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The NAL Convocation Lecture Review Moral failure as root cause of Nigeria’s problems

By Osa Amadi, Arts Editor

Today, Nigeria is literally ablaze. Almost on daily basis, our national newspapers and electronic media have screaming headlines about innocent Nigerians murdered or kidnapped either by herdsmen or other bandits. If the definition of news is “new occurrence” then stories of violent deaths of Nigerians that reach us daily can no longer fit into such definition of news, simply because they are no longer new. These things happen every day.

Godwin Sogolo
Godwin Sogolo

It is possible too that Nigerians themselves have lost that usual feeling of horror experienced by humans when they hear news of tragic deaths of other human beings, or the irreparable loss of property. Somehow, we have become numb or insulated to free flow of blood and catastrophes so much that some of us no longer bother to read the accounts when we see them in the newspapers or on online media. We merely browse past them because death, kidnapping and other violent crimes have become staple food items on media menu.

How did Nigeria arrive at this destination, and what are the factors responsible for this state of affairs in the country? Part of those questions are answered in a lecture delivered at the 2019 convocation of the Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL), University of Lagos, Nigeria, last Thursday, 8 August 2019 by Godwin Sogolo, (FNAL, fspsp), Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, National Open University of Nigeria, Abuja. The titled of the paper is “MORALITY AND THE STATE: THE NIGERIAN EXPERIENCE”.

The 21st convocation of NAL opened with welcome remarks by a fellow and President of the Nigerian Academy of Letters, Professor Francis Egbokhare, in which he cited a “practical joke on the African educational system by an anonymous author on the social media. The professor believes that the joke drives home the confounding role religion plays in our national polity.

“African Educational systems,” says the joker, “have surprising outcomes. The smartest students pass with 1st Class and get admissions to Medical and Engineering Schools. The 2nd Class students get MBAs and LLBs to manage the 1st Class students. The 3rd Class Students enter Politics and Rule both the 1st and 2nd Class Students. The Failures enter the Underworld of crime and control the Politicians and the Businesses. And, the best of all, those who did not attend schools become Prophets (Imams) and everyone follows then.”

In the Ivory Tower tradition of calling a spade a spade, Prof. Egbokhare minced no words in declaring that “there is a raging war” in Nigeria today, even though those who forced their authorities on us would like us to believe and affirm that there is peace.

The theme of the convocation, “Religion and Morality in a Secular State” is an allusion to the truth that misapplication of religion and ethnicity, a corollary of moral failure, is the bane of our present society. This diagnosis of our national ailment dovetailed into Prof. Godwin Sogolo’s lecture which was the main intellectual diet for the day.

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Often, leaders and elites who confine themselves to the comfort of their airconditioned offices are accused of lacking the knowledge of people’s real problems, but little did we know that many eggheads tucked away in the comfort of Ivory Towers similarly lack adequate knowledge of the problems of life as they play out in the modern jungle where the norm is “kill or be killed”. There is ample evidence that this is what the lecturer has in mind in the foregoing lines:

“One of the reasons I readily accepted to deliver this lecture was that my years outside the comfort of the academic community of the University of Ibadan have been a huge experience in practical living – indeed, an encounter with the harsh realities of life – as against life behind the protective walls of the ivory tower where many of us still freely entertain unrealistic ideas about man, about society and about life in general. This Lecture gives me an opportunity to share some of my observations and experiences with you. My advice to younger colleagues is that those who have the courage should venture into the larger Nigerian society for a practical test of their academic theories about the art of living.”

With nostalgia and obvious melancholy, Prof. Sogolo recalls when, as a fresh graduate from the University in 1972, he was offered three jobs out of which he needed to choose one. “When, on assumption of a teaching job at the University of Ibadan in 1976,” he says, “I was given a car loan, instantly, and how a hotel accommodation and free meals were provided for me, pending the allocation of an official staff quarters.

“Nigeria was that good!” he exclaims ruefully. “Today, the plight of our fresh graduates is better imagined! Yet, they are the lucky ones among millions of Nigerian youths who live under conditions that are deteriorating by the day.” He completes the painting of that picture of woe of our young people with a remark made by the Kenyan Professor of Law, PLO Lumumba, that Africa has moved from the era when our forefathers resisted being forcefully carried away to Europe and America as slaves, to the current situation where our able-bodied young men and women now gratuitously offer themselves as slaves to be taken away to the same foreign lands.

“Just as slaves died, in their hundreds and were dumped in the sea, African youths are also dying in droves in the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea. I see this as the total collapse of self-esteem and loss of faith in both the state and in the Nigerian society.

The Emeritus Professor blames failure of governance and ineffective planning in education as the major causes of damage to the Nigerian moral system. The only solution, therefore, is to re-engineer a process of moral education and behavioral re-orientation for the Nigerian youth to save the country from total collapse.

But there is a snag there. An early 1970s study of the Ik community of Northern Uganda by Collin M. Turnbull cited by the author has “shown that morality is a disposable luxury; that moral sentiments cannot thrive in a state of acute material shortage and that the motivating forces behind human actions always derive from the self, no matter their altruistic dressings”.

Although Turnbull’s study also shows that there is a correlation between an individual’s material status or comfort and his disposition to do good, there is no proof whatever that (financially) rich people are more morally upright than poor people.

The conclusion of the Turnbull’s study is that morality is “a disposable luxury; that moral sentiments cannot thrive in a state of acute material shortage and that the motivating forces behind human actions always derive from the self, no matter their altruistic dressings”.

The study also shows that a moral obligation only makes sense, if it is dischargeable. One may have all the good intentions to do good, but what can one do if one lacks the means or wherewithal to translate those good intentions into real actions? In that case, such good intention will remain a “non-dischargeable obligation and, therefore, materially irrelevant”.

Under “Moral Disruption”, Prof. Sogolo lists some of the factors responsible for moral dislocations in the society. These are failure of the educational system and other socialization processes to inculcate in the individual moral principles that sustain inter-personal and group relations; failure in governance and loss of faith in the state; severe conditions of material needs provoked either by man-made or natural causes; and cultural invasion such as military conquest or colonial incursion, resulting in the imposition of alien social values or violation of the existing value systems.

Then the lecturer zeroes into “Failure of Governance”, analyzing its numerous consequences. “Loyalty,” he says, “is a reciprocal attitude. So, it is either won or lost on the basis of mutual exchange”. If the state has a contract with citizens to construct their roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure in exchange for their loyalty, and the state abdicate these responsibilities to the community which provides those amenities for the citizens, even up to the area of security, it will not be surprising that Nigerian state lost the citizens’ loyalty to the community.

“As the state becomes more irresponsible, and as it increasingly abandons its civic responsibilities, so is its moral authority weakened”. No wonder therefore, that ethnicism has come to have overriding influence on the citizens more than national sentiments.

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