These assumptions are the foundation of the society's establishments and structures. Ordinarily, for example, our judicial system is founded on the notion that evil must be arrested and punished. Thus the court is said to be the last hope of the common man and society's instrumentality for dispensing justice. Education works when the hard work, invention and initiative of the student are rewarded while indolence is appropriately sanctioned.

The society is always the better for it when its reward system esteems excellence and downgrades mediocrity. This positively impacts the quality of all spheres of life. When these moral assumptions cease to be a given constant, the structures and institutions of the society become unsustainable. When people can no longer count on these institutions to perform or to follow predictable procedural paths, a lack of confidence results which imperils those very structures. In Nigeria, for example, there is a lack of confidence in our electoral system. The last two elections were flawed, to put it mildly. People scarcely trust this mechanism to produce the right leaders. Education is ailing because our schools encourage mental laziness and plagiarism and spite intelligence and initiative.

The Nigerian court is not seen as a temple of justice but as a market where legal officers trade in technicalities and remake justice in the image and likeness of the highest bidder.

Generally, our system has been set free from the constraints of linear moral assumptions so mediocrity has been enthroned while excellence and integrity are lightly esteemed.

System failure_ the decay and atrophy of our institutions and processes has been in progress for a long time now. It can be attributed to the ultra-competitive, often volatile political and inter-ethnic relations in Nigeria which stem from the political engineering of the British colonialists and the decades of military rule which personalized the state and intensified the competition among ethnic nationalities for preeminence. Meritocracy has been a prime casualty of these two factors.

In the highly personalized governmental system in Nigeria, political godfathers, functionaries, and personality cults can hijack the electoral system, for instance, and violate the integrity of the ballot. They can hijack the very institutions of the state and turn them into private enclaves. We see manifestations of this in the very personal way in which power is exercised in Nigeria; in how state governors have been virtually empowered to run their states as private fiefdoms and in how the resources of the state are deployed in conflicts that are really no more than personal and petty frivolities. The impunity of our elected officials derives from the structural and constitutional glitches that emphasize the primacy of individuals rather than the sanctity of institutions.

In the absence of systemic predictability, Nigerians have turned to God as a somewhat more predictable, less fallible arbiter of their existence. This is the kernel of the religious revival that has gripped our country in the last decade. God and not the state or the court is now the last hope of the common man. Suffice it to say that dependence on some transcendent system, or entity namely, God, becomes imperative in the light of infrastructural collapse, poverty and insecurity. The state of our roads, the presence of armed bandits on the high ways or for that matter that of armed policemen, to say nothing of the condition of the vehicles plying those roads necessitate a recourse to the divine for safety and protection hence the stickers which proclaim that we are drenched in 'the blood of Jesus" or even more comically 'Robbers keep off!" angels on guard!!" Where society's mechanisms for public safety and law enforcement are paralyzed, angelic protection becomes doubly necessary. These religious effusions are essentially manifestations of a popular lack of confidence in the society's ability to protect its citizens. Our boisterous faith in God is then merely a mask for our lack of faith in ourselves.

Without linear predictability in a country's systems and structures, uncertainty is heightened. Resulting from this in Nigeria, what might be called a chaos theory has become the dominant operating principle of our institutions. It is what we hear when Nigerians scathingly refer to their country as a place 'where anything goes."

Uncertainty and unpredictability breed fear. There is a lot of fear in the Nigerian psyche that borders on mass hysteria. The fear of the unknown and the multiple variables which confront the average Nigerian daily in his struggle for survival have made the gloomy absolutism of life or death unpleasantly very real. As a consequence, stress, hypertension and heart related ailments are on the rise, while life expectancy has dwindled to 43 years. This latent mass hysteria is what much of the religious establishment has tapped into to create a burgeoning industry. The natural human instinct for intercourse with the divine is thus amplified by the material circumstances of present day Nigeria. In the light of poverty and economic hardship, a gospel of material gain as against spiritual enlightenment is more attractive. Salvation can then only be depicted as a vertical upward movement in terms of social status. It is because religion here is mostly fuelled by survival and self gratification that we find ourselves confronted by the social paradox of high religion and low morality.

This current pop religion serves to anaesthetize the masses with fatalism_ a sort of ‘blessed assurance' that everything is the way it should be because whatever will be will be_ and also by ascribing the individual failures which have generated the massive system failure to the mysterious workings of the divine. The net effect is that the notions of individual responsibility and self examination which are the cornerstones of spirituality have been deemphasized in favour of a god of miracles and other assorted heavenly bonanzas. Religion as we know it today, for the most part exists within a limbo of personalized irrelevance with no bearing on public morality or on the social order. The devotion flowing there from is an expression of self interest. This has greatly diminished the impetus for the sort of mass mobilization and social awareness that is needed to reverse the national slide. There needs to be a renewal of our religious institutions in order for them to provide the impulsion for a socio-spiritual rebirth and also to rein in the latent despotic instincts of the state by speaking truth to power.

Pop religion has a secondary and even more malignant impact on our polity. The predominance of mediocrity as the prevailing anti-value in our polity has made religion attractive as a cheap rallying cry for unimaginative politicians. This partly explains the multiplied incidence and potential for religious and ethnic violence. A jihad against those labeled infidels or non-indigenes is a convenient means of distracting the masses from the necessity of embarking upon self-emancipation from the power structures that have been built atop the decay of our institutions. These elite both fuel and feed on the degeneracy and despondency of our society.

Secondly where there is an inversion of moral values and reward systems, corruption inevitably results. It now seems easier to cheat through school than to actually learn. A moral inversion exists where people no longer believe that hard work and honesty pay. In such a climate, hustlers who want to get to rich quick will emerge as role models and symbols of affluence. We will invent terms like ‘smartness' and ‘sharpness' to describe amorality and the absence of scruples. Cynicism takes root.

Widespread disenchantment with our structures heightens the temptation for people to take laws into their hands. Hence the creation of black markets_ parallel institutions and systems within systems operated by renegade government agents and public officers. Corruption can only explode under such circumstances. People will naturally tend to find a way around the unnecessary bureaucratic roadblocks in our institutional processes. Where the people don't believe that they can get a fair deal from the system, they resort to using money to create an alternate reality of institutional transactions. It is a common enough scenario _ it might take three weeks to get a driver's license or a passport, three days if one takes matters into his own hands and one day if you have the right connections. And even for all that, one must still 'believe God" for in a sense the average Nigerian being religious even in his corruption believes that he has to help himself because 'heaven helps those who help themselves."

This is why an investigation of the system failure in Nigeria will uncover a correlation between our religious exuberance and corruption.

Apart from religion and corruption, there is a third symptom of system failure. There are many who have been disempowered and disenfranchised by the failure of our institutions. Lacking the zeal for religion (or having tried it and failed) and the means to operate on the black market, all they have is their pain. The seething undercurrent of frustration is a wellspring of violence that occasionally erupts in incidents of riots, social disturbances and banditry. Armed robbers, area boys, and other miscreants are products of society's decay and can only contribute brute force to the ferment of our social evolution. This pool of unrealized energy is frequently stirred up by the political elite to generate sectarian violence.

The swift recourse to violence in our society is itself evidence of a lack of trust in our institutions. Confrontations between soldiers and policemen, blood thirsty lynch mobs who dispense instant ‘justice' by incinerating their victims alive, extrajudicial killings and general social aggression are signs of our lack of faith in the system's mechanisms for investigation, crisis management, damage control and conflict resolution. The blatant personalization of the state and instruments of state power does not help matters but only renders our sociopolitics more combustible with a ‘winner takes all' paradigm. Violence as a tool of negotiation and conflict resolution reduces social engagements to a zero sum game. A case in point would be the Federal Government's engagement with the restive youth populace of the Niger Delta. Violence is all too often deployed as a weapon of politics and policy. Brute force is increasingly replacing reason as the language of social intercourse between the state and the society but more worryingly at all other levels between the average Nigerian and his neighbour. It is to some extent a by product of the militarization of the Nigerian psyche from our many years of military rule. For this reason, a minor traffic altercation could easily degenerate into fisticuffs or a full scale blood bath. Disenchanted with their institutions and structures, Nigerians now reflexively tend to settle things 'man to man" or to meet fire with fire.

If the free fall of our institutions continues uninterrupted, then the future will be at risk. Redeeming the system and restoring confidence in our institutions becomes imperative and must drive the current gale of institutional reform to deeper depths. The bureaucratic bottlenecks within the public service that make corruption and cutting corners attractive options have to be eradicated. We have to entrench a new reward system that provides incentives for excellence and discourages mediocrity. The current administration has done well in its privatization and liberalization initiatives. It also has recognized the need to restore linear predictability to our institutions. The aim of a revolution in the civil service that will be spearheaded by new breed technocrats in the government will be the transformation of public sector service delivery via the restoration of linear predictability as the operating principle of the sector. The recovery of linear predictability otherwise known as ‘due process' will help restore confidence in our structures.

Equally as important as privatization and liberalization, is the depersonalization of the state and the instruments of power. Depersonalization of government entails the transference of power from persons to institutions. Personalized power usually an autocracy can only guarantee stability in the short term. However a personalized state or government makes stability the product of a variable geometry of political forces often subsisting in a tenuous equation. This is unhealthy for the polity and is at the core of the chronic instability that ails Nigeria. The only real guarantees of stability are vibrant institutions strengthened by principles such as separation of powers and checks and balances. The system must be set free to run on the fuel of linear moral values and the rule of law as against the whims and caprices of those in authority.


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