Chris Agiri explains in an interview on the importance of hosting Nigerian National Flag
The Director General of Flag Foundation of Nigeria, Chris Agiri, an organisation that has been involved in creating awareness about the importance of the Nigerian National Flag as a national symbol as well as the right protocol for hoisting the flag among other issues for about two decades. He spoke to Ayorinde Oluokun on the activities of the FFN.
Q: The Flag Foundation of Nigeria, FFN, which you lead distributed flags to some Nigerians just before the inauguration of President Bola Tinubu, why do you think it was necessary to do that?
A: We did the same thing in 2015. Why? The mandate of the Flag Foundation of Nigeria, FFN, is to promote respect for the Nigerian national flag, to educate and sensitize the citizens on the importance of the national flag – what it stands for. The world of Flag is a different one altogether. The Nigerian national flag and indeed, every other national flag embodies the philosophy of that nation, the worldview of the citizens that constitute that nation, their dreams , aspirations, peace and wellbeing and the development of that nation. Everything about Nigeria- the diversity in our religion, our culture, tradition, worldview – everything is represented in the concept of the National Flag. We are not saying people should worship the flag. The National Flag points to the ideals – doing things the way they ought to be done. It stands for justice, fairness, equity, and equality of all Nigerians before the law. So, we always want to cash in on any event that is national to reawaken the public consciousness on the importance of the flag. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is talking about renewed hope – the flag is a symbol of renewal of hope. The symbol of flag – the green is a symbol of life – if you see a green leaf on a tree, there is life in that tree. So, the Flag Foundation will by every means, legally and constitutionally possible mobilise Nigerians to rally round his government to succeed.
So, what’s your advice to the President, especially given the state of the country?
One thing I will tell the President is this, against all odds, tells Nigerians the truth. Forget politics, tell Nigerians the truth – whatever is the state of the nation and in your actions and decisions be truthful to Nigerians. Once the leader is truthful to citizens, they will rally round him. It is no longer business as usual, they should allow the country to evolve and run in the right direction. The President must also know that there are a lot of Nigerian leaders whose faces, names no longer conjure hope from the citizens. People are fed up with them. So, he should be able to get more committed, newer Nigerians to move the country forward. Let the leader be the listening one, enough of politics. Let me say that the Flag Foundation of Nigeria is one of the most veritable, available non-governmental organization that any government that wants to succeed, engage with her people, can cash on. They can depend on our programmes. Ours is to get the people to understand that supporting your leader is a patriotic duty. It is a sacred call, it is not optional. So, those are the things. We need to further mobilise the people that the President needs us and we also need him. The people should also hold government accountable, ask questions and demands for answers. The governments at every level should realize that they are public servants – that they are to serve the people and not themselves. The government has to engage with the people at different levels. There is no group that you cannot reach and that is why we are professionals. They should reach out to us.
What is your impression on the initial steps of the government so far, especially the removal of fuel subsidy.?
The truth is that life is hard on Nigerians. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu should tell Nigerians the state of the treasury so that the expectations of the people would not run foul of the resources available. Do they even have money to run the government? The President should not keep the people in the dark. Let the people know what they are doing. Confucius – when they asked him about the three things that a leader must take control of to succeed – he said military strength, secondly food, then good leadership. They said if there was anything to take away, he said take away the military strength and give me the remaining two. Then, they asked him which other one could be taken away. He said ‘take away food as long as the people have confidence in their leader and the leader is truthful to them, they will rally round him and collectively found food. But that cannot happen in the state of mutual suspicion, and disunity that we have now. You know from the time of the election, they have been saying Nigerians are more divided now than ever – whether that is just a perception or reality- It’s all about us Nigerians. In fact, I recently wrote that there is a need for us to invoke the old Nigerian national anthem – ‘Nigeria we hail thee, though tribes and tongues may differ, in brotherhood we stand’ it is time for Nigerians to rally round and stand on brotherhood, holding the flag and singing that old national anthem. We already know the enemies of Nigerians – Can you imagine the degree of killings that have taken place in Nigeria in the last 13 years – from Borno, Adamawa, Zamfara, Kaduna, Niger, Plateau, parts of Anambra, Ekiti, Kogi, Osun and Enugu States? It is Nigerians – the youths and women that are being killed. But that is not what our country is known for. This ugly side of our history, we must rewrite it. And that’s why we must rally round the President to rebuild the country. I pity him because this is the toughest time to rule Nigeria because all the institutions of government have been debased by people who either don’t understand their duties and responsibilities to the citizens or then found themselves in the position of power and authority. It’s our country. If Nigeria fails, everybody fails. Look at what is happening in Mali, Sudan, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, Somali – religious extremism, terrorism. So, Nigerians must rally round to safe our land. Having spent my life in pursuit of national unity which is what the flag stands for. A patriot treats his national flag with dignity and honour. But even in high places in Nigeria, the national flag is abused. You cannot just go to Wuse market and bought white green white and sew it together. A flag is printed, not sewn by global standard of what a flag is.
Chris Agiri, the DG of Flag Foundation of Nigeria, FFN
We now see flags inscribed with Coat of Arms even in some governments’ offices. Is that right?
I have been addressing this matter on national television for years. Flag is a symbol signifying, communicating something. A national flag is stipulated by law. I’m a vexillologist – a person who studies historic scientific study of flags and related matters. There is no national flag that was not given birth to by the Act of Parliament. The Nigerian National Flag was given birth to by The Flag and Coat of Arms Ordinance 48 of September, 16, 1960 when the House of Representatives in Lagos presided over by late Dr. Jaja Nwachukwu as Speaker passed the Act that gave birth to the National Flag- Green, White, Green. It has no room for the Coat of Arms; our law does not recognize it. It is just a mischief of some government officials and ignorant fellows that gave birth to that. I don’t know what their intentions were. By law and rules and governs the National Flag, that green white green with Coat of Arms is not the Nigerian National Flag. It is an abuse. A flag expert wrote me from the UK, he asked me, “Why is Nigeria having two national flags and what is the interpretation of the one with the coat of Arm?” I can show you the email. So, we have a lot of flag education to do in Flag Foundation of Nigeria as an organization whose mandate is promoting respect for the flag, educating the importance of the national flag, I just hope that the government will cooperate with us. And that was why we commended the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu and former Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola for their recent admonitions on the need to fly the correct Nigerian national flag. We commended the two distinguished Nigerians for the critical interventions in an issue which has become a source of embarrassment to the country. Indeed, it is embarrassing to see purported Nigeria National Flags with Coat of Arms boldly embossed on them being displayed at high places, including government houses in Nigeria. It is therefore our hope that the interventions by these patriotic, distinguished Nigerians will end this practice. We urged Nigerians to study the usage and protocols for the display of the Green-White-Greeen flag of Nigeria, online with the Act which was enacted in 1960 known as Flag and Coat of Arms Ordinance 48 of September 16th, 1960 by the House Representatives presided over by the late Dr Jaja Wachukwu as the speaker. This is what informed our September 16th as NIGERIA NATIONAL DAY, a day set aside by the FFN to celebrate and commemorate the day national flag the Act was passed into law, giving legitimacy to the national flag. FFN is the first NGO noted for promoting respect national flag for what it represents and for what it stands for – national unity, peaceful coexistence and citizenship of love, care and concern for fellow citizens.
Is there any need for amendment of the Act in tune with current realities?
FFN is currently working for the amendment of the current Act for a fresh one to be known as. NATIONAL FLAG PROTECTION ACT 2023. This proposed amendment, if passed, will be line with the global best practice on national flag protocols, usage and display and would go a long way in patriotic reawakening and strengthen the national consciousness of Nigerians.
You also initiated the National Flag Awareness Campaign. What is the purpose of that?
We initiated the National Flag Awareness Campaign as a mean of advancing national trust, de-emphasizing ethno-religious, tribal and partisan gaps, as well as to encourage Nigerians to take seriously the ownership of their country. It is a campaign to motivate patriotic Nigerians across the globe to hoist the country’s Green-White-Green flag wherever they are. As has been our tradition overt the past decades, we are excited to take on the crucial task of rebuilding love and confidence in the possibility of making Nigeria the country of limitless opportunities and a place where every idea is valid and initiatives can find their true berth. The symbol of all that is great, powerful and inspiring in this regard is the GREEN WHITE GREEN FLAG. In all developed climes of the world and indeed every nation intent on achieving greatness, the citizens all understand that their national flag is their identity and as such, they know how to hold their flag to such awe-inspiring height so much so that an average American would readily lay down his or her life, rather than see their national flag fall to dishonour and disrepute. It is this rationale that has birthed the National Flag Awareness Program. The Program has been initiated to effectively inspire hoe and rejuvenate citizen’s commitment and confidence in the Nigerian state. It is imperative that Nigerians understand that the (Green and White) Nigeria National Flag is our nation’s MOST DISTINCTIVE ICON and most powerful identity that is owned and shared by all Nigerians. Nigerians must realise that when we raise the flag, we raise our collective identity and shared heritage above the narrowing prisms of tribe, religion, language, ethnicity, culture and traditions, and it’s a stark reminder that in the eyes of the world, we are all first and foremost Nigerians.
The designer of the Nigerian National Flag, Pa Akinkumi recently passed on. Do you have any relationship with him?
We regard the designer the Nigerian Flag, who passed on to glory some months ago, Pa Akinkumi as one of the heroes of our country. He was a recipient of our gesture. It is the Flag Foundation of Nigeria, FFN, that rehabilitated him when he was almost forgotten, popularized his condition, and consequently he was honoured by the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration. We want to further request the Federal Government to immortalize his name.
What is your message to Nigerians on how the National Flag should be treated?
We have been in this advocacy for 18 unbroken years. In these years, we have given out millions of flags to schools, civil servants and religious institutions in our attempt to raise the consciousness of Nigerians towards the need to honour the flag, as well as other national assets and relics. Today, the FFN in line with our mandate as an NGO is the voice of flag education in our schools within the country. As such, we want to encourage Nigerians to embrace the culture of respecting the flag by keeping it clean and changing it when it is worn out in accordance with global best practice on national flag usage and protocol. We also want Nigerians to adopt the practice of standing at attention whenever the national anthem and pledge is being recited, with their right arms on their chests. We urge federal and state institutions to ensure that they hoist a clean and straightened out flag of Nigeria on their buildings and facilities. It is beyond embarrassing to see the symbol of our country, as represented in the flag, in a tattered form. When such happens, it reflects the disdain with which such establishments view and treat the country. We are therefore pleading with such institutions to have respect for the country’s flag and eschew any act that would suggest any contemptuous behaviour on their part against the country.