We are living through a period of dramatic changes characterized by extreme erosion of moral and ethical standards. Our society is no longer a moral family of families, where the upbringing of a child is not an exclusive parental obligation, but communal. The media is now a major channel of acquiring moral knowledge.
Worrisomely, some news-making moral tutors, entertainers and pop icons are devoted to subverting consensual codes of appropriate behavior and debasing easy-to-fleece minds. As a result, we do not have a collective moral compass. Universal reference points of right and wrong are now thorny. Our Social-affective skills are becoming poor. Everyone does as she pleases, even to the detriment of others.
Ours is a nation gone mad with corruption. We have elevated it to the status of a virtue. It appears to be a pillar of our socioeconomic, political and religious superstructures. Several campaigns for social change and value reorientation have failed woefully, because some institutions revered as veritable agents of spiritual, cultural and moral renewal are riddled with complicity and duplicity. They are given to justifying the villain and condemning the innocent. What is just, fair, equitable and true is determined by a person’s ethno-religious affiliation and material fortune. Nigeria will become the toast of nations, if we all like Malcolm X can say, “I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it's for or against.”
The pursuit of power, popularity and profit has made some religious leaders merchants of ethical delusion. This is making it more difficult for Nigeria to win the war against corruption. Moral rectitude means nothing to them. Greed is no longer presented as a destructive driver of human behaviour. They tacitly teach character does not count. Money does.
They put moneyed wrongdoers on the pedestal of heroic honour. Kill, loot public treasury, be imprisoned; when released they will give you badge of honour as defender of the faith. Seemingly, these devil-bred preachers of mammon have one mission; to destroy the moral and ethical fulcrum of inclusive, egalitarian and progressive nation. They possibly do more havoc to our moral environment and national development than the teeming army of misguided, poverty-stricken villains engaged in pocket-picking and street fighting.
The ascendance of theology without Theo and wealth without work has turned some institutions of spiritual and ethical enlightenment to mere bless-me clubs and playrooms of moral window-dressers. Some apostles of this theology feed minds with refined, feel-good pigswill. Week after week, they suffuse minds with mammon-centric, pseudo-religious aphorisms in ways that rhapsodize grave moral failures. They wrongly call it the doctrine of grace. Hence, it is common practice for people to fulfil religious obligations out of stolen money. Build places of worship from looted public funds. And have a sense of peace with God and guaranteed eternal bliss.
It is a manifestation of extreme poverty of ethics and deadness of conscience, when leaders applaud the misconduct of men of means in order to enjoy their largess. This practice accounts for the prevalence of moral relativism and situational ethics in corridors of power, places of worship, institutions of learning and society, at large.
My parents taught me one lesson that will remain evergreen in my mind: there is no evil greater than an attempt to justify any misdeed. The art of calling evil good is the height of evil. Nothing was above it in my parent’s conceptualised hierarchy of misdeeds. It was the unforgivable sin. For which grave penance was imposed in the “purgatory” of their corrective love. The downside of this is that often, my siblings and I said “I am sorry” before we understood our alleged offence. Sometimes, we apologized for things we did not do. In our infantile minds, it was a smart way to evade maximum punishment. Feigned remorse and apologies of this sort is bad. But something is worse than it; the art of trivialising moral failures, providing gloss on errors of judgment and glorifying ethical baloney.
Time has changed. My parents’ style of moral tutoring seems dated. A new system of logic now governs our moral education and conducts. In summary, its essential elements are: One, nothing is wrong. Nothing is right. Everything is acceptable. Situation determines rightness and wrongness. Morality is fluid and gray. Two, wrongdoing is praiseworthy if you can put a spin on it. Three, fake it until you make it. Four, those who can’t cover up their blunders are the real villains; social misfit.
Everything around us is screaming: “Maintain moral integrity, if you can. You can’t, though. So, get a mask.” We are teaching the next generation that malevolence is beneficial. We are persuading them that the maxim “you can’t carve an image from a rotten wood” is wrong. Consequently, they are mastering the art of living behind masks. We seem not to have realised that happiness is a mirage to those who embrace the principles of cosmetic living. Authenticity remains the root of human flourishing. In fact, the good life is about the fruitage of ethical authenticity.
The moral doctrine of beneficial malevolence coupled with our collective failure to accentuate the primacy of probity is eroding the ethical basis of a tranquil, humane and progressive society. Therefore, our society is becoming a moral jungle where might is right and dog eat dog. Future historians would likely say that our greatest undoing like Samson is that we emphasised power without purpose, right without responsibility, might without morality, charisma without character, vision without virtue and strength without sight. This has set the stage for a generation of techno-savvy leaders who can deftly manipulate facts and figures to confuse even Aristotle and turn Augustine of Hippo to a moral renegade.
The widespread practice of kidnapping for money is a warning sign of the collapsing of our shared value system. It is unimaginable that icons of spiritual and ethical renewal, like Archbishop Ignatius Kattey and Mike Ozekhome could be kidnapped. Unfortunately, some vociferous social critics refuse to denounce this growing social menace. They seek to explain it away as revolt against systems of dehumanising exploitation. What a way of rhapsodizing insane criminality! Destructive elements cannot dismantle oppressive structures and reorder society to uphold the tenants of justice, fairness and equity. Primordial sentiments have distorted our perceptions of reality, so much so that evil is not evil; it depends on who is perpetuating it. If the perpetrator of a high-profile crime is from our ethno-religious group, we would likely politicise it to the point of hindering the course of justice.
The abhorrent politics of whitewashing bad people and throwing mud on good people has made the political sphere unattractive to some patriotic, selfless and visionary Nigerians. For us to build a society where credible and competent people are willing to serve, we must desist from eulogising wrongdoings. Otherwise, it will be more difficult for us to protect the good and punish the bad, which is central to public justice. Nigeria will be a better place, if we bear in mind the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”
Self-appointed gurus of anti-corruption will be out of business, if we all accord due significance to raising the moral and ethical standard of our society. Our homes are the best place to begin. Value transmission is not a walk in the park. It requires great work, sacrifices and time. Parents must pay more attention to the moral education of their kids. It is a principal task of parenthood. We cannot justify our abdication of value transmission in pursuit of fortune, fame and career success. The acquisition of material things and attainment of career stardom should come after the total wellbeing of our children.
As a humane society, we must unite in our resolve to extirpate cultural norms that give rise to corruption. Only men of honour and integrity should be conferred with chieftaincy titles as opposed to the current practice where they go to the highest bidders.
Against the backdrop of the fact that Nigerians are deeply religious, it will be difficult for us to experience moral revolution, if religious institutions do not change their paradigm. The materialistic paradigm is gravely injurious to the moral health of society. It has grossly weakened the capacity of religious institutions to foster goodness and decency. Hence, it is imperative that they help to stop the popular practice of assessing a man’s worth by what he owns and re-introduce society to the beauty of the ascetic life. Our experience shows that religionists and materialists are bedfellows incapable of securing the common good. On the other hand, true spirituality, which entails self-denial, is helpful to national transformation.
If we keep eulogising wrongdoings, we will create a cloudy moral environment that will make it extremely difficult for next generation leaders to be wise about noble behaviour and innocent of evil. Greed will trump chivalry. Duplicity will become a cherished principle of social interactions. Marriages will be built on lies. Money will elicit worship. Loose-living immoralists will steer the wheels of civilisation. Leaders will be half-angel and half-demon.
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