TREADING A PRECIPITOUS ROAD
Sonnie Ekwowusi argues the need to return to old values that have served the nation well
It is unfortunate that in our journey to nationhood we have veered off the familiar road and trodden on a precipitous one that leads to ruin. Instead of maintaining our pace on the road that leads to true nationhood we have wandered into vain discussions and attitudes to the neglect of widely-shared national values that characterise the lives and behaviour of majority of citizens and exert a profound influence on the nature and quality of political institutions and democracy. This, in my view, is the true missing link in our quest to build a cohesive, harmonious and virile nation. If there is a palpable absence of widely-shared national values that strengthen political institutions and democracy then our hope of reaching our destination (attaining nationhood) is greatly diminished.
It is very important to remind ourselves that nationhood is not attained overnight through executive fiat; rather it is a fruit of many years of shared positive national values and lived experiences. What ultimately strengthens a nation and thus paves way for the much-vaunted prosperity is a cultural life made up of those little communally-binding ideals which inform and form the superstructure of the character of an individual. But unfortunately the lowest common denominator of acceptable character in political life has embarrassingly grown much lower in Nigeria in the last few years. Even the governed who often complain that their rulers are not living up to expectation behave as if they occupy the lowest rung of human civilisation. Remember the National Orientation Agency (NOA)? It was principally established to re-orientate the attitudes of Nigerians and to inform the government on the people’s feelings and reactions towards its policies and activities in order to facilitate popular participation in government decision-making process. You will recall that when Professor Elochukwu Amucheazi was the Director-General of NOA the agency was a great instrument of socio-cultural and political change. But with the change of leadership the NOA has fallen into the wrong hands and has virtually become dysfunctional. The estrangement from pristine values has worsened the situation. Consequently Nigeria has been witnessing a steady progressive deterioration of those cherished values which used to form the superstructures for the building of our national ethos. Nothing is hateful or repugnant anymore. Cheating in exams has somehow become a part of the school curriculum. Our country has always had some scoundrels in public office, but never have we had such great number of criminals in public office than today. We live in a dirty environment without qualms. We habitually litter our streets with pure water sachets and other refuse. We have equally lost our sense of shame. We fight, urinate and defecate in the streets and public squares without shame.
The transcendence perception of our humanity seemed to have waned. We have grown accustomed to shedding human blood at will. It is probably only in Nigeria that the military can be used to wage a war against a hated people. Also it is probably only in Nigeria that the military can be used to kill protesting defenceless civilians without qualm as if the military had not committed a heinous crime punishable by death. In the past we celebrated excellence in real achievement. Today we celebrate material under-achievement and moral bankruptcy. We have become so used to systematic collapse and non-performance in government that any small thing done by any government institution is applauded. For example, when electricity supply is restored after many days or months of power failure in a neighbourhood all the residents are wont to roar in unison: “Up NEPA !”. Last week I was held up for hours in the intractable vehicular traffic jam along Eko Bridge, Lagos. What was the cause of the traffic jam? Heavy-duty trucks and oil tankers had permanently encumbered almost half of Eko Bridge. To begin with, these trucks and tankers weigh too heavily on the bridge and could damage it. Second: the trucks and tankers obstruct traffic on Eko Bridge which triggers off chains of traffic snarls that paralyse the whole of Lagos Island and Lagos Mainland especially Apapa, Orile, Ikorodu, and their environs. It is sad that for years successive Nigerian governments have not rid our expressways of high-duty trucks and trailers which kill many motorists and passengers.
Therefore we need to go back to the first thing. If we think we are automatically freed from destructive habits and attitudes simply because we are operating a democracy then we are gravely mistaken. An abstract democracy not sustained by the fundamental social tradition of the society is a recipe for disaster. Certainly, a democracy that creates loopholes for flourishing corruption cannot lead to human flourishing. And it is important to understand the meaning of corruption. Corruption is not the stealing of public fund by perceived enemies of the Buhari government. The etymology of the word ‘to corrupt’ from the Latin word ‘corrupere’ is a state of moral depravity. Therefore anybody who is in the state of moral depravity could be said to be a corrupt person. For example, the driver of a rickety tanker who intentionally obstructs the expressway with his tanker thus causing an incredible vehicular traffic jam is indeed a corrupt person.
So, as I said earlier, first things first. The first thing, the fulcrum, if you like, around which many other things rotate is a national character or what I had earlier referred to as those widely-shared national values that define democracy and establishes the parameters and moral high ground in which democracy should operate in order to promote the wellbeing of the people. Devoid of widely-shared national values our journey to nationhood will be fruitless. We would be moving around in a concentric circle without finally reaching our destination. In his paper on the importance of little things in the life of a nation a few years ago, Jorge Santiago Barnes, a political consultant at the University of Salamanca, Spain, stated that in a multilingual and multiethnic society the people should learn to get many little things going well. Therefore we need to discover or re-invent the Nigerian character. We need to imbibe and practice those acceptable little habits or values that shape our politics and strengthen political institutions and democracy.
IN THE PAST WE CELEBRATED EXCELLENCE IN REAL ACHIEVEMENT. TODAY WE CELEBRATE MATERIAL UNDER-ACHIEVEMENT AND MORAL BANKRUPTCY