Between (Ethnic) Nationalism and Patriotism


The compelling virtue of the Afenifere endorsement of the Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi and the countervailing tirade of the Anambra state governor, Charles Soludo, can be reduced to the theoretical distinction between patriotism and nationalism. Unlike nationalism, good citizenship or patriotism is not a function of racial/ethnic identity. It is a conscientious Yoruba and good Nigerian who concludes that it is the turn of the Igbo to be the beneficiary of the observance of power rotation to the South.

All cultures are ennobled by the application of the fundamental scriptural dictum ‘to love your neighbour as you love yourself’. As it is commonly known, this precept is originally a member of the ten commandments. For that matter, in the hierarchy of the decalogue, it shares primacy with the stipulation that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” And it doubles as the meaning of Afenifere-I wish you the goodness I wish for myself. It is also on all fours with the Yoruba cultural ethic of omoluabi (a well brought up).

Conformity with this etiquette requires us to take the position that within the context of the principle of power rotation, the rotation to the South this time around should be attributed to the South East zone. It bears restatement that of the three zones comprising the South namely the South West, South South and South East, it is the latter that has not had the privilege of providing the Nigerian President. It is a categorically simple and clear ethical position and a fulfilment of the logic of the prior power rotation between the North and South. And any contrary position fails to stand-to the extent of its incompatibility with the universally applicable principles of fairness, equity and justice.

One of my more remarkable moments with the late Dr Mahmud Tukur was the day I saw him in the company of his close friend Alhaji Maman Daura during the constitutional conference called by the late General Sani Abacha in 1994. Both Northern icons were delegates to the conference. As a student of Nigerian politics and coming from a different ethno national background, my association with Tukur was a standing political science seminar reminiscent of our political science student days at the university of Lagos. At the time of his transition a few years ago, he had become the leading political science pundit (of the conservative wing) of the northern political establishment. I had engaged with him in an endless debate on the political and constitutional direction of Nigeria and he massively indulged me.

In the course of a debate session I proposed that ‘a good Yoruba, ibibio, Tivi or fulani is necessarily a good Nigerian’ and the corollary that a bad Yoruba or Kanuri makes a bad Nigerian. In its most general elaboration, it is a reiteration of the universality of mankind in which vice and virtue are common cultural attributes of all societies. That vice or virtue is not the exclusive preserve of any society. There is no uniquely virtuous polity neither is their a singularly dysfunctional contrast. I was going to use the illustration of the Sultan of sokoto to make the point. I argued that whereas the previous Sultan Abubakar Siddique was a good sultan, he was also a good Nigerian authoritative figure in contrast to the then reigning Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki whom I deemed a bad Sultan hence a bad Nigerian leader. At which point Tukur bidded me to shut up. When the encounter reverted to just the two of us he educated me that his friend and companion, Maman Daura, was Dasuki’s son in law.

Consistent with the underlying bad faith of his entire tirade against Obi, Governor Soludo advocates that the rule of engagement with Nigerian politics for Ndigbo should be the prioritisation of the ideology of the politics of consumption over the sacrificial politics of development; of cynicism over hope; of nationalism over patriotism; of selfishness over altruism. The kind, according to him, that the Yoruba is purportedly playing in cahoots with Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He lamented
“When will Ndigbo understand and learn politics, especially of Nigeria? When Bola Ahmed Tinubu defied the political wind of the time and stood out as the “only man standing” in AD and later AC (before ACN) against a sitting president of Yoruba descent, no one accused him of being “anti-Yoruba”. Indeed, everyone recalls that both Tinubu and President Obasanjo disagreed politically, and probably still disagree—but none is being accused of being “anti- Yoruba”. Under Tinubu, the South West strategically organized under a different political party, the ACN and went into a formidable alliance that kicked out a sitting president (in Africa?), and that alliance is not broken yet”

Here Soludo took to playing the all knowing and wisecracking patriarch trying desperately to reorient a straying family entourage to the path of political salvation. It was typically a sham. Ndigbo had indeed pursued his prescriptions, the problem is that on those occasions they took the prescriptions, it often ended as a cure worse than the disease. When in 1960, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe shunned Chief obafemi Awolowo and sought comfort in the expansive embrace of the Northern Peoples Congress, NPC, whose prescription was he heeding? When Dr Alex Ekwueme joined the ticket of Shehu Shagari in opposition to that of Awolowo and Philip Umeadi in 1979 what kind of politics was he signifying?

When Ikemba Emeka Ojukwu came back from exile in 1979 and got lured into so called mainstream politics of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, to contest for the Senate, how did the romance end? Did all become rosy for Ndigbo thereafter?. And where did Soludo get this idea that the ‘Yoruba strategically organized themselves under Tinubu’? How does this assumption square with the reality of the failure to contrive an endorsement of Tinubu as the Yoruba candidate at Akure the other day. Not to talk of the demystifying defeat (by proxy) he suffered at the osun state governorship election (at a time he needed to validate his perception as the strong man of Yoruba politics). If indeed the Yoruba strategically organized themselves under Tinubu, then such strategy has left the Yoruba worse off-given the nightmarish experience of the past seven years.

Peer rivalry and competitiveness is the natural order of human societies, so there is nothing wrong in Soludo craving the soaring glory of his rival. But leadership is inclusive of the ability to manage frustrations and disappointment with grace not with Freudian incontinence. What I find particularly galling was the recourse to the mercenary misappropriation of Nigeria’s political experience especially the analogy of rival regional contenders and serve it (a la carte) as a model political behaviour deserving of emulation. Invariably, such recommended behaviour panders to the degenerate power politics status quo and sees political virtue in following the multitude to do evil, to join them if you cannot beat them.

Before the villainy of plunging the killer dagger into the heart of his mentor, Brutus bequeathed to the world a memorable quote “there is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune”. In its magnitude and velocity I doubt if many of us saw this contemporary tide coming. The only contribution Obi has made has been the ability to seize the moment. Others like the former governor of cross river state, Donald Duke lent the metaphysical perspective that ‘the stars have perfectly aligned for Peter’. To recap

You can be a Yoruba nationalist without being a good man but you cannot be a good Yoruba if you are not a good man. In their savage genocidal cruelty, the former Serbia warlords Slobodan Milosevic and Ratco Mladic were exemplars of Serbian nationalism and so was their German nationalist counterpart, Adolf Hitler. In this electoral cycle you would have heard some of the presidential candidates making the good-to the -ear illustration that we all equally suffer from nature’s vicissitudes and commonly enjoy the dubious regime of oil subsidy. That the fulani do not buy food cheaper in the market than the ibibio. That the adversity of the power outage dysfunction is commonly visited on Nigerians regardless of whether you are Tiv or ikwere. And before Mr Peter Obi is adjudged a potentially good Nigerian president he must have been a good governor of Anambra state and good Igbo.

On the polemical juxtaposition of nationalism and patriotism, President Emmanuel Macron of France has been my unlikely teacher. It was from him that I learnt there is a nuanced contraposition between patriotism and nationalism, that the former is good while the latter is bad. That nationalism belongs in the same category as tribalism. You might have noted that with the advent of Donald Trump and the American first nationalism mantra, American politics was trending towards racism. Tribalism, nationalism, racism, xenophonia, intolerance, isolationism, expansionist military crusades, enacting anti-immigrant policies and extreme right radicalism are all members of the same family. From the little beginnings of the muster seed of nationalism sprouts the monstrous oak of fascism. Take a bow Donald Trump, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Putin, Marie Le Pen ad nauseum

Extrapolating from the resurgence of ultranational chauvinism in contemporary Europe and elsewhere, Macron shared the insight that patriotism is ‘the exact opposite of nationalism: nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism’. He agonised that the old demons of nationalism are resurfacing, ready to finish off their work of chaos and death. That history often threatens to retake its tragic course and threaten our heritage of peace that we believed we had definitively settled with our ancestors’ blood.” It is important not to confuse nationalism with patriotism. Whereas the encyclopedia defines patriotism is a healthy pride in your country (or your ethnic identity) which brings about feelings of loyalty and a desire to help other citizens. Nationalism (or tribalism) is the belief that your country or nation is superior, without question or doubt. The difference between patriotism and nationalism is simple – a patriot loves his country and is proud of it for what it does whereas a nationalist loves his country and is proud of his country NO MATTER WHAT IT DOES.

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