A Perverted Value System


Tochukwu Ezukanma



Franklin Roosevelt, that one of the greatest American presidents, once stated that “happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort”. To the average Nigerian, this statement will seem the prattling of an imbecile; it will elicit a scornful laughter. Interestingly, there was a time in Nigeria when these same words of Franklin Roosevelt would have struck a chord in Nigerian minds. That was before the oil boom.  


Then, before we became engulfed by greed and cupidity, we could think of success or fulfillment in terms other than as measured by the possession of money. We were not as wealth-conscious, selfish and insatiable. Life was not all about money: to acquire it and to hold on to it at all cost. It was not all about self: self-absorbed, self-serving, self-indulgent, etc. We could volunteer our time and resources for causes that did more than just serve our personal interests, that is, for the collective good. People’s expectations were modest and reasonable. Money was expected to be earned. People worked and expected to be paid in accordance with their work and abilities. Free money and all other sorts of undeserved riches were disapproved of. The society shunned and snubbed those who assented to free money, or made their fortune from illegitimate engagements. They were considered frauds, criminals and excoriated for having reaped where they have not sown.


Oil wealth is unique in that it does not come from any national effort, toil or sweat. It is not from any national agricultural, manufacturing, scientific or technological enterprise. It results not from our resourcefulness, innovation or ingenuity. It is just a windfall. It literally drops from above. Invariably, it seemed to loom in the horizon, and ready to drop into outstretched hands. To appear to loom in the horizon and ready to drop into stretched-out hands was not the problem. That is, as long as we clung to our earlier values that stressed hard work and considered unmerited money an anathema. It was possible to have oil boom and still have an honest and disciplined society. Oil boom would just have meant increased affluence, better opportunities and a higher standard of living for every Nigerian.    


It was the woeful mix of oil money and corrupt leadership that resulted in the total moral and ethical collapse of the Nigerian society. At the advent of oil boom, Nigeria was under military rule. Military involvement in politics proved a raw grab for power couched in moralizing lectures about their mission to   restore political order, end official corruption and prepare the country for democracy. Nigeria lost her innocence as the brutality and bloodletting that attended military intervention in politics brutalized the national psyche and ushered in a culture of violence.


Military rule brought selfishness, bribery and corruption to hitherto unimaginable levels. While the most notoriously corrupt politicians of the 1st Republic were accused of stealing or misappropriating 10 percent of the cost of government projects, in the early days of military rule, it rose to about 25 percent. Towards the last days of military rule, it went up to 200 percent, as the cost of government projects were inflated by up to 100% and the entire fund stolen and the project not executed at all.


Edward Gibbon, summing up the soldier’s appalling lack of aptitude for political leadership, wrote that “the temperament of soldiers, habituated at once to violence and servitude renders them unfit administrators of a legal or civil constitution. Justice, humanity, or political wisdom, are qualities they are too little acquainted with in themselves to appreciate …in others.” To these gun toting usurpers, power was just an instrument for indulging their megalomania, licentiousness, despotism, bribery, etc. They saw no higher purpose of governance than self-gratification, self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement. Their every act assaulted the work ethics and the elevated morals of the society.


From their deeds, the society learnt that hard work, honesty and commitment do not pay; that only the weak, stupid and feckless work for their money. That the elite, privileged and influential make their money from corruption, fraud and outright stealing of public funds. That is, that greediness, lying, fraudulence and theft are not punished but rewarded, especially in the powerful and prominent circles. Taking a cue from our leaders, we became irredeemably selfish, insatiably greedy and incurably dishonest. Our expectations changed. They become unrealistic, perverse, depraved and iniquitous, because it was no longer work and resourcefulness that determined income, but connections, falsehood, corrupt activities, disregard for  norms, traditions and the law, and even dalliance with satanic forces. We stopped despising free and unmerited money, and began to cherish and applaud it. We lost our sense of fidelity, loyalty and commitment to family, friends and the nation.


This distorted mindset and the resulting society’s willful penchant to reap where it had not sown have ramified so damagingly for the country. It permeated and ruined every segment of the Nigerian social order. Naturally, it gave Nigeria a place among the most corrupt countries of the world. It reduced the country to a vast degenerate system honeycombed with crooks, con artists, lairs, drug peddlers, smugglers, ritual killers, etc. It demeaned her to something of a menagerie where anarchy reigns supreme and every institution malfunctions. These lawlessness and dysfunction are obvious in our politics, cities, hospitals, schools, bureaucracy, churches, – just in every facet of our lives.  


Nigeria is a vivid and instructive example of what the convergence of wealth and irresponsible leadership can do to a country. A system is only a product of its politics and leadership, especially its leadership. Our present situation is the product of a failed political structure, military rule, and the brutal, visionless, immoral dictators it bestowed on us, as leaders. Democracy offers a magnificent opportunity for moral and ethical regeneration. This explains the disproportionate representation of democracies among the world’s most advanced and successful countries. The ringing question is can Yar’Adua as the president, the repository of the hopes of the nation and the powers of its government, lead this country back to higher standards of probity and morality? Thus far, he seems a virtuous man with honorable intensions but lacks the political will to shoulder the mammoth responsibilities entrusted on him by fate.