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By Donald Ideh



We would not be moral beings if we could not act rationally. If on the one hand, we are propelled by impulse to take a particular course of action, and by desire, which is to say in an attempt to satisfy a feeling, we are prompted to act in another way, it is reason which steers the boat and keeps us on course.

But morality is something outside of us. The right thing to do does not depend on what I think or feel. Another man from a different society, if I explained to him why he should do this or refrain from a certain act would understand that there are rules, which should guide human conduct. I believe that ethics or morality is universal, before Hobbes and Kant, wrote about these issues, my igbo ancestors had thought and rationalised a specifically African world view, which at its very core, was not all that much different from what Kant went on to write about. Hegel and Hobbes, conspire in their writing to rob us of our agency through their language and writing, but our lived experience underscores the lies in the words that they wrote about Africa.
The fact is that moral thinking is about what is the right thing to do in a particular situation, and African societies, were no different from other societies, when one or more people are gathered together and share a similar language and face similar travails, they agree rules of behaviour to govern their actions.

Social life, has meaning when we live together as a community. For example, Omenala, are the laws and customs of the ibo people, and the deity which decides, the arbiter is Ani or Ala, Ale or Ali, depending on which dialect you speak. The goddess of morality is involved in judging human actions. When an act offends the deity it is described as nso Ala. An offence against the ground.

So as well as telling the truth we should always try and act with benevolence. We must try and do the right thing. There are two reasons why, I made a slight digression into igbo culture. First, to show that morality or ethical conduct is in some sense universal and certainly that it existed in Africa, before the European men arrived with ships, muskets and bibles on the red earth of Africa. Everyone requires respect as a human being but we do not always receive what is rightfully ours in life.

Just as ethics and religion and morality did not stop the white slave traders or Arab slave traders from capturing their fellow men and putting them in manacles, I suppose one should not be surprised that our current crop of politicians are prepared to turn us all into mere vassals, while they plunder the national coffers. Why should this be the case?

Africa is not really poor, it is just being plundered. When the colonialist plundered our resources, they realised that they had to be more efficient in the way they went about taking the bounty of the earth from our ancestors. They built railways to carry the cocoa from the cocoa producing areas to the coast. They took ground nuts from Kano to Lagos by rail and then shipped it overseas. They built shipyards and habours to load and discharge the ships that would carry the fruits of Africa to the rest of the world. They built communication systems so that the people in the colony could keep in contact with the people in the metropolitan areas. They adapted some of our traditional farming methods to an industrial scale so that more crops could be produced for cheaper. They did none of these things because there were altruistic or ‘morally superior’. They were simply more efficient. When they gave us ‘laws’, they did not give us rights. If you wanted to bring a case under English law, you had to go to London to argue your case. The native court or the district court, was neither a court in the true sense of the word, nor they did not apply any ‘laws’ as we would understand them today. Some even applied ‘native law and custom’, which made sure that the cosmology of the ‘native’ was all encompassing. But why am I talking about these historical incidents?
In ancient times, the collective mentality created strong bonds between members of the community. A crime against the land had to be avenged and the balance of the earth restored. The punishments were often crude and in some cases inhuman and degrading in today’s terms. For example a yam thief was paraded through the village, often naked and mocked by all the members of the community. Such a person would be shunned for a period of time. A rich person was expected to be a virtuous person, and this notion of virtuousness, created a benchmark or a yardstick by which right action was judged. Loss of face was considered a grave punishment. Rehabilitation, took time and sacrifices, if it was ever going to be possible to restore honour.
With modernisation, the era of big government and rapid industrialisation, the people moved from rural areas to urban areas and this connection with village life was irredeemably ruptured. It was replaced with more individual values such as the acquisition of material wealth. In other places, in other societies, there was a gradual transition from agrarian to urbanisation. In Europe, this process took several hundred years. In the case of Nigeria it took about 50 years from the early 1900s to 1960, when Nigeria, gained independence. In many respects, that process has continued until today. Some might argue that it has stalled to some extent. Economic growth and social development has to attain a certain degree of equilibrium or balance otherwise, the social effects of rapid industrialisation create many modern social problems for societies, not least of which, include, the weakening of community ties.
But the purpose of this piece is not to lament, the modern age. It is high time we acknowledge the epoch we are in, and, we are in the midst of a ferocious period of social change arising out of globalisation.

I do not understand, how a government that
is supposed to belong to its people, can steal from its people. I do not understand how you can take an allocation of millions of dollars and put it in a personal account with such impunity. The Banks do not bat an eyelid, nor do the neighbours, family and friends, nobody in the community asks any questions, it is simply accepted as a fact of life like the rain. You can be destitute one moment or a lowly public official, and in the next moment a billionaire. The rags to riches success story in the Nigerian context, leaves far much more to good fortune and a great deal of imagination, than hard work. What is missing is any ethical connection between the source of wealth and the amount of social recognition, which accompanies wealth.

If a rich list of Nigeria is compiled a noticeable feature is that many of the billionaires are actually ex public officials. This is noticeable because when you compare it with the rich lists complied in America and Europe you immediately notice the preponderance of entrepreneurs. People with vision and financial acumen tend to dominate such lists. In the case of Nigeria, you wonder how a public official could legitimately gain ownership of an oil well. You wonder how a person with a salary of a public official could accumulate such wealth as to buy a former state owned company. It really does not take a great deal imagination to reach the conclusion that government business is the most profitable commercial activity in Nigeria.

But there is a new dawning coming. The youth are restless and the old are tired. The masses are angry. Slowly, very cautiously, new questions are being asked and new answers are being provided. The old certainties no longer apply. The old answers do not satisfy. We are outing away the circus of tribalism and greed. When one person suffers, we all suffer. When the children go hungry, it is our future, which is being squandered. There is no convoy long enough, no private jet high enough or security fence wide enough to keep out the stench of corruption ,which assails our nostrils on a daily basis. 
We are creating networks and sharing information. You see, oppression no matter how deeply ingrained has an expiry date. History is on the side of the people, and wherever you see an oppressed people, you see a confluence of factors pushing for freedom and pushing for change. We can no longer accept the excuses of our leaders. None of these problems or issues are beyond ingenuity. It takes, vision, courage and good leadership, that is all.