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It was Theodore Roosevelt that said “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public”.
There is a growing mantra that those that speak on behalf of the government continually repeat in the hope that we will accept it unconsciously that interprets patriotism as the following
- Always speaking in support of every and any action of the government
- Always justifying every action and inaction of the current government even when it violates the constitution and the intent of setting up a government
- Not ask any questions of the conduct or the outcomes (or non-outcomes) of government actions when all logic points to clear discrepancies that require answers
By this definition, these ones label everyone who doesn’t conform to their brand as unpatriotic. They create a bubble around themselves, disconnecting from realities on ground in order to offer blind and unconditional support to the government. Their collective bubble surrounds the president and insulates him from the realities of the people he leads. Their collective perception of whoever asks questions or blindly praise the president as an enemy or one sponsored by the opposition is all the president hears and he therefore acts from this paradigm. We need to remind them what real patriotism is.
Let us take a practical and current example that causes pain in my heart whenever I think of it. Our military is currently fighting the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East. When one hears details of the engagements between the insurgents and our army, the magnitude of losses we sustain and several reports of interviews granted to the press by soldiers, the questions pop out even if you don’t want them to. In the brand of patriotism these patriots currently tout, everyone should ignore questioning why it is so easy for Boko Haram to overpower our soldiers severally or why they seem to outwit us over and over again. They say we should show our patriotism by simply lining up and vociferously supporting our soldiers to keep up the fight.
That is no patriotism and it is not saving the lives of our soldiers. True patriots will ask questions. They will pressure the government to investigate what is going on with the welfare of the soldiers, the various allegations about theft of money meant for army weaponry and operations flying around and the repeated incidences of Boko Haram overpowering our army in shootouts. By asking these questions, bringing them into the spotlight and forcing the government to act on them, if there are people culpable, they will be brought to book. If there are deficiencies in the weaponry and logistics, they will be handled. If there is a need to reassess the tactics and strategy, it will be done. This will ultimately save many soldiers’ lives and end in Boko Haram being defeated militarily. Blindly supporting the way the fight is being conducted will never achieve these kinds of results. It is not just the right of the citizen to ask the government questions when it is glaringly required, it is a responsibility.
And when citizens ask questions, the government should respond positively. When the #BringBackOurGirls campaign started, a smart government would have seized on it as a rallying cry to galvanize support from its citizens in an unprecedented way in the fight against Boko Haram. It would have ridden on the momentum to overcome many of the obstacles in its way before that time. But the Nigerian government would not do that. Rather, it assumed the stance of “them against us” and at first ignored the citizens, then had police disrupt the rallies and finally their agents tried to discredit hashtagging whilst ironically trying to promote a hashtag. They forget it is the people’s right to question the government when they perceive that it is being inept.
The people are angry with the government, not because of Boko Haram’s rampage. That evokes fear and there is a healthy dose of that in the nation now. But the anger is towards the government response rather than the occurrences. We are not so inattentive that we will forget where a government spokesman says on international TV that Nigeria has all it takes to bring down Boko Haram on its own, only for the president to accept international aid in the matter less than twenty four hours later. What we demand is a better, more decisive and result oriented response from our government.
So don’t get it twisted. We know what it means to be patriotic and it is not what you say it is.
Tunde Leye @tundeleye is a fiction writer. He believes that the stories written form a priceless resource that is the basis of society, all the other arts (film, music, theatre, visual arts) and hence he is committed to telling stories out of Africa that show it as it was, is, and is going to be.
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