Last week, I read a Facebook post that recounted how a mother drove her child to a WAEC examination centre and on getting there, came out to make arrangements for someone to “help” her child with passing the exams while the child was sitting comfortably in the car.
After the arrangements between mother and “helper” had been concluded, the child came out of the car to join other examination candidates. While I was trying to get over that, I read a newspaper report that a couple had been arrested in Delta State for impersonating their children and sitting their exams for them. In fact, they were arrested in the act. According to the reports, the husband is a 66-year-old retired civil servant .
There is nothing new or shocking about examination malpractice in Nigeria, or anywhere, for that matter. The scale of the offence in Nigeria is what boggles the mind, and now, to see that parents are so enmeshed in this wrongdoing shows that there are fundamental problems with our society. Today, it seems our values as a society encourage the corruption that we accuse our leaders of.
Before the Age of Reason when Montesquieu and his gang were all for the liberty of man, free from the State’s interference, and Montesquieu came up with Separation of Powers and the Rule of Law as a the prevention of corruption, there was Aristotle who promoted the idea of the Rule of Law as the promotion of virtue.
In our quest to attain happiness, the ultimate state of being, and to reason well, we must have certain virtues, according to Aristotle. These virtues include courage, self-control, generosity, magnificence, high-mindedness, moderate ambition, gentleness, friendliness, truthfulness, wittiness and justice. These moral virtues along with intellectual virtues all come together for the ultimate purpose of achieving our happiness and having a system of government that furthers the good of its citizens by inculcating these virtues.
Aristotle believed that parents are at the frontline of inculcating these virtues in citizens. Our first frame of reference for what is good or bad is created by our parents. Then we go to school and our teachers reinforce these virtues, and further strengthen our moral and intellectual virtues, and finally, we are herded into the world on our own and encounter the laws, which have been laid down by (themselves virtuous) legislators, to keep us virtuous.
For Aristotle, it was important for politicians to be virtuous as they are to be like craftsmen, creating laws and conditions in society for citizens to be “good” and flourish. Basically, in Aristotle’s thinking, there is a connection between law and morality, and so the lawmakers must be morally upstanding, virtuous people to make laws that will instil virtue in the citizens.
Although Aristotle and Montesquieu disagree on the role of morality in the Rule of Law, Montesquieu taking the view that politicians do not have to be of the highest moral virtue, and even if they are, they could be corrupted by power, they both agree that the Rule of Law means that the rules/laws apply to every one in the State, even the lawmakers and politicians.
So, I find myself thinking of where we are as a people in Nigeria and in my mind, this situation has taken on the character of the chicken and the egg debate. If we consider Aristotle’s thinking about how we, as citizens, attain moral (and intellectual) virtues, and the role of the laws designed by lawmakers and the decisions taken by politicians in the development of our virtues as a people, who do we blame first? Do we heap all the blame on the parents, the frontline defenders of our moral virtues?
Or do we hold the politicians and lawmakers responsible for not leading in a way that promotes good virtues, and on some level encouraging corruption and the promotion of selfish interests, which lead to injustice, and unhappy and immoral citizens of the State? Can it also be said that the once immoral parents became the drivers of government and influenced the low moral expectations now standard in our society?
At some point in our history as Nigerians, there were acts that were unthinkable from a class of people because it was important for them to have their good name, and there was a real fear of shame and ostracism.
In my mind, retired civil servants would be in that class of people that would want to protect their good, virtuous name, and uphold the law not only because it is the law, but because they are driven by their moral virtues to act in a certain way. Today people have no shame in their wrongdoing. There is no fear of ostracism. The same people accused of corruption are sometimes the same people we celebrate.
When our frontline, principal teachers of moral virtue throw away their moral compass and begin to engage in acts that are not only immoral, but illegal, where does that leave us as a society? How do we, with a free conscience, condemn our politicians when we as citizens are just as corrupt in our little spaces and only need a bigger platform to scale up our capacity for corruption?
Montesquieu was right after all. It is not inherently human nature to be virtuous because that means denying ourselves of our selfish interests. We need someone to wield the big stick and keep us all in line.
This new President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration wants to tackle corruption. They must be fair in their approach, and the rule of law must apply to everyone, high and low, in the same manner, otherwise it is a wasted effort. Just as it took time for our society to slide down the moral ladder, it will take time for us to climb back up. With a good combination of virtuous leaders and application of the rule of law to ensure that power is not abused, it is not impossible to recalibrate our moral values.