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Politics and morality in Nigeria: A Critical Analysis (2)

By Douglass Anele
There is no human group known in history that did not have a system of morality, that is, a set of rules and principles that stipulate conducts which are considered right, good and praiseworthy and those that are deemed to be wrong, bad and blameworthy.

In general, behaviours which belong to the first group are expected from people whereas the second group comprises behaviours that individuals should avoid. From the foregoing, one can say that morality is about virtue and vice, good and bad, right and wrong.

The question that arises at this point is: what exactly are the conditions that make morality possible? Various answers to that question have been proffered by thinkers over the years. For instance, intuitionists believe that human beings have an intuitive capacity, sometimes called synderesis, to grasp and know the fundamental principles of morality.

Theologians generally hold that God is the author of morality, whereas sociologists and anthropologists maintain that the possibility of moral evaluation is inextricably connected to the cultural environment of people.

Erich Fromm, the acclaimed philosophical psychoanalyst, presented a penetrating analysis of the “human condition” in his book To Have or To Be? In it he argued that the specifically human qualities, including the sense of morality, are products of the “basic conditions of human existence.”

He argued that humans constitute the highest realisation and confluence of two basic tendencies in evolution here on earth, namely, the decreasing determination of behaviour by instinct and the explosive development and sophistication of the brain, particularly the neo-cortex. Combination of these tendencies confers on humans certain qualities which, even if they exist in other animals, especially the primates, far transcend their manifestations in the rest of the animal kingdom.

The development of instinct in human beings is low compared to what obtains in chimpanzees, man’s closest relative in the evolutionary tree. In addition human beings, irrespective of time and place, are self conscious imaginative and creative beings.

Hence, humans need to create a secondary man_made environment based on the primary or natural environment. The secondary environment is called culture. Morality is part of culture, and an important one at that.

Just as fish cannot live outside water, humans cannot survive without culture and, by implication, without morality. Moreover, although culture is from man and for man, it is dependent on the natural environment.

This is one of the major reasons why culture is relative to the environment in which it was spawned, and explains the similarities shared by people who live in similar geographical environments irrespective of how far apart their locations are in the globe.

Without morality which, as we have argued, is crucial part of culture, there is no way human beings could lead meaningful lives and manifest the immense potentialities of their being. Yes indeed, in the absence of moral principles life, according to the British philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, would be “poor, solitary, nasty, brutish and short.”

We have spent considerable time on morality because we want to underscore its importance in the actualization of man’s dynamic essence. Now what about politics? What has morality got to do with it?

Political scientists and philosophers, expectedly, have not reached a consensus on a universally acceptable definition of ‘politics.’ The astute ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, defined human beings as political animals, and politics as applied ethics.

Sometimes, politics is characterised as “the authoritative allocation of values,” “the process of executing policies made by the ruling class” and “as the quest for power, order and justice.” There is a high degree of consensus among experts that power is central in politics.

Perhaps that is why Okwudiba Nnoli made it the principal focus of his treatise on the subject entitled Introduction to Politics. Whenever an individual decides to join politics, he or she has, ipso facto, chosen to participate in the power-sharing mechanisms existing at the time.

Now, since power exists in practically all dimensions of social life, there must be features that distinguish political power from the kind of power which exists in other social institutions such as the family, schools, social clubs etc. The most crucial is the unseverable umbilical cord that connects state power and politics.

Since the formation of States in human socio_cultural development, all other forms of power have almost always been subordinated to political power and are controlled by it.

This explains the attractiveness of political power and why, in a morally decadent society like Nigeria, politicians are willing to acquire state power through any means. Generally, the high tension generated in politics globally, when compared with economic and other social activities, indicate that the centrality of state power in the control of the lives and destinies of men are generally recognised.

The well known Italian political philosopher_statesman, Nicolo Michiavelli, argued in his famous (or infamous, depending on where you stand in the ideological platform) book, The Prince, that the ruler must not compromise the grey areas of his power.

Former US President, Abraham Lincoln, a generally humble and unassuming human being, was reported to have asserted, in a dispute with members of the Congress: “I am the President of the United States, clothed with great power.”

Olusegun Obasanjo, erstwhile President of Nigeria, reportedly told his advisers that he was not under any obligation to accept their advice. All this goes to show that there is enormous potential for good or evil in state power and that those who possess it are aware of its importance in the life of a nation.
To be concluded.


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