• Tuesday, April 16, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

The morality question

The morality question

There is unarguably a progressive value erosion in our country. This is happening increasingly, and there is no hope of it abating soon. This cankerworm is significantly influenced by westernisation and globalisation but with the shared responsibility of local catalysts like collapsed family systems, the near extinction of communal oversight and accountability, the abdication of moral reinforcement by religious centres, the failure of governmental institutions, and a skewed education curriculum that pays little attention to proper moral education and developing cultural personality identity.

The social-moral code, which governs how individuals behave in a community setting, has literally collapsed in most of our communities. Religious morality has been subdued by a craving for wealth and fanaticism not founded on love, truth, or honour. The elevation of money or accumulation of pecuniary wealth in the public space has become Machiavellian as the “end that justifies the means.” The ‘get rich quick syndrome’ is normalised. The effect of this malaise is evident to all; we see it, feel it, and analyse it, but beyond that, what do we do?

“The social-moral code, which governs how individuals behave in a community setting, has literally collapsed in most of our communities.”

The most critical to my mind is the moral dimension of our public affairs. The decay is evident on a national scale. This is not to say that the other dimensions of our moral decadence are less critical. This column will, however, focus on the morality governing the conduct of public affairs, which needs to be more relevant. Some recent manifestations of the decay in our public morality standards will help us appreciate the extent of the decay.

Historically, Nigeria has often witnessed corruption scandals of fantastical proportions at different times that have shown our decline from morality, as my friend Dr. Lasisi Olagunju captured in his recent column “The History of Scams.” Each succeeding corruption scandal and sleaze makes the last one look like a child’s play in comparison, both in the audacity of maleficence and the amount of money involved. In the 1970s, Nigerians witnessed the “cement armada” scandal when the military government issued import licences to companies to import vast amounts of cement to build military infrastructure. The corruption in the cement price, the quantity supplied was far less than paid for, the demurrage paid for real and imagined ships carrying cement at the Nigerian ports, and the local and international court cases that ensued left a sour taste in our collective mouths.

The 1980s were marred by the infamous “rice scandal”; the government spent over $4 billion to import rice to feed a hungry nation. The rice was nowhere to be found, the money grew wings and flew into thin air, and Nigerians and the international community marvelled at our leaders’ sheer level of wickedness and moral bankruptcy.

In the past five years, Nigerians have witnessed a disturbing trend of public officials abdicating their moral responsibility in favour of self-interest and personal gain. This lack of accountability is evident in the Dasukigate scandal, where billions of dollars earmarked for counterterrorism efforts remain unaccounted for, leaving communities vulnerable to ongoing insecurity. The billion-dollar fuel subsidy scam of the 2000s, with its lurid details, serves as another stark reminder of the consequences of such corruption.

Most recently, there was the Senator Ningi budget padding scandal in the National Assembly. The presidency presented a budget of about N27.5 trillion to our National Assembly, but controversy has trailed the budget with no solid explanation as to what happened. The story of magical, ubiquitous solar lights and boreholes still haunts the integrity of the budget. This budget manipulation allegation is a moral question for the National Assembly. It has brought issues of transparency, abuse of power, the conflict between public interest and personal interest, and issues of fairness and equity to public attention.

The most disturbing aspect of these scandals is that we do not learn lessons from them, and most perpetrators go unpunished. Nigerians are used to that and expect little accountability and responsibility from our leaders. Impunity reigns supreme, and things have fallen apart. Moral responsibility is an excellent sign of leadership, but this is vanishing in Nigeria. No leader ever takes responsibility for either a failure of oversight or being complicit in a failure of the system to compensate morally for the pain associated with such failures.

Contemporary Nigerian politics is marked by a paradoxical trend of moralistic rhetoric, while public officials’ ability to achieve moral ends is declining. This corruption contributes to a moral breakdown in society, as Nigeria’s societal moral values, which govern politics, business, and government, have often been corrupted. These values define what people see as acceptable behaviour, what others will approve of, and what society collectively accepts or rejects as acceptable behaviour by individuals.

The various crises engulfing the contemporary Nigerian state manifest the breakdown of morality in almost all spheres of the country. The gruesome murder of 16 military personnel last Thursday while responding to a distress call during a communal crisis between the Okuoma and Okoloba communities in Delta State is a product of the failure of morals in the communities. The fact that youths who control both money and firepower in our communities no longer have respect for constituted authority and community elders indicates how low we have gone in morals.

Our military, which we should revere for protecting us, has come under attack by the same people it is protecting. Daily, we are bombarded with stories of how our military personnel are dying at the hands of fellow Nigerians—bandits, terrorists, secessionists, and now village vigilante groups. This is absurd and shows how low we have come as a society.

Chinua Achebe emphasised the need for a robust democracy with educated, participatory followership and morally grounded leadership. However, our democracy lacks these qualities, leading to its failure. Prioritising moral foundations in individuals, politicians, and public officials is crucial. We must review our current practices, examine past pressures, and rebuild society based on meritocracy, fairness, and selflessness, prioritising moral reinforcement over materialism.

The decline of moral values in our communities, particularly in politics and public life, should be a central concern. Politics does not rise or fall on the private righteousness of leaders. Leaders’ self-interest should always be tempered by moral conscience. We need to strengthen the guardrails of national morality, such as the judiciary, ICPC, EFCC, and the Code of Conduct Bureau. We must effectively demand moral uprightness from public officials and celebrate those who uphold such high moral and ethical standards.