By EFE EHIOGHAE
Nowadays, we hear so much about revolution. Some believe it is what will positively change the unsavoury situation we have found ourselves. I agree that we need to experience a revolution but not the type that employs violence to accomplish an end. Violence, as they say, begets violence. If you employ violence you may enjoy peace for a while but the seed of violence sown will certainly sprout and yield abundant harvest. What we need in Nigeria is ethical revolution. Well, somebody may say, what about the one former president Shehu Shagari launched in 1982. He actually inaugurated an Ethical Revolution Committee, similar to what others did before and after the putsch that truncated his tenure. But they all failed because they had more to do with rhetoric than effecting lasting and perpetual change in value orientation.
That is why, today, as we all know, corruption is still gadding about the corridors of power and many of our leaders are embracing and cuddling the monster. Its hideous mien is nothing to think about if just a kiss is enough to pander to their insatiable desire to have a few more billions of euros, dollars, pound sterling in several personal or proxy bank accounts in the Western world.
It should now be clear to everyone, judging by recent happenings in our society that we are experiencing a haemorrhage of corruption in its multi-faceted manifestations. Like an octopus, corruption has extended its tentacles to every domain of human endeavour. It is not as if the act of corrupt practices is a novel development. All over the world, pockets of corrupt practices may be seen in unlikely places, contaminating and fouling the socio-economic environment. Even the so-called advanced nations of the world are not exempt. They probably may have succeeded more than us, in taming the goddess of cupidity to the extent that its power to stymie developmental initiatives has been largely undermined.
But here in Nigeria, we seem to have fallen in love with the mammon of unrighteousness. We thought it was a problem of leadership. There is little to doubt that the prognosis was correct. How else could one explain the billions of naira that have been siphoned from the public coffer since we had our independence? It is only the leadership cadre and their collaborators that have access to such fabulous sums of money. To the average person on the street billions of naira are simply figures the brain juggles with, when preparing budgets for the state or the entire nation. But to hear that large sums of money running into billions can actually be carted away by an individual bespeaks of a terrible crisis in value orientation. You ask: What will such a person do with that kind of money? Besides acquiring state-of-the-art cars, exotic mansions, adding a few damsels to his harem, throwing a few millions to silence his critics (through bullying or lobbying), oiling the election process to his advantage, there is still a lot to give him a sense of fulfillment. But is he really fulfilled?
Unfortunately, many people think corruption can bring about fulfillment. Hence the power it has had over the citizenry. What began as a leadership problem had metastasised and now corruption has become a plague that no one seems to be immune against. It has no respect for age, sex, status or religious proclivity.
The lure is overmastering: many see those who are already in the bandwagon of corrupt practices flaunting their ill-gotten riches and they are tempted to hop in. To make matters worse, some have adopted the philosophy that ascribe omnipotence to money. They wax religious and try to use one or two sacred texts to justify this philosophical standpoint. The oft-quoted text is “Money answers all things” (Ecc.10:19). That is, with money, you can find self-fulfillment and be able to right all wrongs. But it is a text quoted out of context. Adopting the philosophy that “money answers all things” is probably the root of all our problems. It may have the semblance of altruism but if you remove the peelings you will find greed at its core. Money certainly does not answer all things as commonly understood by people. If it does, we will not be where we are today, inching towards the precipice of disintegration. Some people think we are already tittering on the brink, just a step away from a headlong fall.
This may sound alarmist; but against the backdrop of the worsening security profile in the country, the spiralling level of corruption and violence it would be foolhardy to simply ignore the telltale signs and do nothing. What we need urgently is ethical revolution to arrest the free fall into oblivion. This is, however, not a call for government to stop upgrading the security apparatus by arming the law enforcement agents, strengthening the various arms of governments and responding to the parlous state of the economy. Rather it is a call to focus more on value orientation.
The much government may have done in the past in terms of ethical orientation probably did not gel partly because it was more of lip service than anything else and partly because a critical element in moral re-armament was left out. Religion plays a central and defining role in inculcating right moral values in people. Christianity and Islam are two religions in Nigeria that perhaps have the greatest number of adherents.
Corruption signposts an abandonment of moral standards. Who is to blame? It is difficult for religious leaders to totally exonerate themselves from blame. Religious leaders are, by their special callings, expected to impart as well as impact moral standards. This cannot be done by merely teaching what is right but by living it. Many of the politicians, business moguls, technocrats, and all who hold the aces in the economy attend churches or mosques. What message do they hear from their spiritual guides? Are they such that pander to greed or that make them a little more selfless? Are they such that enthrone self and promote values that are sure recipes for societal disintegration?
We probably need to learn from Mahatma Ghandhi, Indian nationalist leader, who successfully prosecuted a revolution in India some years ago. It was a moral revolution, employing the power of non-violence. Ghandhi was certainly not materialistic; he shunned material comforts in order to achieve a higher aim. Curiously, Ghandhi got some of his inspiration from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.5-7). Though a Hindu, he was enamored by the ethics of Christ as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount. Unfortunately, nobody has ever perfectly internalised and translated these ethical standards into real life situations. An understanding of the human heart would reveal that it is not naturally inclined to doing good. The Holy Writ describes it as “deceitful …and desperately wicked” (Jer.17:9). The corrupt heart is self-centered and hankers after self-glorification. Do we need to be reminded by Ghandhi that a life that is not focused on self is that which can experience true liberty and self-fulfillment? Ghandhi did not teach something really new. It is only that we have failed to realize that there are far greater delights in life which materialism cannot offer.
Life itself is a drama. If we play our role well and put our acts together in prosecuting an ethical revolution in which religious leaders take the lead, we will experience a surprising denouement. We shall not only have material comforts but will be able to enjoy them without being unnecessarily harassed by those aggrieved because of perceived or real injustice in the society.
(Ehioghae teaches Theology and Ethics at Babcock University, Ilisan Remo, Ogun State.)