By Douglas Anele
Since Nigerians are unwilling to engage in radical, non-violent, socio-political praxis, members of the ruling elite assume that the people can endure anything, provided they manage to eke out a miserable living.
But the lethargy of the suffering masses cannot continue forever: there is a limit to human endurance of pain and hopelessness. Sometimes I wonder why corruption has become entrenched in all leadership positions in the country. It is so bad right now that even the clergy that people look up to for moral and spiritual guidance is neck-deep in corruption and immorality: prominent pastors and imams work hand-in-glove with corrupt public office holders to impoverish the people.
Therefore, the number of role models that will serve as examples for our youths is dwindling very fast, to the extent that if the trend continues, the very existence of Nigeria as a community of civilised human beings will be irreparably compromised. Of course, corruption is a universal phenomenon, for there is no country in the world without its own share of corruption problems. The major difference is the manner the ruling elite in each country, using the machinery of law, tackles the challenge.
In Europe, Asia and North America, for instance, anti-graft laws are applied across board, irrespective of the socio-economic and political status of the individuals concerned. But, in stagnating countries, especially in Africa, members of the ruling class act as if they are above the law. Again and again, the laws are bent, twisted, or even broken to protect sacred cows in cases where circumstantial evidence actually points to corruption.
There are many theories on the common denominator or kernel of corruption. Sunny Akpotor, in his paper “Corruption: The Civil Society and Government”, identified and discussed idealist, modernist, Marxist and functionalist theories of corruption.
Whereas an idealist interpretation of corruption emphasises the existence in society of ideas and values that encourage hedonistic selfishness, Marxists argue that corruption, especially in former colonised countries, is a by-product of the peripheral capitalist system. According to the modernist school of thought, corruption stems from the contradictions between accepted behaviour of traditional society and the norms of modern society.
But the functionalists emphasise social factors which exert definite pressures upon certain individuals in the society to engage in deviant rather than conforming conduct. In A Theory of Corruption, Osvaldo Shenone and Samuel Gregg approached the issue of corruption from various perspectives, although they emphasised the Christian theological viewpoint. They locate the seat of corruption in the human propensity to commit sin or mysterium iniquitatis. For both men, the root of sin is in the heart of humans and their free will.
The remedy for corruption is “a conversion of heart”, so that people will be motivated to make the necessary sacrifices to minimise corruption. All the theories highlighted above have enriched our understanding of corruption. But we need to stress that given the existential and fallible nature of human beings, corruption can never be eradicated.
The best that can be achieved is to reduce it to the barest minimum compatible with human and societal development. Evidently, the socio-economic effects of corruption are deep and long-lasting. Nigeria is a textbook example of the devastating effects of the phenomenon.
Virtually all the social, economic, political and infrastructural problems in the country can be traced to corruption, particularly among the ruling class, although the victims of that very corruption, the masses, are themselves perpetrating corruption at their own level. Consequently, the moral ecology of our society is polluted and radioactive, which means that concerted effort must be made by well-meaning Nigerians to restore the moral health of our people.
As we suggested earlier, contemporary religious practice has failed to serve as a moral beacon for the populace. The problem is compounded by gradual and steady breakdown of the traditional family system which serves as the first socialising unit for children. Parents and guardians, motivated by the quest for material wealth to satisfy their thirst for conspicuous consumption, do not devote enough time for inculcating moral values to their children and wards.
Hence, the young ones are left to their own devices. And, in our contemporary alienated society, the traditional communal life which encouraged duty of care to other people’s children has virtually disappeared. Thus, the absence of moral engineering by parents is already exacting a heavy price from the all of us.
In the past when our schools were genuine institutions for training the minds and bodies of children, teachers were well respected by everyone, and they performed their role as surrogate parents very well. Nowadays, the teaching profession has been degraded by misfits who have no business in the noble profession. In fact, a majority of teachers now are not committed to their jobs, probably because of poor remuneration and catastrophic drop in the degree of respect accorded them in the society.
There is no doubt that Nigeria is now at the crossroads, as a result of degeneration of moral consciousness in the people. Everywhere they are complaining about the agonising level of corruption in government, about the indiscipline and uncivilised conduct of top public functionaries. Yet, the people complaining are the very ones that troop to prisons to solidarise with convicted VIP criminals, cheat and lie most of the time, help their children to cheat during examinations, steal items on display from supermarkets, drive like idiots, abuse their domestic staff, sell fake products, offer sex for marks – the list goes on and on. To end our self-inflicted wounds, each of us must begin from the person we see in the mirror.