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Change can only come through shame

By Tabia Princewill

THE #MeToo movement sweeping America in the wake of the many sexual harassment lawsuits and allegations involving high profile Hollywood actors and executives has become a powerful tool shaping the conversation around power and gender in America.

If Nigeria were to espouse such a movement it would undoubtedly engulf half of the political and business establishment in a country where one isn’t a big man, an “oga” or a “madam” unless one is able to sexually harass or exploit subordinates.

The #MeToo movement works because in Western societies, shame is such a powerful emotion: a hint or whiff of scandal is enough to make high level executives resign and apologise for bringing disrepute to their office which is ultimately bigger than its current occupant.

Media coverage

In Nigeria, generations have been emboldened to become repeat offenders because our legal frameworks are too weak to tackle many of the allegations or accusations which routinely plague public officials.

There is no room for guilt or regret in Nigeria because shame is superfluous. After all, we applaud wrongdoers, attend their events, grant them media coverage and generally applaud their rascally ability to escape punishment.

Yet, research has proven that shame is the bedrock of many functional societies: the fear of shame, one could say, is therefore the path to wisdom.

Public outrage is fleeting in Nigeria: Nigerians have been pauperised by decades of economic mismanagement and the only people with real money and independence are those who’ve had access to government or who belong to the “politically exposed persons” category. In such a situation, we are quick to forgive those who’ve wronged us by pilfering the public treasury so long as they are generous with the spoils of office.

Shame and guilt shape our decisions as human beings, both consciously and unconsciously: “moderately painful feelings of guilt about specific behaviours motivate people to behave in a moral, caring, socially responsible manner” (June Price Tangney, American social scientist). We need to ask ourselves how to restore our public outrage and sense of justice. Moreover, we need to ask ourselves how we can reconnect, as a nation, with the concept of shame.

The average Nigerian responds to any query regarding his or her misconduct with just enough bluster or outrage to confuse a casual observer into thinking or wondering, “who should be offended here, the person who is guilty of committing an offense or the victim?” We have little to no sympathy for victims of any kind.

Guilt and shame

A victim is perceived as weak, a “mugu”, someone who allowed him or herself to be taken advantage of rather than becoming the victorious aggressor, which is how politicians justify their wrongdoing. Indeed, one commonly hears, if I don’t steal someone else will which translates as “I might as well help myself (and my family), therefore providing a safety net for myself in such an uncertain clime.

We don’t feel guilt or shame when we think of all those powerless people whom our actions have deprived of a better life. Guilt and shame are only for the poor in Nigeria in which case they translate to repressed anger at one’s own powerlessness and inability to provide and later violence.

The average man or woman of means in this country doesn’t care about being a “bad person” or being perceived as such. Or do they? Their much advertised charity work buys their followers submission and silence. So perhaps people do feel some sort of guilt and make up for their behaviour by becoming overtly religious: many Nigerians go to church for example to perform, to be seen as pious rather than to self-reflect, soul-search or to improve themselves.

We focus on the character of those in office (not enough to challenge their actions) but forget to look closely at each other. After all, before these men and women attained such lofty positions, they were people like you and I who had friends, families, colleagues and associates. Do we pressure them to behave appropriately in office or do we subconsciously encourage them to break the law when we compel them to fund our lifestyles without regard for where the money comes from? Nigerians have become experts at divorcing themselves from their leaders: Presidents Jonathan and Buhari both held great promise, one because he admitted he didn’t wear shoes and therefore new the pain of poor Nigerians, the other because he promised to restore the dignity of the common man by challenging the oppression he or she felt in a corrupt, wasteful and undisciplined society. We absolve ourselves of all responsibility for their failures, forgetting that every time we forget to ask specific questions of our leaders, we weaken our chances of choosing a different path which enables the same scenarios to eternally repeat themselves.

Once one has enough money in Nigeria, it appears that one no longer cares what anyone thinks or says. Honour, a good name, a good reputation, whatever you want to call it, seems to mean very little to us as a society.

Until we resort to excluding from within our mists those who are guilty of corruption, those whom without a doubt have contributed to destroying this country, until we stop making them chairmen and guests of honour at public lectures etc. we are going nowhere fast as a country. Simply put, shame has to become a virtue in Nigeria.

When a person breaks the rules, they need to feel guilt and shame, they need to be afraid of social exclusion, of becoming a social pariah even after their release from jail (that is when they do go to jail which is rarely in Nigeria).

What is socially acceptable must be redefined otherwise we will not have a country to speak of. In essence, people need to be ashamed enough to withdraw from society and then to atone for their sins. But why would they when so many of us remain available to celebrate them no matter the atrocities committed?

 

Governor Ganduje

THE governor of Kano state has invited herdsmen (especially those in Benue and Taraba) to move to Kano because it has “vast grazing lands” and the facilities to care for them and their cattle including locations designed to incorporate “schools, human and animal clinics, markets, recreational centres and other social amenities that will provide the herdsmen with enough comfort to take care of their animals and transact their business without any hindrance”, he said.

This is a proactive move which could solve the competition for land between herdsmen and farmers if it is properly implemented. In fact, more state governors in the North should look into such projects: ranching is the only real way to solve the conflicts. However, the security agents must not allow criminal elements to literally get away with murder and must scrutinise those allegations claiming the killings are sponsored by politicians using foreign “professional killers” who allegedly infiltrate groups of herdsmen.

If the security apparatus isn’t performing, urgent action is needed to replace or restructure whatever lacks efficiency.

 

Campaigning during the FEC

IT was widely reported that the Minister of Communication,  Adebayo Shittu, distributed campaign materials featuring President Buhari’s picture at the Federal Executive Council recently. How very surprising.

The FEC meeting is meant to be a non-partisan organism for the development of all of Nigeria, it sends the wrong signal, it is yet another public relations blunder by politicising an avenue for the progress of all.

The FEC as a place for national development rather than politicking should not be sullied by such moves, there are other locales to discuss politics or to plan election strategies.

It is rather disappointing that so many of President Buhari’s appointees have misrepresented him in one way or another, leading some to speculate that perhaps the President himself does not mind some of their actions. How tragic for Nigeria, for all who had such high hopes for this Presidency in particular. Will Nigerians be forced to accept this is just more of the same?

 

Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.

 


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.