Not so, Mr. President, Nigeria Must First Love Her Citizens

By Banji Ojewale

The security and welfare of the people (of Nigeria) shall be the primary purpose of government — The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

IN 1976, the military regime of Olusegun Obasanjo sought to stir the patriotic instincts of our young citizens by decreeing the National Pledge into our lives. It must be recited in all Nigerian schools, the junta said.

The general’s martial mind given to governing by fiat and force led him through only one route to patriotism: a mental enslavement of the boys and girls through feeding on the pledge would lead, willy-nilly, to their loyalty to the state and its agents and agencies.

If they voiced it out many times over the years, their impressionable minds would give way to deeds of loyalty and love for the land, even if they were under an oppressive, objectionable and off-putting government.

I challenged that position in an article I published in the Daily Times of October 1 1976. My argument was that the government wasn’t entitled to demand honour from a citizen it didn’t honour. In a society of representative order, a contract was at work whose intrinsic iron-cast rules must be obeyed by both parties, I said.

I took a great deal of my submissions from the classical works of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, three faces of petty-bourgeois philosophy and Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel, the duo who finally deepened the essence of statehood and society as a treaty in which rulers exist at the pleasure of the ruled and not the other way.

The state derives its authority and legitimacy from fulfilling an inviolable ‘oath’: to seek, above all other pursuits, the ‘’security and welfare’’ of its citizens. The state doesn’t first ask the people to be loyal to it.

The country, through its loving, caring and welfarist drive, would set the pace; then would follow, automatically, a citizenry ready, not only to abide by the good laws of the land, but also to be prepared to lay down their lives in defence of their leaders and the country.

Leaders and agents of government, selfless ones, must first love the people, for the latter to desire to appreciatively love the former. It’s very much like the Scriptural insight: “We love him (God), because he first loved us.’’ It’s a binding deal between two consenting associates. Each coadjutor must throw something into the relationship.

The state must not be a preying, praetorian parasite; none of the parties must be a spectator and lord of the manor either.

But in the Nigerian union, we’ve had a false, flawed and frosted pledge since 1976: 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.  What’s the pledge asking the country to do here? Where is the place of the state in this pledge?

What’s its input?

What’s the state offering to deserve these sacrifices from the people? It’s not giving free education and free health to all at all levels. There’s no employment for most of our people. Nor is the state giving the citizens such other basic needs as all-round security, protection for the vulnerable and guarantees to allay our anxieties about the future, immediate or long-term.

These were concerns that crossed my mind following President Bola Tinubu’s charge to Nigerians as they marked the close of 2024 Ramadan. He pleaded with his compatriots to show more love to their country than they do to others. Tinubu was reported to have ‘’emphasised the need for Nigerians to prioritize the exhibition of love for their country.’’

The president said: ‘’ The resilience and sacrifice that we have shown during these months should be preserved. Be a kind and cheerful giver. We must love our country more than any other country, because that is the only one we have. We must continue to protect the integrity of our government and leadership.’’

Our president didn’t fail in the task of exploiting the occasion to call us to loyalty and nationalism.

All those in political authority do so. They seek the abiding partnership and cooperation of the people, both those who voted for them or against them. Once in power after the ballot, the government, whether a coalition or a winner-takes-all one, becomes the father-figure of all.

Partisan specks and identities recede and give way for utilitarianism to take charge. They don’t go the path of Muhammadu Buhari, Tinubu’s predecessor, who raised parochialism to scary levels with a strange sharing formula of the ‘spoils of office’. 97% would go to those who electorally swept him into power, with 5% left for those who didn’t.

But while our leaders can’t be questioned for urging the people to love the fatherland, we’re also legitimately compelled to draw their attention to what comes first in the inexorable dynamics of statehood.

We must remind them that they and the people are bonded to a contract undergirded by the Constitution they swore to honour. The document telegraphically states what must be prioritized: the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.

We overthrow the Constitution when we ask a people denied their constitutionally guaranteed rights to release their love and loyalty to the state. We can see the result of these deprivations everywhere.

Millions of Nigeria’s school-age children are roaming the streets, raising shadow families and feeding the palates of crime godfathers. We have tens of millions of our citizens sliding into extreme poverty, a point where presidential homilies and clerical sermons would amount to gibberish.

The atmosphere is further fouled and charged with tension when those calling for patriotism and sacrifice are not promoting ascetic lifestyles required of true leadership. Nigerians don’t see servant-leaders. They see government and its principals and their cronies getting richer than the people they are expected to serve selflessly.

They hear of removal of fuel subsidy and the promise of gargantuan savings dropping into government coffers meant to lead to the upgrade of the living standards of the citizens. Instead, there’s more hardship, worsened by a regime of death-carrying palliatives.

This isn’t ideal government and governance because as John Ruskin, English art critic and writer of the 19th Century said, ‘’ The first duty of government is to see that people have food, fuel and clothes. The second, that they have means of moral and intellectual education.’’

These are the needs to be provided Nigerians ahead of asking us to give our love and loyalty. To be sure, love isn’t unconditional in relationships. When the governed are cherished by their governor, leaders wouldn’t labour over long speeches and motivational talk and radio-TV jingles to persuade us to sacrifice for the land in moments of national crisis.

Banji Ojewale is a writer and journalist in Ota, Ogun State, Nigeria.

Opinions expressed by individual columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of policies of the website’s management.

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