Wherever two or more Nigerians are gathered, you can be sure that they are talking about the Nigerian Condition – the crippling fuel crisis,the epileptic power supply, the Naira that fetches less and less even as it is harder and harderto come by, mass unemployment, delayed salaries and pensions, Boko Haram’s relentlessscorched-earth campaign,the murderous menace of ‘Fulani” herdsmen, syndicated kidnapping, shrinking opportunities everywhere, and, of course, Dasukigate, the political corruption scandal that has kept the country enthralled like a telenovela.
It is a calendar of woes with few prospects of imminent reprieve, this dominant narrative of the Nigerian Condition
The Change they were promised – the Change they chose when they voted Muhammadu Buhari into power, has not occurred, the narrative continues. He has been in the saddle for eight months, but isn’t that long enough to end the mess and turn the country around perceptibly?
But there is another narrative that rarely enters into discussions of the Nigerian Condition, though it is at least as salient as the dominant one and its consequences probably more deleterious.
That narrative centres on the collapse of the value system.
Every society, community, group, or institution functions on a system of values. Sometimesthe values are explicit, as when they are spelled out in code, a declaration of fundamental principles. Sometimes they are implicit, when they flow from an ideology.
But whether explicit or implicit, the value system defines broadly what is acceptable or unacceptableconduct, what is of good report and what is not, what is honourable and what is not. It is the compass by which a society navigates the challenges of the era
When the value system is eroded or abandoned, the result is what the French sociologist Émile Durkheim called anomie, or normlessness. The standards of right and wrong become fluid. The restraints that govern social behavior as well as institutions lose their binding force.
If Nigeria has not reached the point of anomie, it is dangerously close. The evidence is allaround us.
Parents think nothing of procuring for their children the means to cheat in public examinations, and teachers are all too available to aid and abet the process. Persuaded that this way of doing business is not a sure-fire guarantee of success, two desperate parents, both university graduates, took turns last year to write the matriculation examination for their son who had not made the cut in previous attempts.
In Bauchi State, a school principal was dismissed because he made it impossible for his studentsto cheat in the Senior School Certificate Examinations. By preventing his wards from cheatingwhen everyone else was doing so, his employers remonstrated, he had wantonly placed them at a competitive disadvantage.
Educational standards have fallen precipitously because the system has been corrupted. Former Central Bank Governor Charles Soludo once complained that many of our university graduates are “unemployable.” One watches aghast as lawmakers introducing themselves on the floor of the National Assembly declare, without the slightest embarrassment:”My names are . . .”
It is notorious that students in higher institutions are often compelled to offer gratification ofone kind or another to their lecturers to pass crucial exams or have their final projects approved. So ingrained is the practice that it even has a name: “Sorting.”
The judiciary is mired in sleaze and credible allegations of the same. The news media are similarly circumstanced. The country is awash in religion but starved of righteousness.
Nothing is intrinsically right or wrong anymore. If you can get away with it, it must be right. If you criticize public officials, as I often do in my line of business, you are told that you wereactuated by envy or religious prejudice or ethnic bigotry, and that you would do no better and would probably do much worse if you were the one holding that office. So, shut up.
I am told that when the distinguished historian Professor Jacob Festus Ade Ajayi returned from the UK after his doctorate, he was serenaded into his home-town Ikole -Ekiti by schoolchildren and members of the community. This was the kind of honour usually reserved for visiting ecclesiastics of the calibre of the Archbishop of the Anglican Province of West Africa, or the Anglican Bishop of the old Ondo-Benin Diocese.
Today, society is more likely to honor wealth than academic or professional distinction, regardless of the source of that wealth.
At least one generation of Nigerians is growing up believing that this is the way things havealways been done in Nigeria. Because History is no longer taught as a discipline, the onlyNigeria they know is the one they are living through. According to one report, high schoolstudents in Ogun State know more about Obafemi Martins the international soccer player thanabout Obafemi Awolowo, one of Nigeria’s pre-eminent political leaders and a foremost indigene of Ogun State.
By one estimate, 70 percent of drugs in the Nigerian market are fake or adulterated. They maypromote fake recovery, but they are just as likely to lead to real deaths. The drug merchants and their vendors care only about their profit, not about the often lethal outcomes of their pernicious trade.
The sense of sacrifice has been lost. What is in it for me? What can my country do for me? These are the questions most of our compatriots are asking, not what they can do for their country. Thus, only a handful of the nearly 500 delegates at the National Conference inaugurated in 2014 by former President Goodluck Jonathan declined the hefty stipend they were paid for what should havebeen seen as a call to serve one’s country at a critical moment in its history.
The public at least has some idea of what the delegate were paid from the public purse for the four months the Conference lasted. Nobody knows just how much lawmakers in the National Assembly have elected to pay themselves. But the compensation package rumoured to border on the obsceneincludes a wardrobe allowance, as well as a “hardship allowance.”
It is only in Nigeriathat being a member of the legislature is considered a hardship that requires special compensation.
Even in these difficult times, the Senate is set, under the 2016 National Budget, to buy a luxury American-specification SUV for each of its 109 members to facilitate committee oversight, at a cost to the public of about N4.7 billion. The vehicles will be sold to each assignee as scrap after four years, and a newpurchasing spree will start again.
Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the collapse of the value system is the scant regard for the sanctity of human life that now pervades the system, reaching even into our universities that were supposed to be governed by a higher culture.
There is no more sickening example of the bestiality that has overtaken the Ivory Tower than the beheading at Abia State University, Uturu, of two students, and the use of those ghastly trophies as makeshift goal posts for soccer practice.
This, in brief, is the dimension of the collapse of the value system, the other narrative thatrarely enters into discussions of the Nigerian Condition.It portends greater danger to society than the collapse of the economy.
The economy can always be revived over time, drawing on the tested tools of research and on examples elsewhere. But it will take at least a generation to restore a collapsed value system.
The journey is yet to start in earnest.
*An earlier version of this essay appeared in the inaugural issue (February 14, 2016) of Kufena, the magazine of St Paul’s (Zaria) Old Boys Association.