This is a guest post.
The advent of democracy is often heralded as a progressive development in most countries, especially developing countries like Nigeria. In our case however, there appears to be an uncomfortable correlation between “democracy” and an increasing divorce from reason and logic on a national scale. As a matter of fact, one might call the Nigerian situation “democrazy”.
As a young person who left Nigerian shores over a decade ago, and still vividly remembers the sawdust stoves of the Abacha era and the SAP graffiti of the Babangida era, I have to wonder at how we have since ended up with a system of government largely populated by thugs and criminals, and characterized by all manner of perfidy. Nigeria is the country that completely confounds reason. Anything can happen in Nigeria which usually makes nonsense of any sort of planning or analysis. In spite of this however, I have concluded that it is shame, or the absence thereof, that has led us to this ignoble end, 50 years after independence. It is worth examining the impact of this widespread Shamelessness on us as a people.
According to cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict, shame differs from guilt in that it is a violation of social and cultural values rather than personal values. Shame is an important tool for socialization as it is often used to regulate behavior, and is an important pillar of punishment in most societies. A shameless society therefore, implies a complete breakdown of social values that compel individuals of that society to exercise some degree of responsibility towards each other. How does one appeal to the conscience of a man who is impervious to disgrace? This is a trait that characterizes not just our political class, but even average citizens. Shamelessness is the disease that has permeated every aspect of our consciousness, from our schools to our churches to our institutions of government. It is everywhere and it is destroying us as a people.
Our students openly cheat on exams; our policemen openly terrorize and extort money from us, shooting us at will when we dare to disobey; our religious men are con-artists and sycophants; our graduates are kidnappers; our bureaucrats have turned corruption into an institution; our lawmakers give themselves unjustifiable pay increases rather than legislate; convicted criminals show up for their sentencing with an army of praise-singers and worse still, our name is associated globally with fraud and all manner of criminality. Is it any wonder then that it is the very dregs of our society that have emerged to rule over us? There is something to be said for a country where the national anthem was briefly a song called “Yahoozee”, sung gleefully by babies and pensioners alike. Everywhere you go in Nigeria, shame has left us.
And in spite of all these individual failings, we are very quick to point fingers at our leadership, forgetting our own complicity in the matter. We are indignant that the likes of Ibrahim Babangida, the man largely credited for destroying the moral fibre of the nation, is contesting in the Presidential elections. And yet, we are the same people that sell our votes for a bag of rice and buy Ovation magazine to see pictures of Ibori’s newest mansion in London. The almighty Naira reigns supreme and we sing the praises of anyone who can throw a few coins our way, never mind that they stole it from us to begin with. As long as you can pay, absolutely anything goes in Nigeria; which is the reason why our country has become the theater of the absurd. Where they still exist, social mores and codes have been turned on their heads. The only shameful thing in our country now is poverty.
Given that our police and judicial institutions are completely ineffective in arresting the decay, the last effective tool of punishment we have is social exclusion and even that is fast slipping out our grips. And the last bastions of that: our press, our religious leaders, our parents and elders, fail when they rent themselves as praise-singers to the delinquents that hold an entire nation hostage. And we fail ourselves with the small daily acts of shamelessness that we subscribe to. We have become a nation where a good name no longer has any value; the children of the criminals are being groomed to turn political office into criminal dynasties, whilst their parents metamorphose into “statesmen”.
Yes, shame has vacated our nation and in the meantime we teeter dangerously between anarchy and criminal despotism. Fifty years on since independence, we would do well to remember that a society with no shame very quickly stops being a society at all.
Thanks to Zehd A. for contributing to Nigerian Curiosity as the Honorary Guest Writer for October 2010. What do you think about the thoughts expressed?