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On the dangers of a begging culture

Imagine this: You are in traffic, diligently minding your driving to avoid accidents, but another driver, who has been consistently reckless and insulting, hits...

Imagine this: You are in traffic, diligently minding your driving to avoid accidents, but another driver, who has been consistently reckless and insulting, hits your car, denting it, after you asked him to be careful. Both of you step out of your cars, and the first thing he does is start pleading for your forgiveness. Soon others are begging you too, asking you to have a heart.

Imagine this too: You run a business, and an employee you sacked (after giving him a fair warning) for incompetence turns up at your door with an entourage that includes his aged parents, pregnant wife, and child, all begging you to give him his job back. He’ll behave better, his mother pleads. His wife rubs her stomach, tells you they’d have no way to feed if the breadwinner is out of a job.  

These scenes are not far-fetched in our Naija society; in fact, they have occurred to friends of mine. Chances are, you’ve either been on the receiving end of someone begging for leniency for their wrongdoings, or perhaps you’ve found yourself begging in a similar situation.

Our society has cultivated the belief that we can plead our way out of anything, break rules, be indifferent to our duties, and cheat with impunity. And when it seems punishment may be inevitable, we put more energy into begging than we ever did to avoid the situation in the first place.

Recently, we had a young girl who admitted to forging her JAMB result. Not only did she forge it, she’d accused the board of trying to cheat her out of her ‘real’ result. After she was found out (and confessed), she and others turned to begging JAMB to forgive her and reduce/lift their punishment imposed on her (she’s been banned for three years from taking the exams).

I’ve read all sorts of rationalisation for the pleas (she’s not the first to cheat; it would derail her education to stay home for three years; she’s young; she’s said she’s sorry), and my heart breaks for this girl who’s young enough to be my child.

However, it upsets me to think that we’ve become a nation where we believe that actions shouldn’t have consequences because others have got away with worse. It’d be more helpful to help the girl understand that regret for one’s crime and punishment for the crime aren’t mutually exclusive. And the older one becomes, the more one realises that three years is nothing.

Those who are able to should help her receive whatever help she needs and encourage her to learn something useful in the three years in which she’s been banned (maybe she should consider it an extended gap year). Her punishment is not a death sentence. Yes, our politicians get away with worse, but we complain that they do, so it shouldn’t be something we ought to encourage in any way.  

In the scenarios I opened up with, both the irresponsible driver and the employee who dragged his entire village to beg for his job believed in the efficacy of their begging. There is a difference between asking for leniency and asking that one be completely absolved of their wrongdoings. The latter is why we are in the mess we are in – this belief that whatever it is we do, however irresponsibly we carry ourselves, we should appeal to the “conscience” of those in the position to punish us. And that remorse (real or not) is all the punishment we need.

To be sure, this isn’t anything new. My mother told me once of a nurse in the 60’s or so who administered some required vaccination (I forget which) but accidentally broke the vial when it came to my mother’s turn. The nurse began to cry and plead. Would my mother please pretend she’d got the injection? She could lose her job if it was found out that she’d broken the vial. All the vials had been accounted for, and if she were to put in an order for a new one, she would be found out.

She wanted to save her job at the risk of my mother not getting vaccinated, and this nurse thought it was a perfectly normal thing to do. See how ridiculous the pleading culture is?

That things have always been done a certain way isn’t a good enough reason to continue doing it that way. We are witnesses to the kind of society that it breeds, and anyone who wishes Naija well should really, really want it to change.


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