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The normality of abnormality (1)

That Nigeria is in deep crisis right now is a big understatement: the country is actually drifting into a black hole of existential abyss from which she might never escape. In fact, abnormality is becoming the “new normal” to the extent that universal standards of civilised behaviour are almost passé.

Right from the topmost controllers of political, economic and religious institutions to the lowest, malignant corruption, ethnicity and wickedness are corroding the moral glue that holds us together as members of one large family. Of course, we are always reminded by those in power that every country has problems too.

Nigerians already know that,but the major troubling issue is that Nigerian rulers keep repeating and worsening the mistakes of their predecessors. In a future essay, I will analyse the recurrent follies of the ruling elite. Suffice it to say, however, that except for the big men and thick madams who are benefiting from the system, most Nigerians will accept without hesitation that their existential condition since the return to civilian government in 1999 has not really improved. And with the mediocre management of the country by President Goodluck Jonathan and his motley crowd of ministers, court jesters and bag carriers, it is difficult to be optimistic about the immediate future.

For instance, inflation in Nigeria at this time especially with regard to the prices of basic food items and other essential commodities is steadily approaching the omega point that could spark off violent demonstrations nationwide, unless bold measures are taken quickly to arrest the trend.

Again, deteriorating insecurity in the form of kidnappings, armed robberies, and terrorism by Boko Haram has made life in many parts of Nigeria “nasty, brutish and short.” Several months ago I argued elsewhere that the rebranding programme launched with fanfare by late President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and his minister of information and communication, Prof. Dora Akunyili, is dead and buried.

Indeed, the fate of the programme is a paradigm case of what is seriously wrong with Nigeria’s ruling elite, namely, lack of creativity and will to follow through and sustain programmes that can transform the country.

Remember, the federal government spent hundreds of millions of tax payers’ naira on the programme: no one till date has provided a detailed account of how the funds were spent. As far as I know, there is no accountability, no feedback, no monitoring to determine the extent to which the programme succeeded or failed to achieve the objectives for which it was established in the first place.

Additionally, no lessons have been learnt from the rebranding programme, and the possibility of government repeating exactly those mistakes that crippled the project cannot be ruled out. Now, although the present administration has tacitly abandoned the rebranding experiment, the current minister of information may, as part of the reelection scheme of President Jonathan, either clone the programme or float a new one altogether,thereby creating a new group of overnight millionaires. Be that as it may, it is fair to say that the effort at national image engineering which Akunyili championed enthusiasticallyis a big failure.

Consequently, the former minister ought to be sorely disappointed about the current status of her pet project especially in the light of recent events which have further sullied the negative image of our country. We shall discuss a few of such events, paying particular attention to aspects that have not received adequate attention from commentators.

The first one is the heart-wrenching horrifying murder of four undergraduates of the University of Port Harcourt on the basis of unproven allegation of theft. As everyone knows, extra-judicial killing of accused persons is unconstitutional and morally reprehensible.Hence, I am in total agreement with all those that havecondemned the mob and poured invectives on perpetrators of the crime against humanity.

But few have taken the pains to analyse the probable cause(s) of the psychological condition which propel an individual, or group of individuals, to lynch and burn fellow human beings to death in a frenzy of sadism. I believe that unless there is a scientific analysis of the real causes of malignant sadism and mob psychology, we, as individuals and groups, would be unable to understand and control the psychic mechanisms that predispose human beings to extreme cruelty and wickednessunder certain circumstances.

At the outset, we must avoid the terrible mistake of explaining away the terrible murder we are discussing as “an act of the devil,” which is normal in a religion-intoxicated society such as ours. Such superstitious explanation, rather than clarify the issues involved actually befogs it.

As with all psychological phenomena, the causes of extreme sadism in an individual and, by extension, in a mob,are incredibly complex, such that it would be naïve to single out a single factor. According to the German-born American psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm, individual and social factors responsible for sadistic behaviour are so complex that only a thorough empirical analysis of all the factors involved will do.

Nevertheless, there is doubt that individual factors such as phylogenetically programmed dispositions, idiosyncrasies of family experiences, and exceptional events in a person’s life play a role. Again, social character, the relatively recurrent behavioural disposition of a social group, is important also, because no human being is an island.

In the first case, for example, if a child is alienated, deprived of love, or frequently subjected to fright-inducing corporal punishment in the name of discipline, the probability that she or he would grow into a sadistic adult will be quite high, whereas a child reared in an atmosphere of love, joy and belongingness in which punishment is severely limited in intensity and related to specific and stated misbehaviour will unlikely be a sadist later.

Therefore, depending on the temperament of the child, fear of sadistic punishment can become a dominant motive in his life, to the extent of impairing his sense of self-identity, of integrity and self-confidence. Whatever may
be the source of sadism in an individual, the social character of a group will determine the extent to which his sadistic tendencies would be acted upon.

Thus, if a sadistic person lives in a community where an overwhelming majority is nonsadistic and where sadistic behaviour is loathed, the sadistic individual will not necessarily change his character, but he will not act upon it; the sadism will not disappear, but it will be dormant because circumstances are unfavourable for its manifestation.

Many parents, guardians and teachers in Nigeria still believe that frequent sadistic corporal punishment of children is the best method for inculcating discipline. But a number of studies conducted in the United States suggest otherwise; the research findings demonstrate that strict adherence to the biblical injunction, “spare the rod and spoil the child,”is injurious to the physical and emotional development of children.

I am completely convinced that the people who actually lynched the four young men and burnt them afterwards, and the mob that watched gleefully without raising one word of protest, are sadists whose normal emotional development had been crippled by bad upbringing.



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