By Chris O.O. Biose
“In the beginning of a malady, it is easy to cure but difficult to detect but in the course of time, not having been either detected or treated in the beginning, it becomes easy to detect but difficult to cure.”
- Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)
Nigeria is only mildly affected by the deadly Covid-19 pandemic relative to many other countries of the world. It is however afflicted by an equally invisible pandemic of frightening proportions. This unrecognized social virus has to do with the climate of moral turpitude enveloping all classes of the Nigerian society, particularly the elite.
It is absolutely necessary to understand the damaging effect of this disease because without that recognition, citizens cannot even begin to fight it.
This disease is infinitely higher in its incidence and destructive capacity than Covid19 pandemic. It manifests in socially disruptive behavior that tears down the social fabric. It eats away or undermines the foundation of a peaceful, organized, sane, civilized and progressive society. From small matters such as obeying traffic rules to real big public issue of security of life and property, it promotes anti-social conduct that stunts development.
Perhaps, the most visible effect of the social virus identified above is increasing lawlessness that pervades the entire spectrum of the Nigerian society. In the Year of Our Lord 2020, the most populous Black Country on earth is in total disarray due to habitual disregard of law by its ruling elite. Powerful men behave as if the law does not exist. Where then do rulers expect followers to get good example? As the German-born French polymath, theologian, writer, humanitarian philosopher and physician, Dr Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), who also won the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his Philosophy of Relevance, said: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.”
Disorder has become the rule rather than the exception on Nigerian roads. The irony is that law-enforcement operatives are prime culprits. They are above the Road Traffic Law of the country. On frequent occasions when there is a minor hitch in flow of traffic, most vehicle drivers stay on the queue. Suddenly, one sees a military, police or VIP vehicle with armed escort drive furiousiy on the wrong lane to beat the traffic. Then immediately, commercial vehicle drivers and other “smart” drivers follow the example of the powerful men. Shortly thereafter, there is traffic chaos as both lanes of the roads are blocked by those who want “to be like” the men in power. In Nigeria, to be lawless is to be powerful. The issue then is: when fish rots from its head, it is futile to expect the body to survive.
Filthy and Noisy Environment
Another easily observable consequence of the social virus afflicting Nigeria is that citizens are overwhelmed with filth and noise. Why is it impossible to have a clean and healthy environment in the “Giant of Africa”? Local Government Councils routinely ignore constitutional roles assigned to them under the FOURTH SCHEDULE of Decree 24, 1999, particularly Section (h) on “provision and maintenance of public conveniences, sewages and refuse disposal”. Nigeria is said to hold the gold medal for open defecation in the world. Local Government Councils, 774 of them, exist for the purpose of sharing money from proceeds of sale of oil and gas from the Niger Delta and that is exactly what they do.
A Nigerian city is defined not only by filth but also by noise. It is a place where someone could suddenly fix microphones by the roadside, block the road altogether forcing road users to seek alternative routes. One frequently sees youths loaded like cattle on trucks that are fitted with loudspeakers, disturbing the entire social space with loud noise. Nobody dares to complain especially if those causing the nuisance are calling on the Holy names of God.
Soon, marketers of fake and counterfeit drugs start imitating the noisy men of God, blaring cacophony of noises in city centres and neighbourhoods. Nigeria is a cauldron of unbearable noise. There is no control, no order, nobody is in charge.
Most State Governors are not bothered about traffic chaos, noise pollution or filthy condition of their state capitals because it does not affect their capacity to share money. There is nothing to bring Nigerian governors together or tears them apart other than sharing proceeds of sale of oil and gas from the Niger Delta. The same goes for National Assembly members. Other than sharing of money, everything else is insignificant.
Worse still, following intensified liberalization, deregulation and commercialisation policy of the administration, most people find that however hard one works, unless one cheats in one form or another, one can scarcely taste “success” in the Nigerian sense of unearned wealth. Government policy essentially serves to engender mass penury, pauperization of the professional class and artisans, massive unemployment and under employment, accentuating fraudulent tendencies, looting of public resources and criminal predations at all levels.
In consequence of all the above, people are disillusioned and despondent. Most young people not only lose hope in the country, they lose faith in themselves. Hence, the greatest ambition of most Nigerian youths today is to escape from the huge system of deceit and suffering called Nigeria.
Perverse Role of Security Operatives
Aside from issues of traffic, filth, noise and poverty, most Nigerians are under constant threat to their lives and property. Insecurity is rising by leaps and bounds in the country mainly because of the greedy attitude and extortionist tactics of law enforcement operatives who want to be rich “like” politicians that they guard. Since they do not have opportunity to award huge contracts and obtain heavy cuts like Council chairmen and Governors, they use what they have (their guns) to get what they want. For this reason, most crimes against commoners are not reported because citizens do not trust the Nigeria Police to act on credible complaints without inducement.
By Section 4 of the Police Act Cap P19 Laws of the Federation, 2004, the Nigeria Police is charged with “prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such military duties within or outside Nigeria as may be required of them by, or under the authority of, this or any other Act.”
However, The Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission of Nigeria, popularly referred to as Oputa Panel Report, submitted to former President Olusegun Obasanjo in June 2002, Volume 7 (Summary, Conclusions and Recommendations, para 50 and 56) states that “Nigerians see the Police, not as a friend but as offenders and agents of human rights violations in the country…constituting a vital link in the chain of conspiracy against justice in many parts of the country.” The same Panel Report describes the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) as a “gross violator of human rights”.
If only men of the Nigeria police do their work without extortion, brutality and extra-judicial executions, they would be the darling of the Nigerian public.
Nigerians suffer in silence under their Police Force because of collusion of the authorities. It took #EndSARS protests for hundreds of victims of police brutality in the country to start coming out in trickles to make complaints at Judicial Tribunals set up in several states in the country. Prior to this, government successfully suppressed information about police brutality in the country.
Hundreds of Nigerians are killed regularly by state and non-state actors while security agencies claim that they are doing their best.The Federal Government claims that it “technically defeated” the Islamist terrorist sect, Boko Haram, six years ago, yet the sect continues to slaughter Nigerians in their numbers on a regular basis.
Security chiefs in the country often self-adulate that they are “on top of the situation” regarding myriad of security challenges in the country. However, by virtue of failure of security, Nigeria ranks as one of the most dangerous and unsafe countries in the world.
The legendary porosity of Nigeria’s borders with neighbouring countries speaks volumes of the failure of entire security apparatus –Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, Immigration, Customs, and over 20 other security agencies of the country. Where is the wisdom of a great man who fails to fix doors in his house and yet believes his household to be secure?
Deception in High Places
Nigerian leaders deceive themselves and citizens in matters both big and small. Neither the constitution of the country nor its name reflects its reality.
Nigeria does not have a Constitution made by citizens or their Representatives. The country operates a Military Decree (Decree 24, 1999) signed by its last military dictator on 5th May, 1999 as its Constitution. The document was never subjected to referendum for validation or adoption by the people. Neither the President nor National Assembly is prepared to even commence the process of enabling citizens to give themselves a genuine Constitution as long as the leaders enjoy the perquisites of their offices.
The country goes the name “Federal Republic” but it is run as a unitary autocracy where power flows from one man and federating units can do next to nothing without approval by the central power. This power dominance by one man is apparent from the fact that any policy at any level of government that is not approved by the President will not see the light of day. This is the foundation of failure of security in the country as the Federal Government insists on monopoly of policing and frustrates any suggestion for establishment of police forces by states.
Illustrating one seemingly trivial but fundamental aspect of the flawed Nigerian version of federalism, former Governor of Rivers State, Mr Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi pointed to a ridiculous situation whereby staff employed by state governments are under fiscal control of the Federal Government. Former Governor Amaechi asked rhetorically, “How can I employ workers, yet it is FG that will fix salaries for the workers. I have never seen a federal system where this is obtainable, except here.” (Charles Kumolu, Constitution Amendment: N/Assembly moves to restructure Nigeria, SUNDAY Vanguard, January 13, 2013, p 50-51)
Selfish and unpatriotic labour leaders who are only interested in check-off dues which governments collect for them from workers are solidly in support of the anomalous federal structure. They are not interested in a workable federal system that will release federating units from the stranglehold of a central Leviathan.
Furthermore, Nigeria is a funny type of Republic where religious rulers bear sway. Chapter 1, Part ll, Section 19 of Decree 24, 1999, (Prohibition of State Religion) states that “the government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.” The same Military Decree then goes on to provide for religious courts in Chapter Vll, Section E (The Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja) and Part ll, Section B (Sharia Court of Appeal of a State). The leaders pretend to be unaware of the stark contradictions between Republicanism and Theocracy.
Reign of Predators
Nigeria is a place where an ethno-religious class of feudalists successfully recruited support from selfish elite from several ethnic groups and sectors of the country to establish a class of political and economic predators. This class includes politicians, top public servants, big businessmen, traditional rulers and indeed all those perceived as “government men” enjoy immunity from interference in their nefarious activities by law enforcement agents.
The pervasive presence of this class gave rise to a situation where the reign of the predators is accepted asnormal. One cannot understand the Nigerian society unless one understands the social-psychological process whereby criminality is perceived as heroism. The elite are drunk with power and money. Like drug use, the addict considers himself a hero for doing what others do not do. They act the gods and pretend to godly power.
The lascivious criminal performs criminal acts in a lustful manner and defines criminality positively. The Nigerian power elite actually celebrate and glamorize criminality. In the face of acts that threaten the general good; they band together in solidarity.
It is within this context of high level indoctrination in attitudes of disrespect for law that juvenile deviance and law violation by adults become the norm. Mischief making is a pernicious but socially accepted game. Hence, there are no villains in the political hierarchy of any party in power in Nigeria. What would be ranked in conventional society as more audacious criminal escapades in high places only makes a Nigerian elite a greater hero in government circles.
Stubborn ruling elite has dug in deeply in the country and crushes sources of protest by ruthless official and unofficial use of force. Citizens refuse to give their loyalty to the rule of force. There is suppressed tension and ceaseless tension as people live in constant fear of men in power. This presents an extremely dangerous state of affairs, leading to chaotic scenes constantly breaking out at most unexpected times and places.
Nigerians often condemn the phenomenon of gangs of youths otherwise called ‘area boys’ or “hoodlums” who organize to grab what does not belong to them from unsuspecting members of the public. Why then do the same citizens fail to condemn in equally categorical terms, the real big grabbers that promote the worst instincts of human nature? The political, economic and traditional area boys that institute a reign of terror and a cloud of fear on the entire populace are accepted as leaders!
Decree 24, 1999, by which Nigeria is ruled creates authoritarian and suffocating political, administrative and economic structures which have consistently generated social tension in the country. Yet, political leaders are insensitive enough to insist on the status quo. They pay deaf ears to wise counsel of several well-informed and patriotic Nigerians. For example, legal icon, Afe Babalola, SAN, recently counseled:
“The only change that can change the country and pave way for nationhood is the change that changes the structure of project Nigeria. No amount of sermon from the pulpit can change the country.” (Aare Afe Babalola, Nigeria in search of a nation: Excerpts from author’s address to Yourba Summit (2), Vanguard, September 20, 2017, p 40).
Leaders lack moral fibre and patriotism to commence the process of building a nation-state out of the conglomeration of ethnic groups that make up the country. Instead of nationalism and deepening democracy, they engage in fighting over “zoning”, euphemism for sharing high political positions.
Nigerians Take Cue from Their Worst
Unlike Covid-19, which is transmitted by close contact with an infected person, lawless conduct is transmitted by merely seeing a person doing a wrong thing, hearing or reading of criminals who became wealthy. Moral morbidity is therefore infinitely more infectious than the deadly Covid-19.
Indeed, the hurtful behavious patternof the Nigerian elite lays eggs aplenty. For example, a government that is founded on electoral violence or fraud and sustained by political manipulation and corrupt influence can only reap violence and fraud together with like profit. Things beget their kind. It is therefore no surprise that governments established by violence and fraud beget even greater violence and fraud.
Once an evil person gains access to political power in a local government area, state or the country, he dominates the environment with bad examples. Everyone comes to accept foul means as a standard of conduct.
Those who refuse to deploy violence and fraud to win elections or who insist on living according to their legitimate earnings are mocked as “mumu” or “suffer-head”.
When one conjoins the social philosophy of unmitigated greed with total absence of any iota of loyalty to nation, then one understands the crudest form of banditry by officials of state, unrivalled in the annals of man. The level of greed is out of hand. In the bureaucracy, politics, professions, business houses, educational institutions, religious bodies, traditional institutions, even in the underworld of big time crime. The super dogs are bleeding the under dogs. Nigeria is one huge theatre of the war of all against all.
In democratic societies, politics and economics are instruments of development. In Nigeria, they are instruments for impoverishing the masses. This is the connection between a perverse form of political power that destroys the economy, aborts development and alienates citizens who then view government as its enemy rather than an embodiment of its wishes and aspirations.
At the present time, thereisno social force, strong enough to neutralize the debilitating influences of the deadly social virus that afflicts Nigeria. The development of the country is stunted by the moral morbidity of its elite.