This is my BusinessDay column of today. Cross-posted here.
Sometime ago, in a forum of Nigerians, someone said that he did not know whether to be proud to be a Nigerian. The response:
“How dare you say you might not be proud of Nigeria? That is the kind of thing that makes other countries dump on us! When they hear that someone like you [a very well educated young many] is saying something like that how do you want them to feel about your country? Nigeria is a land flowing with milk and honey [and a country of people who love biblical references], and every Nigerian should be proud of his or her country!”
The young man realised that he had got more than he bargained for. He smiled tiredly and said, ‘See, what I meant was that I can only be proud of what I have achieved or attained. I was born a Nigerian, so why should I be proud of being one?’
True, our young man has quite some things to be proud of – in the manner of the things he says one should be proud of. Masters degree from an American Ivy League university, where he studied with a scholarship not awarded by the Nigerian government. Maybe if the government had paid for the education he would have had a reason to be proud of being a Nigeria.
The people in the audience broke out into small discussions after our young man said that. The discussions were about whether achievements should be what a person is proud of, or whether there were some other things that one could be proud of beside achievements. The discussion went silent after about a minute – you know that kind of silence that we attribute to the fact that an angel of God ‘just’ went through the room?
A voice rang out from the middle of the room, ‘We Africans should be proud of our countries. In fact, we should be unconditionally proud of our countries’. One of those rare occasions when statements and declarations do not need to be substantiated.
A few heads nodded. Those that did not nod kept quiet. This was not the forum for contrarianism. Before anybody could brave it and start a discussion on the dictionary meaning of pride, the moderator moved in and changed the topic.
As this ran through my mind, I was reminded of a BBC Hardtalk interview with Mr Dimeji Bankole, the speaker of the House of Representatives. When the interviewer, Mr Steven Sackur, described him as the speaker of the lower chamber, the speaker, his pride obviously wounded, retorted, ‘I am the speaker of the House of Representative. We don’t like to be called lower’.
Let me try and analyse this based on the discussion in that forum of Nigerians. Like the young man who did not find any reason to be proud of Nigeria, Mr Bankole has really good education – you should have watched the interview to hear him speaking Oxbridge English. Plus he is the speaker of the Nigerian House of Representative, how could anyone not be proud of that kind of achievement? I suppose those are things he and our young man would agree that one should be proud of.
Although, unlike our young man, he would be proud of being a Nigerian, a citizen of the land flowing with milk and honey. He might even subscribe to the idea that one has to be proud of Nigeria simply because.
But then, pride sometimes results in laughable moments, even if they are laughable simply because they are ludicrous. This last week, Mr Umaru Yar’Adua was to present the budget of the country to the National Assembly, with members of both houses of legislature gathered in the House of Representatives. The senators disagreed. The budget should be presented in the Senate, they said. Maybe some senators watched the Hardtalk interview and realised that this would mean that Mr Bankole was right, and that the House of Representatives was indeed not the lower chamber?
In any case, the budget was not presented to the National Assembly. Because pride was bruised and the two houses could not agree on where to sit and watch the president present a budget. Hmm… what kind of pride would that be? Maybe a close relative of the kind that the ancient Greeks described as hubris?