Written by Emmanuel Ogbeche

The Deconstruction of a National Heritage

The creative energies of Nigeria’s young population are boundless. All you need to do to dispel any doubt about this is to troll through twitter, the micro-blogging social media website that tasks the expertise of even the most skilful communicator. The ‘tweeting children of anger’ (apologies to Reuben Abati) can start a trend at the drop of a hat on any issue ranging from serious socio-political debates to the mundane memes of Warri pidgin English. If nothing at all, the entertainment value of Nigeria’s twitter space (permit me to use that phrase) is a recommended antidote to the angst and anguish of petrol scarcity and long hours of power blackout that currently define the country.
Let me crave your indulgence to take a closer look at the illustration on this page. This picture strayed into my phone from a Whatsapp group I had joined to keep up some humanitarian work to which I am subscribed. What you see demonstrates exactly the point I have tried to make in the opening paragraph of this piece. You will agree with me that this drawing depicts a wry humour which aptly captures the signs of the times in Nigeria. While its face value impression is the image of Nigeria’s Coat of Arms, the imagery conveyed is that of fuel scarcity and the ascendancy of a generator generation badly buffeted by a depleting purse.
The picture may pass off to some as mere comic relief useful to ease the tension of today’s torturous living conditions. But to critical minds it strikes at the very heart of the social contract which seems to have been observed more in the breach in Nigeria. This telling image should raise questions about governance; those who govern; as well as the governed. Not as if it would be questions that have not been raised before. And to which answers have continually failed to be provided. There is however, a very critical question that may have passed us all by whether we belong to the group that is amused by the picture or that which is appalled by its sardonic suggestion.
That the image is a gross corruption of Nigeria’s national symbol is not in doubt. What is imperative here is the fact it is merely a hyperbole of the everyday distortion of our collective symbols of nationhood almost at every twist and turn.
The Nigerian Coat of Arms and National Flag as sacred images of our nationhood have been subjected to series of innocuous and insidious insults and assaults. It is what Hon. Sam Onuigbo, member of the House of Representatives, referred to as the ‘Deconstruction of the National Flag’ in a motion he moved on the floor of Parliament penultimate Tuesday.
In homes, schools, offices and public buildings, we find corrupted versions of the National Flag hoisted on poles and placed on the tables of supposed ‘big men’ who sadly, are passively ignorant of the grave offence being committed against the national psyche. As Onuigbo put it in his lead debate, “this deconstruction of the National Flag is not limited to the public alone like schools but surprisingly also perpetuated by government institutions such as the premises of the police, federal ministries, parastatals, National Assembly, state Government Houses, Nigerian airports and in a host of other premises occupied by people who ought to know better.”
Pray tell, if adults of timbre and caliber in society; persons of influence and affluence; holders of public trust and custodians of the collective conscience as it were can be found culpable in the subtle dissimilation of symbols of national heritage, then one wonders what hope there is for proper socialization of the younger and upcoming generation.
As the member of parliament, MP, put it, “national symbols are important instruments for creating and sustaining a people’s national identity and serious minded nations take their choice of flags and other national symbols seriously” apparently because a “person’s identification with his/her nation begins to take root during childhood and the childhood experience is commonly taken to be the bedrock upon which self-identity and national consciousness is built.”
A deeper look at the problem reveals that in most cases, the Coat of Arms have been embossed on the National Flag as if both symbols are not disparate with each bearing its own significance and heritage.
According to Onuigbo, “the National flag and the Nigeria Coat of Arms are two entirely different national heritage symbols with separate essence, identities and representations which are distinct from each other,” stressing that “the appropriate colours and design conceived by the designer of the National Flag, Pa Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi, in 1959, were green and white without the embellishment of the Coat of Arms on the Flag.”
This situation is sadly dangerous indeed. It portends grave threat to the country’s future vis-à-vis the common heritage of nationalism expressed in the symbols in question. According to the MP, “a great percentage of our school children sing the lines of the National Anthem wrongly and cannot even establish the correct nature of the National Flag as a separate national symbol from the Coat of Arms and what each of them represents and as such get confused over the true identity of the National Flag as a result of the embellishment of the Coat of Arms on the flag and some of their teachers do not know this and cannot therefore correct them.”
Unfortunately, this alarming state of affairs is unknowingly magnified by the media which is a major instrument of both socialization and acculturation. Like a double-edged sword, the country’s media (especially its loose social media variant) can be both a tool for centripetal and centrifugal forces no matter how subtle. The case of publishing and broadcasting corrupted versions of national symbols cannot be helpful in nation-building no matter how one looks at it.
At this stage, it is not out of place to interrogate certain assumptions as it relates to this matter. What ‘version’ of the National Flag is in the office of the Minister of Information and Culture for instance? Has the Minister taken time to take a closer look to be sure that as the number one image maker of the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he is not projecting a deconstructed symbol of national unity? The same circumspection should apply to government-owned media organizations. It can only be double tragedy for instance, for the Nigeria Television Authority, NTA, to be found guilty of this worrisome national malaise. This is not to excuse private media organizations from the inquisition since they even attract a larger audience of viewers and/or readers both within and outside the country.
Of course, it would be unforgivable for the National Orientation Agency, NOA, to be caught in this net of negligence. We can forgive if the agency has not been up to its rating in addressing the various issues of national value orientation and projection it was set up to do. But it will be taking our magnanimity (if not ignorance or sheer carelessness) for granted if it fails henceforth to tackle headlong this national shame of hoisting adulterated National Flags in public and private places.
The NOA, like the motion by Onuigbo charged, must wake up to its responsibility in embarking on immediate and far-reaching re-orientation on the correct symbols and representative values of the National Flag, Coat of Arms, and the National Anthem.
It is however, not a task for the orientation agency alone. One way or the other, we all play a role or two if not more in the socialization process whether as parents at home, teachers in schools, peers in groups, or role models in society. It is foolhardy for anyone to stay aloof in this emerging emergency of national proportions, except of course, we have resigned ourselves to centrifugal forces tugging at the helms of Nigeria’s socio-political fabric. A man loses his self-worth by first losing his identity. The same goes for a nation. We must all rise up to arrest this deadly drift before we get washed farther off at sea.

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