The Patriot and the Nationalist in an Emergent Democracy

The Patriot and the Nationalist in an Emergent Democracy

Saturday, August 12, 2017 1:54 pm

Professor Ade Ajayi

By Dele Layiwola

I Preamble: Definitions and Tendencies

Most dictionaries of the 20th and 21st centuries admit that a patriot is one who loves his/her country and would seek to serve her at every cost. But one or two dictionaries, for example 20th Century Chambers, equally admit that in exhibiting this virtue, one might seek to serve one’s fatherland ‘injudiciously’! This portends a great fact – that in the spirit of altruism, there is often a caveat. It is possible to exhibit indiscretion and the lack of sound judgment. The mode or method of exhibiting patriotism is not foolproof, neither is the concept itself. It is not a fact once and for all given. It is therefore no wonder that the concept, in not being free from errors, might be hijacked and abused. This is the wisdom in the Johnsonian expression: ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel!’ This supposes that it is the very first resort of the truly patriotic but the very last alsoof the exceptional scoundrel. But there are gaps; the literary and social critic must beware. The lexicon, the concepts and the methodology are blessed with exclusive landmines and conundrums. Both the patriot and the nationalist are devoted to their fatherland and serve her with exemplary passion. Can one say that these two phenomena are same or are they just similar and share a similar undertaking? Can an individual wear the same cap? In simple practical or empirical terms, could one be a patriot at the same time that one is a nationalist? These questions are legitimate especially as nationalism is the advocacy for the unity or independence of one’s country. The concept also shows that one could choose to be a member of a political party. We will need an exposition of these concepts.

The eminent historian, J.F. Ade Ajayi,in regard to the nature of nationalism in Nigeria, attempts a distinction thus:
I tried to make a distinction between protest movements of patriots seeking to protect the traditional polities against colonial invaders, and the nationalist movement seeking a new order, a new nation able to compete on an equal basis with the nations of Europe; and that while the nationalists later drew inspiration from the heroic efforts of the patriots who fought to preserve their self-government and self-esteem during the anti-colonial struggles, the roots of nationalism went back to the nineteenth century, to the work of the missionaries in producing an educated elite even before the colonial conquest; that this educated elite looked to European nationalism for their inspiration and were initially willing to collaborate with the colonial conquerors in the mistaken belief that colonial rule would facilitate the birth of the new nation. The argument that Kosoko and Jaja of Opobo were patriots but not nationalists while Bishop Crowther and James Johnson, in spite of their collaboration with missionaries and colonial rulers, were nationalists, provoked much controversy (1990: 13).

From the long quotation I have just cited, the controversy of what the preoccupation of what both social and cultural concepts stand for will be contentious for a long while. From Ajayi’s illustration, we could further ask whether both classes, in the effort to achieve their goals, work at cross purposes within the same polity. One could even hazard further intellectual possibilities on whether these nomenclatures anticipated the future of postcolonial nation states when the terms were coined in the lexicon of the imperial language of the colonial conquerors. After all, the act of linguistic naming is as arbitrary as the colonial adventure itself. Ajayi’s attempts, in explicating the definitions of these cultural terms, further brought out the very fundamental historical difference between European and African nationalism. It is true that African nationalists were inspired by 19th century European nationalists but whilst the latter sought to settle people of related languages and cultures into respective nation states, the former were battling to coerce persons of different languages and diverse traditions and cultures within one nation state (Ajayi, 1990:14; Wallerstein, 1960).

In this regard, our history and culture, instead of serving as bulwarks of strength, have provided the platforms for battles, disagreements and endless disputation.Ajayi’s contention is that the elite have been in charge of nationalism and the nationalist movements in Africa. They had looked up to the elite in European nationalist movements who depended on their history and culture in mobilizing the citizenry. But because our history and culture will highlight the local peculiarities and group identities of the ethnic groups, this was bound to serve ethnic rather than national ends. African and Nigerian nationalists thereby fell into an intractable dilemma. I must be quick to say that religion has subsequently joined ethnicity in complicating the national and the nationalist question.

For our national elite, therefore, there further arose the additional factor of safeguarding their African identity in the context of a new nation based on cosmopolitan European values on which our social, political, legal and cultural institutions are now being fashioned. This was the major concern of the Negritude movement and the concern of such literary works as CamaraLaye’s The African Child(1953), The Radiance of the King (1954), Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958), Wole Soyinka’s Dance of the Forests (1960), The Lion and the Jewel (1963);Cheikh Hamidou Kane’s Ambiguous Adventure (1963) and a host of others. I must also note that the landmark effusions of these contemplative literary works have in turn generated their philosophical counterparts in the works of Alexis Kagame’sLa Philosophie bantu-rwandaise de l’etre (1956, 1976),Cheikh Anta Diop’sThe Cultural Unity of Black Africa (1959),Paulin Hountondji’s Sur la “philosophie africaine.”: critique de l’ethno philosophie later translated as African Philosophy: Myth and Reality (1976, 1996), Kwame Gyekye’sAn Essay on African Philosophical Thought: The Akan Conceptual Scheme (1987),African Cultural Values: An Introduction(1996).

Sometimes the philosophical texts are critical repartees and bristling exchanges across epistemological and ideological frontiers but they helped to establish the kind of healthy intellectual dialogues necessary for the development of a postcolonial academy and its attendant theory of knowledge production. Taken together, they constitute a tradition and a corpus which have helped to understand the depth and the crises of consciousness that had plagued the African elite in colonialism and its aftermath. It is in fact now clearer that the real crisis was not the loss of geographical territories and human dignity alone but is compounded by the loss of authentic tongues, voices and critical consciousness. In particular, that consciousness of self-worth, self-apprehension and self-esteem in our private and public lives.

In essence, we have suffered the attenuation of a collective identity, the loss of a moral public order complete with the collaterals of philosophical and material heritage. For this failure to be remedied we must rise up to our intellectual responsibility in the re-engineering of the knowledge and education industry and its rearguard intellectual arsenal as enshrined in our institutions,academies and research apparatus. This, hopefully, will in no distant future re-establish the intellectual and ethical foundations of our society prior to the arrival of slavery and colonialism.

It is true that the identity crisis that the nationalist elite have suffered continues to percolate the entire gamut of society; a few might have resolved that crisis in their personal lives. In resolving the conflict between our indigenous values and the foreign values that modernity has foisted on us, we must take confident, definitive and bold steps.This will involve four things:

i. There must be a process of genuine mental decolonization which will defrost the inferiority complex deeply ingrained in our psyche.
ii. There must be a transformational process of cultural education and re-orientation so that the teaching of our indigenous languages, traditional African medicine (TAM), our flora, fauna and ecosphere take pre-eminence in our value and material formations.
iii. We must imbibe a Pan-Africanist orientation which believes in the integral transformation of our public and institutional moral order.
iv. We must now passionately invest in our formal and informal educational and research institutions.

Without these four parameters in place, no nation on earth could expect to take any significant developmental strides, no matter her demographic or geographical value. Whatever resources or endowments she has will be appropriated by a foreign other. This is a key determinant to the crisis of cultural identity that continues to plague us.

It is worth noting that the different crises of nationalism and the nation state in our country Nigeria (and in much of Africa) always emerge as conflicts, disputations and fratricidal wars, sometimes over material resource. These are palpable and empirical and continue to enjoy broad media glissandi but in actual fact, they are virulent symptoms of profound elite decadence and identity deficiency. A different version of the kind of ferment that led to our first and only civil war had a recent resurgence in our national life and rather fragile democracy. These are elite gladiators giving mutual ultimatums and threatening to dismember the nation over our heads. One side claimed ownership of Nigeria’s entire landscape and the other claimed ownership of the entire resources under the same landscape.They are at daggers drawn. Each had set the date ofour national independence from colonial rule for the dismemberment of the same land and seascape. So where are the rest of us to go: the sea or the desert? These are identity peddlers; irredentists of the postcolonial state, victims of severe national identity crisis. This is how David Laitin represents this embattled group:

Usually, people’s identities change with the level of aggregation: within their community, they may identify themselves on the basis of socio-economic backgrounds; within their country, outside of their community, they may identify themselves with a brand of politics; and outside of their country, they may identify themselves with their nation. All societies – perhaps especially today – have cultural entrepreneurs who offer new identity categories (racial, sexual and regional), hoping to find “buyers”. If their product sells, these entrepreneurs become leaders of newly formed ethnic, cultural, religious, or other forms of identity groups (Laitin, 1998: 23).

David Laitin’s commodification of the intangible here smacks of a conceptual parable from an 1892 play of W.B. Yeats, The Countess Cathleen where people’s souls are canvassed to buyers for pecuniary gains in the prevailing condition of famine and threat to human survival. It is clear from the definitions of Samuel Johnson, Jacob Ade-Ajayi, David Laitinas well as the 20th Century Chambers Dictionary that a patriot or a nationalist could serve his/her fatherland injudiciously and therefore lapse into recidivism, seeking merely to reclaim territories and fight battles beyond legitimate boundaries. Unless the postcolonial identity crisis is resolved, there is bound to be a recurrence of the throwback atavism of elites caught between the ideals of patriotism and the injudicious or ideological use of nationalism within their nation states. In a very controversial experimental novel, Ali Mazrui had attempted to put Christopher Okigbo on trial for sacrificing the role of an artist and poet for that of a soldier and combatant on the Biafran war front. This is how Ali Mazrui presents his charges:

In the novel, I put Okigbo, a Nigerian poet, on trial on two charges. The first charge was the more obvious political one – that he had subordinated the ideal of Nigeria to the vision of Biafra. The second charge was that Okigbo had decided that he was an Ibo (sic.) first and an artist second (1971: xiv).

Christopher Okigbo

Ali Mazrui believed that Okigbo had betrayed his art for his social vision or his patriotism. He rightly conceives of the artist and humanist as truly larger than life. Is it right to put aside the calling of the poet and patriot and carry the gun for a cause in which one passionately believes? Can the principles of patriotism be sacrificed on the altar of nationalism? Was Christopher Okigbo justified to go to war when his warning of an impending war failed? If Okigbo had survived the war, the debate might have taken a different dimension since he might then be here to answer the charges by himself. I doubt that any of us is qualified to be his advocate since we have no further access to what his thinking on the matter was. As it turns out, however, ‘the death of Okigbo was a fusion of the personal and the social, the private and the public, the poetic and the political’ (1971: x; Cf. Soyinka, 2005; Osofisan, 2011: 207). The resolution of this controversy has remained a moot point to date.I don’t think that Ali Mazrui himself thought that the strength of his argumentation can settle the matter, as I shall presently indicate.

One other dimension is worth exploring, and that is by returning to Samuel Johnson (1709 – 84), the English poet, essayist, Moralist and Lexicographer. In his essay, “The Patriot”, which he addressed to the electors of Great Britain in 1774, gave a dictionary definition of the term among other expositions:

A patriot is he whose public conduct is regulated by one single motive, the love of his country; who, as an agent in parliament, has for himself, neither hope nor fear, neither kindness nor resentment, but refers everything to the common interest.

Samuel Johnson presented all kinds of scenarios illustrating that in the event of war and rivalry between Britain and France, a patriot must show objectivity irrespective of the side to which he/she belongs. He upholds patriotism to be a great and inviolable virtue of the highest kind but he grants a caveat that helps to infer that even this quality is subject to ideological variance and foibles. He succinctly observes that “A patriot is necessarily and invariably a lover of the people. But even this mark may sometimes deceive us.” He then proceeds in a bathetic tone:

No man can reasonably be thought a lover of his country, for roasting an ox, or burning a boot, or attending the meeting at Mile-end, or registering his name in the lumber troop. He may, among the drunkards, be a hearty fellow, and among sober handicrafts men, a free spoken gentleman; but he must have some better distinction before he is a patriot.

In the present observation, he abolishes the role of any rabble rouser or rancorous trade unionist from the list of patriots. He upholds a patriot as the purveyor of a high moral order and integrity as he shows in the following lines:

If the candidate of patriotism endeavours to infuse right opinions into the higher ranks, and by their influence, to regulate the lower; if he consorts chiefly with the wise, the temperate, the regular, and the virtuous, his love of the people may be rational and honest. But if his first or principal application be to the indigent, who are always inflammable; to the weak who are naturally suspicious; to the ignorant who are easily misled; and to the profligate who have no hope but from mischief and confusion; let his love of the people be no longer boasted.

It is clear that Johnson considers patriotism an elitist value and an index of class differentiation. This partly explains why a large chunk of western political philosophy is a derivative of the gentry. There is no doubt that Johnson intends to impact every stratum of society including the conduct and ethics of parliament as well as the judiciary.One final quote will seal this evidence and take us to other considerations:

A true patriot is no lavish promiser: he undertakes not to shorten parliaments; to repeal laws; or to change the mode of representation, transmitted by our ancestors; he knows that futurity is not in his power and that all times are not alike favourable to change….

Thus the nation was insulted with a mock election, and the parliament was filled with spurious representatives; one of the most important claims, that of right to seat in the supreme council of the kingdom, was debated in jest, and no man could be confident of success from the justice of his cause.

Samuel Johnson demonstrates a true grasp of history, literary incisiveness and a significant conservative bent in politics similar to that of the Classical philosopher, Plato, excepting that he did not ban poets and dreamers from his own ideal republic. The critical crosscurrent in Johnsonian modes and methods willy-nilly establishes Ade Ajayi’s subtle point that patriots often seek to protect traditional polities, and for that reason would tend to be conservative but that nationalists tend to seek a new order and a new nation.However, Johnson’s cross-referencing with British martial and political rivals, America and France,shows that the two concepts often intersect and are sometimes interchangeable.

Lord Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970), that exceptional British philosopher, has further crystallized our intellectual understanding of these mercurial concepts in his encyclopedic documentation and analysis of western philosophy and culture (1946, 1984). Russell’s monumental work on western philosophy spans three major epochs in seventy-six movements in the works of over forty thinkers. The work is a humanistic masterpiece not only because it creates a broad historical tapestry but also because, through philosophy and science, he imparts an internal logic to them and makes the basis of comparative study invaluable. It seems to me that the present subject of study on patriotism and nationalism throws light on the ideals of social cohesion and the duty of the individual in a community or its nation state. Among the Greeks, it would be within the city state. Social cohesion, as established in monarchies, tend to establish strong kingdoms and nations but there has to be a balance in the liberty that the individual enjoys such that initiative and difference is not completely stifled. Extreme individualism creates disunity and allows for external influences and contest. This is an underlying, though subtle phenomenon, in the definitions that Ade Ajayi gave for the respective concepts of patriotism and nationalism.

The patriot continues to seek the preservation of a national and collective heritage whilst the nationalist creates an elitism of some sort in which he projects an overriding sectionalist interest. This tension as we see from very early in the history of state formation had always been a factor of human history, so our country is not, by any means, an exception. It has in fact generated a civil war and might have put an end to the colonialist invention called Nigeria. The observation is patent that the lack of strong principles and institutions undergirded by the unexceptional rule of law is still a major artistic flaw in our method of state creation. For this reason, our elites and nationalists are often half-baked and intellectually unfledged. Some of them are empty moneybags seeking fulfillment in gaudy materialist pursuits without thinking their motives through. In essence, we need more thinkers and more philosophers. Bertrand Russell has beautifully expressed that:

Social cohesion is a necessity, and mankind has never yet succeeded in enforcing cohesion by merely rational arguments. Every community isexposed to two opposite dangers; ossification through too much discipline and reverence for tradition, on the one hand; on the other hand, dissolution or subjection to foreign conquest, through the growth of an individualism and personal independence that makes cooperation impossible (1984: 22).


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