Aristotle once said “Every excessive state, whether of folly, cowardice, self-indulgence, or bad temper, is either brutish or morbid. Foolish people who are by nature thoughtless and live by their senses alone are brutish”.
The news going round is that at least 25-27 students were killed in Mubi Adamawa State under very gruesome circumstance, while four students were also killed by mob action in Port Harcourt. All these have happened within few weeks apart. Before then it was also reported that three students were killed around the University of Maiduguri. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the killings, and the motive remains unclear except for the Port Harcourt killings.
Former Vice President (Africa) of World Bank, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili asked in her interview “What has psychologically traumatized our people? She also said “There is a fundamental problem; there is a breakdown in something that is proudly Nigeria. I cannot believe that our society has got to this level. We are broken, we need to be mended and nobody will mend it other than ourselves. We are getting to the precipice and we need to pull ourselves back. The government has to take full responsibility; it has to be in charge to prevent anarchy. The only way out is for the government to prove that it is really in charge”. I agree with her but this is not new. Our elites have done worse. I am not in any way saying that what happened is right.
As usual in our normal way of reacting to issues when they have happened, many other Nigerians have expressed their outrage and devastation over these recent killings. Yes it is disgusting, outrageous, sickening, and barbaric or we can call the situation whatever name we like. However, there is a fundamental question that needs to be answered by all of us be those in past or present government or the citizens. Who is responsible for the behaviour of the citizens?
Is it government or we the people? The development of social and moral responsibility is a pre-requisite of citizenship, in respect of a required understanding of the consequences of one’s actions and the impact of these actions on others. Moral responsibility implies a knowledge and understanding of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and the ability and willingness to behave morally. Social responsibility suggests that an individual has responsibility to the community or society in terms of choices about behaviour. One aspect of this is legal responsibility i.e. the responsibility of a citizen to act within the law. But where is the law in Nigeria?
I believe, the Nigerian public has strong – though not fixed – views on the appropriate balance of responsibility between the government and the citizenry. For example, the vast majority of Nigerians I think believe that it is the government’s responsibility to provide healthcare, security, water, housing, and employment. We all want government to achieve various goals: a strong economy, better education, security, health and so on. To achieve these, governments employ many tools, including laws, punishments and regulations, taxes and subsidies, the provision of public services, and information and persuasion. Many of these tools are designed to influence changes in public behaviour.
At the moment we seem to be struggling with all the tools. That is why I am asking where the Government will start from. There needs to be a collective agreement of all parties to move this country forward. There is no longer room for blames. There is what appears to be a visible disconnect between government and the people. There is need for greater partnership between both parties. The individuals who represent the people at various levels need to work as conduits. I believe as a country, we have opted for the form of governance we have because we want governance to be nearer us. For instance, I ask, who is the member of House of Assembly representing these communities? Who is the member of the House of Representative or Senate that represent the constituencies these communities are part of? In countries where representation means nearness to the people represented, these law makers would have opened surgeries to answer questions and give assurances to the people.
The Port Harcourt killings look more than vigilante action. I know that we like to copy what is done outside Nigeria but we often choose to copy and do the wrong things rather than copying the good things. In countries like United Kingdom, there is advocacy for .individuals’ and communities’ ability to take control and act in their own best interests as goods in themselves. Other things being equal, they see it as better for governments to empower citizens as much as possible rather than making decisions on their behalf and not to kill in a barbaric manner.
To empower the people about their behaviours, there is need for adequate information. The Government set up National Orientation Agency and there are other non-governmental organisations like neighbour to neighbour etc but I wonder how effective these have been. So where will the government start?
These people involved in the barbaric killings are all from homes. We have to go back to the basics of how we behave in the various places where we come from period. No matter what the government does, we all know that nearly all public policies rest on assumptions of human behaviour. The behaviour of the people will have significant impact on future government actions and vice versa.
It is true Government needs to be committed’ and have the desire to be ‘consistent’ with promises made. The efficacy of government policy may be significantly enhanced, and public behaviour positively influenced, by the application of more sophisticated approaches to support individuals and communities in changing behaviours.
Citizens taking the law into their hands in such barbaric manner suggest a loss of confidence in the government and law enforcement agents. We have to acknowledge that there is wider political judgements that shape the division of responsibilities between citizens and state
However in considering first things first, government need to ensure the level of dissatisfaction among the citizenry is minimised by providing the basic amenities. In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron came up with the idea of the Big Society….The Big Society is the Government's vision of a society where individuals and communities have more power and responsibility, and use it to create better neighbourhoods and local services. Nigeria needs to flourish by shifting our understanding of personal responsibility and consider new approaches to behavioural change. The government must live up to what it can do for the citizens. Also the citizens must identify what they can do for themselves and also recognise what can be done for others.
The exercise of personal responsibility on the part of the citizenry or choice is not without cost for the individual as it involves time and energy in assessing information. Are these sources of information readily available to access? That is the question for NOA.
I do believe that for the killings in PH, there were people around when it was done. Some one even videotaped it to be posted on the social media. Those who watched while the incident went on are all Nigerians. I wonder what was going on in their minds. These Nigerians come from constituencies where individuals have embezzled funds meant for development but have done nothing. That is why I think we seem to have missed our direction at the grass root level. The fundamental thing is that the behaviour of our elites is not different from these barbaric killings. There have been many more deaths because of the vice of bad elites.
In the words of Aristotle “Brutishness is less evil than vice, though more alarming; the better part has not been perverted, as in man; they have no better part. It is like comparing the vice of a lifeless thing with that of the living. That badness which has no originative source of movement is always less harmful than a reasoned source. A bad man will do ten thousand times as much evil as a brute”.