Last week, the President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, making his first public appearance after returning from a two-week private visit to France, challenged Nigerians to speak positive things about the country. Tinubu said that optimism about the country will eventually lead to success.
The President said this in his speech during the launch of the 3,112 housing units under the Renewed Hope Cites initiative in the Federal Capital Territory, last Thursday.
He urged Nigerians not to look back but forward because they have a country that truly cares about them. He also pledged his willingness to commit to the country’s economic prosperity and development.
“Here again, let’s talk to Nigerians. Let’s talk to ourselves and say everything positive about our country. Don’t think of your country negatively. Before I left home this morning, I asked for the national pledge of our country. And we have to relaunch it and ensure we are committed to the value, the greatness, the hope of our country.
“It is our country. You pledge to Nigeria, your country, my country to be faithful, loyal, and honest. To serve Nigeria with all your strength.
“We didn’t say it will be smooth all the way through. But we are confident that this country will excel in all ramifications. We will defend our unity and uphold our honor and glory in every way possible. Because we are Nigerians and we have no other country.”
What the President is asking is a simple call to patriotism. Make no mistake about it; this should be a given. It should not be subject to debate or contestation. We do not have any country to call our own but Nigeria and so everything necessary must be done to project the best of Nigeria and be proud of our heritage. But that is not where it should end. This is a two-way street. In reality, there must be some necessary ingredients or factors that should inspire and fire that spirit of patriotism in the people.
For me, patriotism is a two-way street. At present, there is hardly anything to inspire that zeal in Nigerians. The president cannot expect citizens to speak well of the country if the nation and its leaders do not love and treat the people fairly. This may be crude, but it remains the vital missing link to connect the people with their country.
Your country must be there to share in your burden. Your country must provide basic amenities for you. Your country must help alleviate the pain you go through. A country where only the rulers are provided for cannot expect patriotism from a man watching his child die of hunger or because he cannot afford medical treatment. It would be asking for too much from him.
A country where laws are made only for the poor while the privileged get away with murder cannot expect loyalty to the country. This, more than anything else, explains why our leaders speak to us about loving our country, yet it appears as though they are not achieving any positive result.
Today, Nigerians are going through a very harsh economic experience. The cost of living is simply galloping at a pace that has left millions of Nigerians in despair, hardship, and completely despondent. President after president has questioned the commitment of the people to the success of Project Nigeria. But what they have simply failed to realise is that it will amount to an exercise in futility to preach patriotism to a hungry man, especially when it is observed by the masses that their leaders are living on the fast lane of profligacy.
The odds against the common man are such that what they see our leaders do certainly cannot inspire any patriotic zeal in them. As it is now, Nigeria seems prepared only to cater to the needs of the political class while the rest of the people are left to their fate.
Same last week, some youth and women took to the streets of Minna, the capital of Niger State, protesting over what they called the biting hardship and the rising cost of living in the country.
The protest started when a group of women, led by Aisha Jibrin, blocked Minna-Bida Road at the popular Kpakungu Roundabout to lament what they termed the suffering under the Bola Tinubu government.
A protest like this can only come when the people feel that their cries and agony over the years have been simply ignored. Going to the streets certainly was the last resort for these people to be heard. Go to this gathering and preach patriotism and you would be lucky if you get out of there in one piece.
Except for those living on a different planet, nobody should be surprised by the resort of these women and youth to protest. The reality is that Nigerians are experiencing pain and all they need now is assurance by the government to address their plight. All they need now are quick measures to begin to assuage their sufferings.
Sadly, rather than showing understanding and addressing these people of the government’s plan to mitigate their sufferings, the state government and the police chose the usual option of arresting and intimidating the protesters. As usual, they claimed they recovered dangerous weapons from them. They also claimed they rejected all appeals not to be violent. A big lie.
If you know the police you will not be surprised by this approach. It is a knee-jerk approach. For whatever reasons best known to them, or maybe in keeping with its own rules of engagement, the police instead chose to go after the organisers of the protest. They arrested and molested them. The decision by the police to employ brute force to address what is clearly a case of existential threat by the people cannot work. What do you expect from people who are hungry and have been prevented from accessing their farms owing to the activities of gunmen?
The Niger State Police Command had announced the arrest of a 30-year-old woman, Aisha Jibrin, who led the women and youths in the mass protest over the high cost of living in Minna.
A statement by Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Abiodun Wasiu, said on February 5, 2024, at about 7 a.m., a large number of women and miscreants mobilised and blocked the Minna-Bida Road and Kpakungu Roundabout, claiming to be protesting against the increase in food prices, causing a major obstruction on the highway and denying motorists, travellers, and other road users access.
It said the command immediately drafted police patrol teams led by the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Operations, DCP Shehu Didango, to the scene.
It claimed that after much persuasion, the protesters deliberately refused to clear the road for public use. Even when Deputy Governor Yakubu Garba availed himself at the scene and addressed the group, they turned deaf ears and chose to be violent.
According to the statement: “The police adopted minimum force to disperse the protesters who turned violent by attacking with weapons such as stones, bottles, sticks, and cutlasses, and damaged police patrol vehicles and parts of the Kpakungu Division’s roof.
“In the course of this, the police arrested the initiator of the protest, one Aisha Jibrin, 30, Fatima Aliyu, 57, Fatima Isyaku, 43, all of Soje A of Kpakungu area of Minna, and 22 other miscreants with the following weapons: a bench and a stick used as a barricade, three knives, scissors, one cutlass, saw blade, iron pipe, four other sticks, two wraps of Indian hemp, and charms.”
The police, however, later released the arrested protesters. Now that the police have allowed good reasoning to prevail, they ought to know that the only solution for a hungry man is the provision of food. Anything else will be a waste of time. You can arrest and detain as many people as possible, which will not address their problem. The only winning formula any day is food. Save your brute force for those bandits who have chased them from their farms. Address the skyrocketing cost of living and you would have assuaged their angst.
Provide primary health care facilities for them and their families. Build the roads between their farms and the market. Provide free and compulsory education for their children; keep them safe from bandits and their cousins; kidnappers, insurgents, etc, Create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive and for job creation. Check the obscene and open profligacy of the ruling class amid excruciating poverty across the land. Address the ever-increasing housing deficit; give open and equal opportunities for all irrespective of creed and tribe. Only then can the call to patriotism begin to make the desired impact.
For sure this is not entirely President Tinubu’s problem but he must be seen to be making efforts in this regard. If he falls short of these expectations he would have succeeded in elongating the list of failed Nigerian leaders.