BusinessDay

A culture of violence

Terrorists recently killed more than 200 people in Anka and Bukkuyum LGAs of Zamfara State. It was sad news.

What was even sadder and incredibly worrying was how the country barely got moved by the news.

In my view, this reaction did not come from a loathing for the people of Zamfara. It was from the indifference that comes when a culture of violence has taken root and is then augmented by a constant stream of bad news leaving people numb. This is a very dangerous position for a society to be in because the numbness impacts how other situations are felt, processed, and acted on.

Over the years, Nigeria’s political class has by its actions and inactions created a culture that has made brute force the choice medium of communication and a legitimate currency. A growing number of Nigerians have learned to speak and trade in that language. The use of violence to solve problems in a society where the end is seen to justify the means has taken us to a point where our hearts are so calloused that 200 people being slaughtered in one location wasn’t emotionally resonant enough to hold a prime position in the news cycle for a full day.

Over the past few years, Nigeria has increasingly rewarded violence and punished proper behaviour. People are taking notes

The Syrian War has been going on for 11 years and last year, 3,746 people were killed in it. Nigeria has not officially declared itself as being at war but its death toll from insecurity in 2021 was at least 10,366 meaning that an average of 28 Nigerians were killed each day of last year by deliberate malicious intent.

When one looks at the sources of these figures be they from the Boko Haram crisis to the bizarrely named “bandit situation” up North to the IPOB situation in the Southeast and others, it is clear that a culture of violence has taken root in Nigerian society. More and more, Nigerians are being convinced that they are likelier to be heard, respected, and rewarded if they develop and advertise a capacity for violence. Nigeria is a place where people have ended up retiring wealthy simply because they shot their way into power at some point.

Almost every reasonable person agrees that this problem has to be solved, but truth is that a cultural change is what is needed. This requires that we understand how cultures are set in place to start with.

Culture is the sum of the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society to fulfil a range of purposes. I will not belabour you with the story of the monkeys and the ice bath, I’ll simply point out that the newly introduced monkeys in that story merely stayed true to the culture they had been introduced into without even knowing why it existed in the first place.

There are some lessons for Nigeria in that story. One is that Nigerians have been programmed into the behavioural patterns they have today and we have to deliberately create a counterculture that reprograms them by consistently rewarding people for exhibiting the behaviours that we prefer to be prevalent in our society.

How a culture of violence is manifested varies.

Sometimes you can even see it rear its head in the place of conversation because Nigerians have increasingly lost the will and capacity to civilly convince others, and instead opt to speak aggressively and assault people mentally to make their case.

Read also: Insecurity in 2021: An Appraisal

The rigour placed on you by the process of civil conversation forces you to fully understand what you are trying to sell before you can convince others, but our inclination to verbal violence has made it harder for us to even understand the notions we push at others.

We can’t answer questions properly or even ask them skilfully, and when this inability is paired with power, you have instances where a president closes land borders for three years because the patience and emotional discipline needed to properly explore an idea and consider its likely outcomes and possible alternatives are absent due to a lifelong reliance on violence as a means of progress.

We must accept the link between cause and effect. When young people see the likes of Turji, Tompolo or MC Oluomo gaining fame and fortune and the attention of their elite, it is only natural that some of them would want to walk the paths that were rumoured to have gotten them in those positions.

If we want a trait to get more popular, we have to reward it and punish the antithetical.

Over the past few years, Nigeria has increasingly rewarded violence and punished proper behaviour. People are taking notes. Young people will always copy what works in their environment. When we treat terrorists and thugs with empathy (which suggests shared values) but have peaceful protesters gunned down, it sends a message.

Nwanze is a partner at SBM Intelligence

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