TREAD­ING A PRE­CIP­I­TOUS ROAD

Son­nie Ek­wowusi ar­gues the need to re­turn to old val­ues that have served the na­tion well

THISDAY - - COMMENT -

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

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