We have looked at some key institutions and personalities in Nigeria that should normally be relevant to the project of moving Nigeria forward. So far we are not convinced any of them is capable to take Nigeria State out of the woods. Our last hope is the Civil Society. Are the practitioners or professional organisers of Voluntarism in Nigeria different from other personalities we have investigated? My candid advice would be don’t hold your breath. Nigeria’s spiritual environment has been seriously damaged and too polluted to expect any true vine to sprout therein.
In this discourse we shall not waste valuable time on the perversion we know that goes on in the name of all kinds of voluntary organisations particularly those that sprout up on the heels of the episode of 12 June 1993. However we shall be looking at ways and means of cultivating or civilising our civil societies for the divine project of liberation that is ahead of us.
It is an inevitable reality that the natural basic needs of a person, as a living being must be fulfilled regardless of the moral persuasion of the person. A typical man has a multifarious role to play as a son, father, husband, worker, friend, brother, uncle and so on and so forth. Each of these attributes commands and demands some responsibility from our typical man. In the context of a Nigerian who is full of angst about the goings on in the country and is concerned about the moral and ethical perversions in the society, the dilemma he has to contend with is beyond the imagination of a non-native. For the morally straight and the human right campaigner, the position that one takes will depend on how seriously one sees his role or the significant importance of ones position in the scheme of life of the aforementioned attributes.
Getting involved, speaking out, registering dissent, siding with the oppressed, fighting the oppressor, or just challenging the illegality of the acquired rights of the oppressor will depend seriously on whether these voluntary moral duties and obligations will infringe or jeopardise the interest of any of the myriad dependants catalogued above.
Please bear with me. We are trying to situate as early as possible in this dialogue the reality of the simple truth that man is a part of a system of family, community, nation and the world. This fact will help us to understand much more quickly the analysis that is going to follow in this section.
Every man is created to grow and to become a complex thinking, reasoning piece of physiological machine. No human being who is not brain damaged or disabled does anything without calculating the cost and estimating the ensuing gains or losses that would naturally follow. It does not matter whether the calculation is elementary or complex, the fact is, every man counts the cost of his or her intending actions before embarking on the action. The decision to act or not to act could be based simply on one form of emotion or the other – love, hate or fear.
In forming the judgement on which our typical man will act, we find him expressing his opinion thus: “I love to do this but I am afraid of the consequences or I don’t care about the consequences.” Or “I hate the behaviour of the members of this government – their greed, their callousness, their cruelty, and their undisciplined ego – but I am powerless to do anything about it.” Or “I can’t stand to bear the injustice, the wickedness, the inhuman treatment of fellow citizens within the political system any longer and I am going to confront it no matter the consequences on me.”
The above considerations are based on emotions that are found in the nature of all beings whose conscience have not yet being sacrificed for economic or political gains. This kind of calculated reasoning either for altruistic or selfish interest is the prerogative of all human beings. As long as a man is a conscious entity with all the natural faculties intact he cannot help but to think. It is the easiest natural thing to do. Thinking is the ability to use (by simple or complex combination) observable and perceptible data or information collected through the senses to arrive at a decision of action or inaction.
The major problem facing every man is the quality of the decision we make which are derived from the quality and the value content of the data/materials we use for arriving at a decision at any given time. Philosopher like Thomas Hobbes is of the opinion that there is nothing one human being has that other human being does not possess.12 Thomas Hobbes wrote this hypothesis in support of the principle of equality of persons.
The quality of our knowledge, which significantly informed our beliefs, will determine what actions or non-actions a man will decide to take when faced with the decadence of the Nigeria State since the soldiers seized the reign of political and economic power. A man may believe in fairness, justice and the rule of law, but his responsibilities to the myriad relations mentioned above that depend fully or partially on him for their sustenance will make this noble man hard pressed to jettison these natural obligations for an unsure utopia. More so, going by the experiences of other compatriots, there is no way of knowing that any sacrifice made on behalf of the nation shall have desired effect of moving the nations forward. This is where the quality of knowledge our campaigner for fair play possesses would help to determine how he tackles the next level of consciousness in this moral war.
What kind of knowledge will be useful to the campaigner? Can academic laurels a man garners from the Ivy League, or the oratorical skill of sophistry that can woo the audience to feverish applause but without teaching or edifying any virtue be of any use? Is it a professorial sagacity that is full of theory but devoid of any practical relevance to the society? Simply put, the knowledge which is beneficial to man and society tends towards wisdom. Having knowledge is the capacity to know, to understand and to comprehend.
To know what exactly? Is it to know political or scientific or philosophical theories? All these are good and important but they must be grounded on the foundation of the first principle, that is the knowledge on the meaning of life. When knowledge starts from, as it were, the philosophical imperatives of the meaning of life, it is easier to build other knowledge on this assured foundation.
What then is life? Life to me is the state of consciousness, of the awareness that I am living. A living thing, as taught to the first year biology students in secondary schools, breathes, eats, moves, sees, hears, feels, procreates, excretes, grows, aged, and dies. In a nutshell anything that does any or all of these activities has life. Since each of the activities requires energy or force to perform, what then is the source of the energy or force that aids all those activities in a living thing? For all the erudite scholarship of the clever men of letters or science, nobody has been able to answer this question convincingly. What we observed is that after an elaborate theory and high-sounding hypothesis of the Big Bang or of the Evolution most scholars tend to end up with Nature or God or Tao or Allah and many other titles as the source of the energy or the force of life.
For the twentieth century so-called modern civilised man, Nature is easier to handle since it is rendered bare of all religious connotations which the mind of a modern, reasoning man cannot stand – understandably. We can therefore, safely say, the name of the god of the modern man is called Nature. Nature answers every mystery in all conversation. When a man has reached the zenith of his analysis on issues that have to do with life, without realising it, nature drops in to wrap up the brilliant submission. Nature is the end of our wisdom, the answers to all mysteries yet unanswered. Man cannot do better than this. Man only knows what he can see, or perceive with other sensory organs. What a man does not hear, does not see, does not feel etc. can never be known. Therefore, until a man has a rudimentary data of information secured through the senses, the reasoning faculty cannot imagine or combine data to form new entities or to make decisions for action or inaction.
Now, for any Nigerian under the inauspicious political circumstances in which we are forced to live, it is extremely difficult to seek and to attempt to discuss knowledge in its pure uncoloured form. The only knowledge Nigerians are willing to imbibe right now or have already imbibed is the knowledge of Mammon, the god of money. For the last 38 years, this is the reigning god in Nigeria. How we got hooked on this base knowledge is difficult to say. But one thing is clear, from the beginning of the creation of Nigeria the people of this land mass have been cultivated, bred and treated like second or third rated human beings as in all other colonies of the British Empire. The breeding of a people, like the breeding of domestic animals or pets is only adequate in the context of the intention of the breeder. If, for example, a horse breeder wants a horse for racing then every effort will be made to gear the training of the horse towards that end from the beginning. If the horse is needed as a carrier of load or for pulling coaches, then it will be trained in that direction accordingly.
Nigerians were considered a lower race by the British colonial civil servants and were similarly cultivated to serve the interest of the Crown in a lower capacity as obedient servants. They were not seen or treated as people who were really fully human. The imperialist experts theorised and advised that the blacks were like children13 and therefore their trainers and handlers should be charitable and should not expect anything of intellect from them. So as children, the colonial imperial majesties neither expect them to have any mental faculty for higher learning nor any reasoning faculty for thinking. It was therefore felt only adequate to breed Nigerians to a level where they can be made useful in the lower service of the Crown.
This strategy, born of the white race supremacist belief over the black race, informed the content and orientation of the educational system established in the country by the colonial government. The tragedy is, after almost four decades of independence the educational strategy has not changed. The educational system in Nigeria is not directed at the cultivation of the intellectual development of the people but for rearing a people who can only understand the English language. It does not even matter if the language cannot be used proficiently but as long as the half-broiled graduate can take instruction and can respond to the instructions given, it was deemed adequate enough. The Nigerian graduate is not expected or supposed to think. The philosophy or the meaning of life, of knowledge, of development, of evolution and man are adjudged too complex for the simple, fickle-minded child-like Nigerian person.
The University of Ibadan, which opened in 1948, is a good example of the impact of such supremacist ideology. The College produced graduates in its early years that were trained to feel and act elitist even though their knowledge, their values and their perceptions have not changed in any form from those of their compatriots who did not succeed to that level of education. The only observable difference was their penchant habit to imitate the white man in all aspects of life without any deep reflection on the wisdom or otherwise or on the practicability or impracticability of the white man’s way to the cultural and environmental condition.
Take for instance the mode of dressing, most of the university Graduates, the elite of the time, love to suit up with a sharp, pointed well-knotted flashy tie even when the climate and the environment do not permit such attire. Who cares, since the white man does it, it is good enough for them. Nothing has changed. A successful Nigerian in any of the commercial cities of Nigeria still talks about ‘power-dressing’. This is the donning of expensive three-piece high quality woollen suits. Never mind the heat, the sweat and the obvious physical inconvenience and discomfort to the wearer. It is only by wearing a three-piece suit that the wearer can show that he is a mover or shaker in the economy. This pedestrian example is symptomatic of other everyday life occurrences and of a base value orientation Nigerian elite have adopted. This is a value premise that has no relevance to the society, to the people and to the environment that the elite of the society is expected to move forward and to revolutionise.
It should therefore not surprise anyone that at the end of the twentieth century, Nigeria, led by her ignorant elite, are still grappling with common problems of food shortage, of inadequate shelter, of low health care facilities, of lack of transport infrastructures, of lack of waste and filth disposal technology and services, of lack of preventive health care services against common diseases and other such common problems that knowledge, science and technology have made easy in all well-oriented societies.
The difference between a developed economy and an undeveloped economy is in the realm of knowledge, of the ability of the people to think, to reason, to calculate, to inquire and to reflect. The difference is also in the trained habit that refuses to assume and to accept any philosophy or belief or faith, until it is thoroughly investigated with proper sign posts to determine where the philosophy and the philosopher are coming from, where they are going, and what the guru wants from or for the converts.
Nigerians were exposed to a fictitious type of knowledge that could not challenge all the fundamentals of the meaning of life. This type of knowledge is comfortable with oppressive traditions and inherited beliefs. It accepts everything either physical or spiritual as given and does not query or put to test any observed phenomenon or inherited myth. The transferred knowledge seems to approve without any challenge that every superstition inherited from ancestors are good and required no change into eternity. It does not seek to ask question about the wisdom or otherwise of traditional and modern religious beliefs. It also does not plan to change old and ancient inherited technology of traditional food production or the physical and spiritual environment. It embraces wholeheartedly all superstitions and ancestral beliefs flowing from both the local and foreign shrines. As it is, to ask question on grey areas of faith is seen as an unforgivable sacrilege. As a result, we can safely say the Nigerian elites have very shallow kind of knowledge that feels comfortable with ignorance. Isn’t it said that ignorance is bliss?
In a nutshell, the conclusion we can draw from the above exposition is that the knowledge on which our elitism, our kind of civilisation, our politics, our societies, and our modern culture is built is simply defective. Consequently, the nature of the reality on which the Nigeria State built its dreams, its aspirations, its expectations and its successes is one of mediocrity. This Nigeria’s reality of a civil society is therefore built on quicksand, a very unstable ground indeed. Should it still surprise anyone that this reality has not been able to sustain any development be it social, political or economic? All the things that can be pointed to as progress in our societies can be seen as of the basest kind. This type of progress, if it can be so described, has tendency to destroy souls. It is not a progress that edifies a society but of the kind that perpetually dehumanises both the victim and the victor.
This is the environment which is miraculously breeding a pocket of flickering lights that happen to see the madness and the ailments enveloping and suffocating Nigeria. The questions facing these awakened Nigerians are:
- Where and how would they start the fight to challenge the warped and corrupt realities to which the nations of Nigeria are doggedly holding on to?
- How can they wake up other Nigerians from their slumbers and help them to realise that the realities of life they are holding on to are not safe and can only lead to more calamity, unbearable agony and untold suffering?
- How can they help Nigerians to cast their gaze a little above their noses so that they can see the telltale signs of the sour fruit of individual and national stupidity.
- What kind of alarm would they sound that can make the so-called leaders to see the utter foolishness of their ways?
- How many of the hapless common people are prepared to listen to reason and common sense?
- How many of those Nigerians who see the problems have the courage to challenge this stupidity that is pauperising all the nations?
It is the general acceptance of the fatality of this situation that gets me really angry, the attitude of fellow citizens:
- That accepts it is futile to even try to make a difference;
- That accepts powerlessness as a natural phenomenon and without ever given it a thought on how it can be challenged.
- That is contented with the crumbs from the masters’ table.
- That prefers earthly suffering to a glorious death – dying for a belief.
- That can only talk about the heavenly glories and crowns in their religions but worshippers are afraid to be a Martyr to anything of virtue, of holiness, of righteousness and of fundamental truth.
- That refuses to use the natural faculties of the brain to think, to reason, to challenge all lies, and all hypocrisy and to seek the truth of the meaning of life in all its glories and wisdom.
- That belittles the great potentials in every human being to grow, to aspire and to evolve into the halo ground of an achiever in the wilderness of nature.
- And the attitude of free men that accept to be slaves to any man, to any empire, to any kingdom, to any earthly lord or king as far as they do not suffer or encounter any temptation or distress and have their daily wretched bread assured.
These are the attitudes bugging me as the situation of Nigeria is brought under analysis. It is a situation that goes against the grain of wisdom, against the divine plan of the Creator and against every intention of nature.
The law of nature or of God or of Allah or of Tao or of The Light is perfect and true from the beginning of life. Man, like all other creations in the universe is created unique, individually and interdependently with all other beings in an equal and distinct partnership. Nature does not create kings of any man or subjects of any man. It is the base instinct of wickedness, of brutality and of bloodletting by the dishonourable men now camouflage as honourable men that led to the institutions of kings and empires.
In the true principle of the law of nature, as seen in the arrangement of the planets, in the ecology, and in the human body – cells and organs – all creatures are created perfect, unique, distinct and independent but in function they are all interrelated with one another and they work in concert both for the sake of efficiency and for continuity of life. Life is incomplete if any part of nature’s system is faulty or become selfish or conceited. No part of the various systems in nature is too small or too big. Each part is fundamental and inevitable to the system. This is the law of nature.
For any man therefore to accept to be a slave without liberty or to live under institutional or cultural inequality or oppression is a debasement of the law of nature. However, when a man has come into true knowledge and wisdom of creation, he cannot help but to challenge all the unnatural institutions that are dressed up in any of the usual lies of religion or tradition or myths or superstition or any other such likes solely for the purpose of enslaving other fellow man.
This is the reality of Nigeria. This reality is not based on knowledge and truth. It is a reality of bliss under the climate of ignorance. It is a reality of superstitions and mythologies that have found their ways into religion, politics, economics and social mores.
Every Nigerian is so religious that life is easily divided into two compartments:
- Religious Society – Church or Mosque or Shrines; and
- Civil Society – government or commerce.
The front a Nigerian presents in the religious setting is totally different from his/her persona in government or commercial setting. Every Nigerian has become a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by his/her ability to dichotomise life into these two compartments without feeling guilty on the ensuing contradictions. May we candidly ask:
- How can any person separate his/her beliefs from the values or aspirations or life goals that motivate actions or no actions?
- Doesn’t ones belief a stepping-stone or building block to life aspirations?
- How can anyone design a life goal without believing in some values of what is true or false?
- For instance, if heaven is the goal of a religious Nigerian, how does he or she get to heaven with a life full of unrighteous acts of mayhem, pillaging, bloodsheding, wickedness and all kinds of ungodly acts?
- And if monetary success is the goal of the businessman, government official, politician, military officer, professional person and traditional ruler, how can you enjoy the success when in the process of accumulation you have thoughtlessly destroyed the social fabric necessary for social cohesion/harmony and peace in all societies?
It is a known fact that the Nigerian successful men and women take great joy in rendering the rule of law ineffectual. They derive great pleasure when the lines of the hangers-on grow longer day by day at their homes and offices. By the manner and method of their successes they have failed to build a sense of community:
- Where every Nigerian could indeed be his/her brother’s keeper;
- Where the sense of the uniqueness, independence but inter-relatedness of man with every other man is well established and respected;
- Where the spirit of co-operation built on love is allowed to take root instead of competition built on hate;
- Where both overt and covert ethnic/tribal warfare are rooted out of the polity; and
- Where the rule of law and not the sovereign rule of a despot reigns supreme.
Therefore, for the awakened Nigerians who want to push for human rights or fight for civil rights in a fairer civil society, or who fervently believe in the rule of law and in the equality of persons, where do you begin the battle?
Do you still believe that your responsibility to family, friends, kindred and other close or distant acquaintances overrides your total commitment to seeking higher ideals, lofty principles, noble virtues and divine wisdom?
This is the hour of decision. It is a time when choice has to be made. Nigeria needs martyrs. Nigerians must stop throwing scorn at the few compatriots who stood up against the evils of our time.
It is customary for Nigerians to point with derision at the vanquished fighter, either maimed or incapacitated or even dead. Nigerians warn their children and their loved ones about the futility of campaigning for justice, for liberty, for equality. They point to the graves of those who fought in the past and they ask, what did they achieve?
Does that kind of negative admonition still bother you?
The decision is yours to make.
However, remember one of the many words of wisdom of Socrates that says, “No man on earth who conscientiously opposes either you [government] or any other organised democracy, and flatly prevents a great many wrongs and illegalities from taking place in the state to which he belongs, can possibly escape with his life. The true champion of justice, if he intends to survive even for a short time, must necessarily confine himself to private life and leave politics alone.”14
This is the reality every seeker of truth and wisdom must tackle in his/her own way. The fire of truth in a man cannot be quenched as soon as it is lighted. Neither can the fear of death nor of suffering stand in the way of a truth seeker. The man who has found the truth of life cannot be dissuaded by fear of death or suffering because he is aware that death is the gateway to another life more glorious than this. So why should any man be afraid to step up, to move higher? Isn’t that what we all strife for in our own little way and pathetic wisdom? But for the greatest stepping forward, the ignorant are scared because they are unsure as a result of their lack of knowledge. Therefore, the truth of life escapes them.
It is the duty of every Nigerian at this dark hour in our history to seek knowledge on the truth of life and to remember what the Greatest Sage said, “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”15
Seeking to know the truth of the meaning of life is the first step each of us must take towards the establishment of a truly civil society in Nigeria. This noble task cannot be expected from self-serving government agents or political gangsters or prodigal sons or unconcerned professionals but it is a duty that will be joyously and voluntarily performed by every Nigerian when we become fully awakened to the truth of life.
SAM ABBD ISRAEL
29 January 1999
12. Thomas Hobbes, ‘Leviathan: Or Matter, Form and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclessiaciastical and Civil’. Edited by Nelle Fuller in The Great Books of The Western World. Vol.23. Chicago: Encyclopeadia Britannica.1952.
13. Sir A. B. Ellis, The Ewe-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa’ London 1890. p.9. (Reference from Ndabaningi Sithole, African Nationalism. Oxford. 1959. p.121.)
14. Plato, ‘The Apology’ in The Last Days of Socrates. Trans. by Hugh Tredennick, 1969. Great Britain: Penguin. p.64
15. The Holy Bible, The New King James Version. New Testament,