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State responsibility as basis for patriotism

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The other day, I was a guest analyst on one of Nigeria’s leading television stations, where I was very delighted to speak about the Politics of 2023 and youth activism, as we count down to what is most likely going to be the most consequential election in our recent history.

Let me quickly add that in my roughly six years of policy analysis and social commentary across major platforms in Nigeria and beyond, including the one with BBC world service, that outing should rank as one of the most insightful. The news anchors were brilliant, their questions cut across the role of young people, my latest advocacy for Nigeria’s vision and how young people can galvanise the numbers to influence election outcomes.

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I recall that the first question I was asked, which must have triggered this intervention is what young people are presently to decide the outcome of the next general election? Although very thoughtful, I thought to myself that the focus now should be more about what the country is doing for young people and maybe not what young people are doing for the country. And what I meant is quite simple: For too long, as young people, we have had to endure long years of people telling us that we are not doing enough, while some even choose to blame us outrightly for the country’s failings.

For a long time, I used to carry that sense of guilt too, that perhaps we have not done enough as a demography, But God bless the day I got the clarity that young people have never been the problem anyway; the problem has always been first, about a country that has failed to provide them with very little yet demand utmost patriotism. That would be disproportionate.

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It is the reason that a set of people I now take very serious exception to are those who say something along the line, “don’t think about what Nigeria can do for you, instead think about what you can do for Nigeria.” I have come to see those people as not only disingenuous but also very dishonest. How do you ask us not to think of what the country can do for us, the country owe its people particularly young people everything, if you are a young person and you are reading this, never allow anyone get past you with that twist, it is a statement that is used to reinforce oppression and even divert from the real issue, which is that government has a major role to play in the outcome of our lives.

When people accuse young people of the lack of patriotism, I tell them that is a very uncharitable thing to say, Patriotism has never been a given anywhere in the world. Patriotism has always been first about the commitment of the government to provide and protect its people. These are very fundamental, I read somewhere the other day that between December 2020 and May 2021, over 600 school children have been abducted, some released after negotiation and payment of ransom, while some we were killed (may God rest their soul and comfort all those who mourn). At least I remember the case of the Greenfield 5, who were recently killed by their assailants, they are young people in their best years, that the country failed to protect. The other day in Akwa Ibom, a job seeker and a very promising young lady, Iniubong Umoren, was murdered in cold blood. Most of us, including myself, are yet to recover from the shock of that classic inhumanity.

How can you demand patriotism, when there are 23 million unemployed young people, and underemployment is also rising? How can you demand patriotism when there are at least 13 million out of school children? How can you talk about patriotism, when purchasing power is low, inflation is rising, and cost of food items has also quadrupled? How can anyone demand patriotism from young people when our lives are endangered and we have become the prey of kidnappers, bandits, hoodlums and even terrorists!

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I will say this again, state responsibility has and will always be the basis for patriotism. It is true that I am one of the biggest proponents for a united Nigeria, I recall saying on TV that day, that the people who propose secession have perhaps lost their mind, because think about it, we are all already too invested in Nigeria to think of ourselves outside it, I personally can’t. I want to remain a Nigerian, but Nigeria must do better!

I am glad that my coming book which has also explored some of these vital arguments and will be followed by an intergenerational dialogue to strengthen mutual understanding between the old and young, particularly the political leaders and young people. What we need currently, is an intergenerational cooperation; we must all come together across all ages, to identify a common way forward.

There is no doubt about what we can do as young people, but everyone must understand that patriotism is not a given, it is earned. Earned, because it is first the result of the firm commitment of the state to prioritise its people and make them the primary purpose of government.

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