By Douglas Anele
To a keen observer of Nigeria’s haphazard evolution as a nation-state, the country is currently facing serious crisis of values. Specifically, since the civil war ended in 1970, there has been a paradigm-shift in the value orientation of Nigerians.
Chinua Achebe, in his little book, The Trouble with Nigeria, declared that the fundamental problem of the country is the inability of its leaders to rise to the challenges of good and responsible leadership. To a large extent, Achebe is right, because in every community the ruling class and the elite are supposed to set the moral tone for the entire society.
But, it appears that in our own case, Nigerians in leadership positions have virtually abandoned their responsibility and allowed the country to drift like a rudderless ship. Nevertheless, inasmuch as I agree that a leader must be willing to rise above the moral ecology of the society in order to set standards for others to emulate, the emergence of top quality leadership is crucially influenced by the dominant social character of a given society. Consequently, it is not surprising that the ruling class, as a whole, tend to embody what the German philosopher, George Hegel, called “the spirit of the age”.
Only exceptional individuals such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere etc. can deploy the immense spiritual powers inherent in the “being-of-man” to transform a whole nation by changing the moral tone of the community. Nigeria’s equivalent of India’s Mahatma Gandhi is yet to emerge, although Akanu Ibiam and Tai Solarin embodied some of the spiritual values I have in mind.
Now, ever since the pervasive and devastating effects of official corruption has been universally acknowledged as the major reason why Nigeria, despite her awesome human and natural resources, has remained “a promise deferred”, one would have thought that the youths, especially, should have taken up the challenge by working to dislodge corruption.
Disappointingly, nothing of the sort has happened: the youths, the so-called leaders of tomorrow, have failed to rise up in unison against corruption in government. Indeed, many of them are hideously corrupt and are accomplices in celebrated cases of corruption. Of course, there is no corruption-free country in the world.
But in developed and serious developing countries, the ruling elite routinely embark on self-cleansing measures to deal with corruption. The punishment meted out to those involved in over-expenditure in British parliament recently is a good example of self-cleansing we are talking about.
But in a morally-disabled country like Nigeria, members of the ruling class deliberately subvert the law in order to consolidate their stranglehold on power and on the country’s wealth. Serious corroborable allegations against officials at all levels of governance are so many that documenting them one by one would require a 10,000-page book.
However, it must be remarked that since independence, corruption in public office has been a leitmotif in Nigeria. But it entered a new and more deadly phase during the military dictatorship of Ibrahim Babangida. Ever since, corruption has blossomed, to the extent that members of the top echelons of the judiciary are now regularly accused of graft. A window into the elephantine level of corruption in the political leadership was opened by the report in The News magazine of May 30, 2011. The report detailed mind-boggling atrocious corruption committed by the last House of Representatives.
No reasonable human being who reads the report which documents how Bankole and his colleagues, using all sorts of cunning and disgraceful subterfuges, stole billions of naira from the public treasury, will not feel like giving them the Madoff treatment. Certainly, it would be wrong to assume that, because information about corruption and gross abuse of office by David Mark and his colleagues in the Senate is not yet in the public domain, therefore, the upper legislative house is free from corruption.
On the contrary, given the antecedents of most senators, it is a sure bet that the Senate is also a mecca of corruption. Perhaps, senators have perfected the perverse art of ‘chop and clean mouth’. But I sincerely believe that one day investigative journalists would reveal sordid financial transactions in the Senate – after all nothing remains hidden forever under the sun.
It is puzzling, and terribly disappointing as well, that Nigerians have not reacted the way people desirous of positive change should react to the financial rascality and recklessness of the ruling class. Where are the so-called activists who sermonise and pontificate in the media about good governance? What has happened to the self-styled progressives and defenders of democracy who regularly lambast corrupt politicians? Have they been settled quietly, privately, by the very people they criticise vociferously in public?
The Arab Awakening is a pointer to the extent people who really want positive social transformation in their countries can go to realise their aspirations. Of course, we do not approve violence. And, if the ruling class listens to the cries of the people and does the right thing, peaceful change is not only desirable but possible also.
In Chapter IV of the flawed 1999 Constitution dealing with fundamental human rights, subsections 38, 39 and 40, when interpreted conjunctively, allows Nigerians to gather and protest peacefully any activity of government they consider to be against the people’s interests. I am convinced that the only way Nigerians can check financial indiscipline and corruption in the ruling class is through peaceful civil disobedience.
For example, in the case of the scandalous allowances federal legislators have greedily awarded to themselves and their insatiable appetite for money, hundreds of thousands of Nigerians should march to the National Assembly and demand that the allowances should be drastically reduced to reflect the socio-economic reality of the country.