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The seven deadly social sins of Nigeria (1)

Nigeria is currently passing through difficult and challenging times, politically, socially, and economically. Our economic managers have finally confessed that we are in a recession,…

Nigeria is currently passing through difficult and challenging times, politically, socially, and economically. Our economic managers have finally confessed that we are in a recession, and they locate the root of the problem in our profligacy and prodigality as a nation. We made a lot of money from oil in past years and squandered everything, without saving for the rainy day. Now the rainy days are here. Sadly enough, there is nothing we are going through now that we have not experienced in the past. But as it is customary, what Nigerians learn from history is that we never learn from history, and that is why we keep repeating the same mistakes of the past. At The Platform of October 1, 2015 in Lagos, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, one of Nigeria’s foremost public intellectuals, put a spin around these issues in his lecture titled, ‘Nigeria: Euphoria, Hysteria, and Amnesia.” He lamented the fact that Nigerians revel in excitement at every instance of regime change, without giving honour to the intellect by thinking critically about their choices, only to be met with disappointment and frustration around the corner.
We are a very forgetful nation, and not only forgetful but also impatient. This amnesia and impatience have simultaneously contributed to diminishing us as a people. About Nigerian amnesia, Wole Soyinka has this to say: “We are a nation of short memories. The season changes. Rain falls and blood is replaced by mud on our walls, our streets and – alas – even on our minds. Mud settles on the eyelids of memory. Nothing lasts in this nation, nothing.” We see the effects of our amnesia and impatience in our blunt refusal to defer gratification. We want to enjoy everything here and now, often without making the necessary sacrifices through hard work, discipline, and commitment to duty. Nigeria is one country that very well typifies the Seven Deadly Social Sins spelt out by the Indian sage Mahatma Gandhi: “Wealth without Work, Pleasure without Conscience, Knowledge without Character, Commerce without Morality, Science without Humanity, Religion without Sacrifice, Politics without Principle.” These are the social habits that have crippled our march toward greatness.
Wealth without Work refers to the practice of getting something for nothing – manipulating markets and assets so you don’t have to work or produce added value, just manipulating people and things. Today, there are professions built around making wealth without working, making much money without paying taxes, benefitting from free government programmes without carrying a fair share of the financial burdens, and enjoying all the perks of citizenship and membership of associations and groups without assuming any of the risk of responsibility. We see this in the thousands of “accidental billionaires” in Nigeria, paupers who have become super-rich overnight by simply doing nothing! Without prejudice to the fact that there are millions of Nigerians who are hardworking, upright, patriotic and committed to their duties, there are many more who love the sort of lifestyle where they have to do nothing to enjoy everything.
Immediately followed by Wealth without Work is Pleasure without Conscience. When we watch the incredible level of corruption and prodigality in our society today, we must arrive at the fact that many Nigerians have no problem with looting the public treasury just so that they can feed their over-bloated ego, tickle their sensual pleasures and satisfy the wants (not needs) of their families, friends and cronies in a system of kick-backs and patronage. Mahatma Gandhi once said that the world has enough resources for everyone’s needs, but not for everyone’s greed. Basic economics tells us that our wants are insatiable, but our needs are. When corrupt people steal, it is to satisfy their wants, not their needs – the want for more and more sensual pleasure that they really don’t need: big houses in elite locations, exotic cars, expensive jewelleries, clothes, shoes, and technological gadgets that tickle their imagination and fantasy. According to Stephen Covey, the international leadership and management expert, “The chief query of the immature, greedy, selfish, and sensuous has always been: ‘What’s in it for me? Will this please me? Will it ease me?’”
The ultimate cost of Pleasure without Conscience are high as measured in terms of time and money, in terms of reputation lost and in terms of wounding the hearts and minds of other people who are adversely affected by those who just want to indulge and gratify themselves in the short term. Conscience is essentially the repository of timeless truths and principles, the internal monitor of the natural law. Once the conscience is deformed, it might take a whole lifetime to regain its original elasticity.
We see Knowledge without Character in purely intellectual development without commensurate internal character development. This has become almost the norm in many of our academic institutions. In the past, education was described as an adventure in “learning and character.” Today, it is about specialisation, departmentalisation and partisan politics. Many Nigerians today have high IQ but are very low in both morality and spirituality. We are witnessing breathtaking technological advancements in today’s world but also a frightening decline in moral values. Our children in elite schools have a huge degree of intellectual and technical functionality, but are nothing short of zombies, lacking the ability to think for themselves. Knowledge without Character is like putting a high-powered sports car in the hands of a teenager who is high on drugs. Society cannot function that way.
We need a common set of values that everyone agrees on, values by which we can agree that what is right is right, and what is wrong is wrong. The state of anomie that we are in today shows how much we have neglected character development in our quest for intellectual discovery and academic curiosity. It is not that difficult to decide that kindness, fairness, dignity, contribution, and integrity are worth keeping. We need a better balance between the development of character and intellect. In his book, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement (2011), the brilliant American writer and columnist for the New York Times, David Brooks argues that within each of us are two selves. There is the self that craves success, which builds a résumé; and the self that seeks connection, community and love – the values that make for a great eulogy.
These two selves are governed by two different sets of virtues – the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are those we put on our CV, the skills, talents and abilities that we bring to the marketplace. They are skills of marketability. On the other hand, the eulogy virtues are those that get mentioned in our eulogy. It is about who we are in the depths of our being and in our relationships with others. History has shown that people are remembered more for the eulogy virtues than for the résumé virtues, because the eulogy virtues reveal who we really are as human beings made for community, friendship, beauty, truth and goodness.
Joseph Soloveitchik, the author of the 1965 classic, The Lonely Man of Faith, called these two selves ‘Adam I’ and ‘Adam II.’ Adam I is the worldly, ambitious, external side of our human nature. Here, the human person is motivated by the desire to build, create and innovate. Adam II is the humble side of our nature. It wants not only to do good, but also to be good, to live in a way that is internally consistent, a way that honours God and creation. While Adam I wants to conquer the world, Adam II wants to hear a calling and obey it. Adam I savours accomplishment while Adam II savours inner consistency and strength. Adam I asks how things work; Adam II asks why we are here. Adam I’s motto is success; Adam II’s motto is love, redemption and service.
Father Ojeifo is a priest of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja.

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