Small Word, Big Meaning

Word: Patriot
Meaning: A person who loves and zealously supports and defends their country.

On that hot afternoon in my second year at the university, my body seemed present in my Chinese history class, but my mind was going numb from the heat. All one hundred and fifty eight students, jammed into that tiny space with three glass windows on one side, one of which couldn’t be opened. Latecomers stood by the window for the duration of the class, blocking off what little air infiltrated the room. Notebooks had been converted to active handfans, but the motion only increased the temperature in the room. I looked at my Chinese History

professor as he rapped on about Mao Tse Tung’s economic policies in the new China, dictating in the sweltering heat. On the big side, yet garbed in a black long sleeved shirt and pants to his ankles, it was no surprise to see the many beads of sweat on his bald head and forehead that seriously threatened to rain down his face. Still, he took no pause.

I’d just checked my watch for the umpteenth time in that hour, praying the class would end early enough when I heard the question that signified my prayer was being answered already.
“Questions?” the professor asked. Some of us looked around the class, casting glares at the few who dared to raise their hands. Professor said he was only taking a question, as he pulled out a damp handkerchief, taking a swipe at the perspiration raining down his face. I gave silent thanks to gods unknown. He took a question from a student with conspicuous underarm sweat prints.

“What lessons can Nigeria learn from Mao’s revolution and the success of the newly formed People’s Republic of China?” He asked.
Professor motioned at him to sit.

“I believe you know the word ‘PATRIOTISM’ and what it means, don’t you? Now, that word apparently means a lot to people of progressive and developed nations. Here, it means nothing.

“To build your country, you’d have to believe in its great potential, you’d have to love it enough and you’d have to be willing to give your best, even your life, for it.”


He paused briefly, scanning the class.
“Show me the Nigerian that possesses these qualities right here, right now, and everyone gets an A in the forthcoming exam.”
This elicited a roar of unexpected laughter. He departed, leaving us talking and laughing over each other about his response.


Now, years after, the memory remains with me like the event itself was ingrained on my mind on that very day. To Nigeria, the unpatriotic nature of its citizens is a very hard and bitter pill to swallow. There’s only one pill that can so aptly be described in this context – Truth. Taking this pill would mean acknowledgement. Acknowledgement of our effortlessness towards building our country. Acknowledgement of all our shortcomings as citizens; our flagrant disregard for the law, our inability to put an end to bad governance and even our individual role in enhancing corruption in the country, because the latter is also a cancer in the grassroot. With acknowledgement comes acceptance that Nigeria is a failing state. This will, in turn spearhead the first steps towards a positive change. But it is the acknowledgement we fear the most, for we are not ready to let the guilt in, not ready to accept that we all have played roles in the daily destruction of our country. So we continue to pretend and point fingers, to accuse the government of oppression, of doing nothing for us, Nigerians, and of looting state funds, like we did not create the government. Like it was not made to serve us, the people. Like we did not give the government the power to oppress us. Like we did not feed its rot.

An adorable little boy I once met on a bus, no older than seven and on his way to a neighboring city with his family, told me what his grandmother, also aboard that bus, had taught him.
“When you point a finger at someone, there are three more pointing back at you.” He grinned at me, all too happy to share that knowledge with someone else.
In response, I admitted his grandmother was a wise woman, smiling right back because his was infectious. But his words I’d taken in all sobriety, to be reflected upon much later.


It is imperative we ask ourselves some questions. Would it be so hard to accept we’ve been unpatriotic long enough instead of sitting on our high horses blaming government as solely responsible for our challenges as a nation? Would it foolish to hope that we can make the decision to care – to become patriots? Are we willing to put in the effort required to build? Never mind that the patriots would at first, be a minority. There’s that saying: little drops of water make a large ocean.

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