Allen Onyema: A Call To Patriotism

A sick nation

In press releases, at national conferences, councils, and assemblies, patriotism is one thing that we shy away from talking about. We put it in the back burner because we consider it something that can never be attained. When we gather, instead of tackling the real problems, we focus on trivial things.

As a nation, we have made it a habit to complain about the level of corruption and poverty that has eaten deep into the core of our society. At the national level, we tackle issues that we have elected ministers and commissioners for. And this makes it difficult for us to see what the real problem is. We are a sick nation who is treating the symptoms instead of the actual ailment. The corruption and poverty we often talk about are only symptoms of an even bigger problem. Our problem is a lack of patriotism.

I won’t be the first or the last person to point out that the problems we face emanate from the lack of love for our homeland. We say that we fear for ourselves and for our children, yet we do nothing for the country that houses us. Because we don’t care about what becomes of our home country, we steal from it, maim it and destroy it.

It is lack of patriotism that makes people in public offices steal and loot the nation’s resources, and it is this stealing and looting that has made us poor.

The lack of this virtue is also the reason individuals from tribes solidly stand behind and defend a national thief who is from their tribe. A person steals from the entire nation and the first thing we do is ask where he is from. We ask so we can quickly decide how to distribute our support or stigmatization. We are not concerned about the person’s crime or how to remedy the situation. Instead, we instigate tribal and religious wars.

The irony of this is that the persons for whom these fights are started, do not care about the wellbeing or progress of the common people. They go about their politics and businesses while the people kill themselves and die in high numbers.

What is patriotism?

Being patriotic is love for one’s country; a deep commitment to the welfare of other citizens, and passion to serve one’s country. Patriotism is synonymous to loyalty and a patriot’s loyalty is not selective.

Patriotism is also not loyalty to a leader as an individual. It is loyalty to your country as a whole. The president (for instance) of your country deserves your support only to an extent to which he is doing only the things that are in the best interest of your country. The moment he starts working against the interest of your country, you owe it to yourself, your country and your fellow citizens as both moral and legal duty to withdraw every form of support for such a person and start looking for ways to remedy the situation.

If we are truly patriotic we can check the excesses of these unpatriotic leaders, but in our situation, we even lack patriotism more than our leaders

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The spirit of patriotism was the driving force for the nationalists who got Nigeria’s independence in 1960. The nationalists made the whole world know that Nigeria had the potential to develop like any other advanced country in the world. And they fought hard for what they believed. Their love for country could not be bought with gold or promise of a better life.

Our patriots today

Majority of our leaders and individuals in affluence today are egocentric. They see political appointments as a means of accruing wealth and securing a better future for their children at the expense of other citizens. This menace is detrimental to our democracy and it kills more than Boko Haram or the ‘Herdsmen’.

The masses, on the other hand, are not left out in this. People turn blind eyes to small issues requiring the response of patriots in our communities. The wait on the ‘government’ for something two or three ‘good hearts’ can actually tackle, has destroyed the peace and killed more people.

Thankfully, the narrative is beginning to change. With the killings and chaos that erupted recently in South Africa, we have seen Nigerians rise up to the occasion. The love they have shown is worthy of emulation. We have seen artistes cancel shows that were slated to happen in the country to show their solidarity and individuals speak up on social media. The biggest of them all is the love shown by the CEO of Air Peace, Allen Onyema. Before now, this was not the case. As a matter of fact, it came to most of us as a shock.

After renewed xenophobic violence saw foreign-owned businesses attacked and looted earlier in September, many of Nigerians decided to return home. To help them, Allen Onyema, the chief executive officer of Air Peace, offered to fly them home gratis. This exercise, as Onyema told journalists on Thursday 12 September, cost him over N280 million.

Onyema’s decision to offer his airline was an act of patriotism. He told journalists that this is not the first time he is making contributions to the nation’s development. He also highlighted his role in restoring peace to the Niger Delta in the heat of militancy in the region.

Who is Allen Onyema?

Allen Ifechukwu Onyema is the chief executive officer of the airline, Air Peace. He was born in 1964 in Benin City to parents of Anambra State origin.

He attended several schools including the prestigious Government College, Ughelli and went ahead to read law at Nigeria’s Premier University, The University of Ibadan.

It was in the University of Ibadan that his appetite for peace made him lead a group of 9 other students to travel to the ancient city of Zaria to quell a raging religious and ethnic riot that claimed lives.

As a result of the publicity he and his colleagues received on return to their campus, their enthusiasm grew and this led to the formation of a group known then as Eminent Friends’ Group – a group formed with the objectives of promoting ethnic harmony amongst Nigeria’s diverse ethnic nationalities and fighting the incidence of violence of all forms in our nation.

Barrister Onyema was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1989 and he started his legal practice in 1990 in the Law Firm of Nwizugbo & Company. He rose to become the Head of Chambers by 1992. He resigned from this law firm to establish his own outfit ONYEMA & CO.

Barrister Allen Onyema is not only today the National Chairman of FEHN but also has been appointed to the Executive Board of the Global Nonviolence Conference Series Inc. USA with notable world leaders such as Hon. Dr. Andrew Young and Suarez Ramos as members. By this appointment which was confirmed in April 2007, he became the second African ever to be so appointed to the Global Board.

His works of peace particularly in the area of transforming the restive youths of the Niger Delta Region has earned him several national and international honors and recognition. His recent response to the attacks has even got lawmakers proposing another honor for him.

Allen Onyema initiated, organized and held with the support of the Federal Government of Nigeria, the “1ST NIGERIA FOREVER PROJECT” in 2005 – a project geared towards the promotion of broad nationalism as against ethnic nationalism.

A call for more patriots

We applaud the contributions of people like Barrister Allen Onyema and call on other individuals to turn their hearts homeward. Wherever we find ourselves, it is important to ensure that our democracy is strengthened.

One person can not do it alone; there is only so much we can achieve. Leaders must come up with a positive meaning for ‘national development’. Those in positions of authority must work for the greater good of every Nigerian. Individuals at different levels – political groups, religion, and tribes – must show commitment to our nation.

We can rise from the ashes if we show interest in the things that affect us as a people. Let us start by purging ourselves of lack of patriotism.

In the words of Governor Godswill Akpabio, “To drive away darkness, you turn on the light. Let us turn on the light of patriotism in our country. Lack of patriotism leads to selfishness. Therefore, let us live not for our families and ourselves alone, or for our friends and class interest alone, let the empathy extend beyond our interest and we will make Nigeria a better and a more interesting country”.