When A Sense Of Shame Is Lost
By Pat Utomi
I am not sure what to say about us, Nigerians. Should I praise the Nigerian spirit for resilience in the face of a misery index those from countries seen as the pits of hell want to get away from. Or should one castigate the people of the country for acting like zombies as their inchoate economy retrenches further, facilities collapse in such a manner that a Nigeria regional manager for south African Airways uses words that suggest our major airports are epidemics waiting to breakout. But if truth be told, what puzzles me the most about the Nigerian condition is the total loss of a sense of shame in people who hold positions of public authority in Nigeria. Their swagger in the face of south bound reality beggar’s belief.
A few years ago, I encountered the motto of a secondary school, I fell totally in love with. But now I am wondering if the last line should not be doctored a bit. The motto urges students to work hard and play hard for “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; When health is lost, something is lost; When character is lost, all is lost.”
But I feel that extant experience suggests that when a sense of shame is lost, all is lost. May be a fourth line should be when shame is lost nothing can be salvaged.
There is hunger and anger in the land. In some desperation and despair stands up in sharp relief. But you would not guess that when the excellencies cruise past in long motorcades that drain the public treasury. How did we get this way?
I have struggled to understand how societies fail, in human history. This is why I have found efforts of people like Jared Diamond to offer explanation, in Collapse, for example, quite intriguing. Given, the place of my birth, it should not be a surprise that my biggest challenge has been Nigerian’s failure to make progress and the bigger tragedy of the phenomenon I have come to identify as progressive degeneration where, safe a few examples, governments have been progressively worse, suggesting that learning is a problematic idea. That grabs my attention as a teacher, especially one who has done some work on organizational learning and know that unless the rate of learning in an organization is equal to, or greater than the pace of change in the environment, Rewan’s axiom, the organization is dinosaur-status bound.
The logic suggests that with climbing the learning curve and getting a return on Experience, those that follow should do better than the ones who bore the costs of errors not foreseen. But not so in the Nigerian experience. Compare governance and governing in Nigeria before 1975, with today.
Imagine current reality. The economy is inchoate and reeling from largely self-inflicted error; the power sector is in disarray and manages to aggravate the misery index in ways difficult to describe to anyone who has never lived in Nigeria. The aviation sector is a pain merchant causing people hardships that make the fear of travel the beginning of wisdom. The roads as alternative means are not much to look to. After a recent road journey from Benin to Abuja my body was clearly calling for medical help but I was afraid that to reach a doctor may result in iatrogenic intervention where the medicine could do more damage than the disease, evidently the case with policy and problems in the country. Elections have become wars and public office holders consume resources for infrastructure and growth, in the enjoyment of the perquisites of power.
All these may bring the normal to the brink of tears but they do not trouble me as much as the fact that those on whose watch a country is crumbling walk with such swagger you feel you have just left the requiem for a sense of shame. If shame has not been buried in Nigeria, all of us should be acutely worried that the state of things is the moral equivalence of war. Nations at war mobilize all available resources, define clear strategies. Few know which direction we are travelling and even many inside privately plead they are outsiders in government.
What is holding Nigeria back from doing what is right for the next generation to know progress? After much ponder, I am convinced the problem is culture; In particular, the culture of the dominant political actors in Nigerian history. Nigeria has suffered state capture since 1966 and the group of soldiers who ceased the Nigerian state that year, retain a firm grip 50 years after, even if crisis of legitimacy forced them from time to time to install fillers like the Shagari, Yaradua, Jonathan stop-gaps.
Culture matters. Long before the Harvard Colloquium on How Values Shape Human Progress I was certain that culture had great consequence for progress. While people like the Peruvian Economist Hernando De Soto down play culture in arguing that institutions are central to how man makes progress, my own Growth Drivers Framework, draws both, and a few other variables, into explaining why some countries are poor while their peers thrive.
So the question remains why did Nigeria stall when less favored Asian counterparts surged forward in the 1980s. The so called Resource Curse study at the World Bank in the mid-90s domiciled the problem with Oil, to an extent, if you extrapolate. Then Oil boomed again in the first decade of the twenty first century and Oil producing Arabs like Quater, UAE, and others developed dramatically. Again, Nigeria stalled. In my view the class of 1966 cannot help itself. It was socialized into a view of triumph as the Hunt. The hunter mindset is kill and share, divide and rule. Nation builders on the other hand, as Farmers sow and water. They gather together those around so the pool of Labor will make harvest easy. The class of 1966 is a class of hunters so that even though part of their entitlement mindset is that they fought a Civil War to unite Nigeria, the reality is that the nature of their hunter orientation manifests in conduct that has done more to disunite Nigeria than enemies of Nigeria could do if they desired its break up. Because of their booty, war treasure, view of how they see government the class of 66 sees all who suggest a different way to make the country move forward as scavengers looking for a piece of this bush meat they have hunted down. They lack the worldview that there are people whose only motivation is to be proud of the Green passport they carry. So they seek to incorporate those who are disposed to bowing before them and despise the independent minded. They found clones who were Governors between 1999 and recently. Those proved to be accelerators of the Nigeria collapse. Nothing better shows that than my fight with them around the need for savings. They squandered oil receipts with nothing to show. But they still swager today, many still in government.
The culture of the class of 66 drove us, first hesitantly, then with deliberate speed into the cusp of a failing state. But it will be unfair to lay our downfall at the feet of the class of 66 alone. Our failure to speak truth to power, produced a generation that looked away rather than call a spade a spade. We were reduced to a generation that Bob Garratt would describe as “maliciously obedient to patently stupid instructions” from power.
The class of 1966 itself fractures roughly into 3 groups I label the Modernizer Wannabes, the Narcissistic Influencers and The Entitlement Minded Praetorian Guard. In their intragroup competition they sometimes pour out voluble, vengeful and vain glorious, vituperative vilifications they unleash a vile, venomous, vexatious volume of vicious vendetta that numbs polity and poisons the investment climate. The effect on our political culture has been the gift of a cadre of political actors who care more for protocols, charter flights, presidential fleets, and motorcades than the fact those they govern (are) people living in conditions of great misery. They betray a failure to understand that leadership is other-centered conduct as self love defines public choice.
I have never understood how people could sleep, chartering planes with taxpayers money, when many of the taxpayers cannot afford more primitive commutes to their place of subsistence eking out of a living. But if you understand the culture of the class of 1966 you will appreciate why it is a time of insensitivity to the plight of the rest of society. An army of occupation can rationalize things in amazing logic.
- I reflected on these ideas for years but as the engaged citizen, I looked for and worked at ways we could mitigate these tendencies. In 2015 the evidence came in fully. The class of 1966 is problematic beyond the “share the Gala, share the booze” mentality. The class of 1966 has crippled the dreams of two generations because entrenched in their culture is the absence of a sense of shame. I doubt that Nigeria will make progress until the eclipse of the class of 1966 is total.