeria of today.

Austin Inyang, Lagos, Nigeria

Nigeria cannot be split because if you look deeply its people have the some origin, beliefs and values. They may have different dialects, but they are really one people. So if that terrible thing would happen it can't be called a split, the right word would be an amputation.

Aboubaker Omar Hadi, Lagos, Nigeria

I'm Nigerian and very proud to be one. Despite what people say about the country, I still prefer it to any other country in Africa. That's because of its relative peace. Even when there's fight or misunderstanding - it sorts itself out immediately.

Sadiq Ahmed Bulkachuwa, Maiduguri, Nigeria

Well, the points is Nigeria has never be a country or a state, Nigeria to me is just a geographical expressions formed by the British to satisfy their motives. So we've not seen ourselves as one because one part have imposed themselves on us and what do we get in return? Looting of the treasury, unemployment, lack of electricity, abject poverty and so on even after the so-called democracy. We are simply fed up and at times we thought going our separates ways may be the solution to our numerous problems. As for the Independence - for me there its nothing to celebrate.

Adeyinka Ismail, Lagos, Nigeria

I am one of those exiles that have never celebrated Nigeria's independence. I was a child soldier that left the country soon after the civil war. It could still be a great place but the wicked leaders are suffocating the people. The leaders now live in gated homes and drive bullet proof cars. Until the population begins to make life unbearable for the leaders, nothing will change. They are gradually getting there. The chicken is coming home to roost.

Bioseh, Mount Airy, MD

I do not share the sentiment that Nigeria should be divided into several parts in other to make it easier to govern. It is not until when every village is turned into a state or municipal authority will Nigerians become patriotic.

Tolu Awobajo, France

I'm proud of my country. At the moment, Nigeria may have some challenges which is peculiar to the developing nations and which may not be up to what some of the present great nations went through but I believe it will wither. I think Nigeria will be greater when together than when split into various nations. Finally, I see light at the end of the tunnel and there is plenty to celebrate in this 50th anniversary of our independence. Long live united and prosperous Nigeria! God bless our country!

Ezeorah Emeka, Enugu, Nigeria

For me, the only thing worth celebrating is life. Nigeria as a country has failed its citizens. There is no point wasting money on celebrating something that doesn't come from the heart. We are still in slavery, more than half of the population of Nigeria is suffering. What do you want to celebrate when basic amenities are not there: life is hard, there are no jobs, nothing is working except corrupt leaders getting rich by the day. Celebration means joy and happiness. What then are we happy about when our friends and relatives die starvation every day. Crime has become the order of the day. Crime has become a normal way of life. There is nothing to celebrate. God help us all. God bless the citizens and punish the leaders.

Sadiq Aminu, Kano, Nigeria

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