By Tayo Ogunbiyi
They are common sights on major roads across the country. They are vehicles with divine messages of hope, faith, righteousness, piety, patience, love and fairness. The messages are printed in such colourful and attractive fashion that easily attracts curious attention. At first, the general presumption at the sight of such vehicles is that, with such unambiguous godly messages, the drivers should be heavenly-bound men or women who are just marking time in this sinful world of the mortals. Experience has, however, shown that drivers, and sometimes, occupiers of such vehicles, often act in manners that make nonsense of the messages being conveyed by their vehicles. Sometimes, drivers of the piously embed vehicles drive in such reckless, disorderly and ungodly fashion that makes one wonder if they actually know anything about the God whose messages their vehicles are trying to convey.
This, of course, is the tragedy of our nation. The pious messages aren’t restricted to vehicles and roads alone. Metaphorical representations of such vehicles and drivers abound in every facet of our national life. They occupy high places at the corridor of power. They hold high offices in religious circles. They occupy strategic positions in the education sector. They even operate within the various national security outfits. These are men to whom talk is cheap. They are men who don’t act what they preach. They are men of two parallel worlds. On the inside, they are snakes. But, they pretend to be doves outwardly. Hypocrisy is their stock in trade. Deception is their trademark. They sing the national anthem with pride; recite the national pledge with relish, but stab the nation in the back at the slightest opportunity.
As a nation, we have not made much progress partly because of our hypocritical and deceitful inclinations. At their inauguration, our leaders often swear by the holy books to uphold the constitution and operate in the fear of God. With several stories of several billions of naira either missing or being misappropriated, over the years, one begins to wonder if our leaders actually believe in the sacredness of their oath of office. It is amazing how we play fools with God. Whom do we actually take God for? A dumb deity who see nothing and hear nothing?
We have turned deception into an art. We claim ours is a constitutional democracy but in all honesty we operate a system that promotes injustice and slaughter justice on the altar of political expediency. The end justifies the means. Mind you, this didn’t just start now; it has been a long standing tradition. While some hapless guys rot in prison for offences considered trivial, many who should have been forgotten in jail remain strategically positioned at the corridor of power determining the fate of millions of their ill-fated compatriots. When an incurable drunk is behind the wheel of a priceless exotic car, your guess is as good as mine. This, of course, has been the unfortunate tale of our country.
Unfortunately, the hypocritical bug has gotten to hitherto revered religious institutions where, naturally, one should expect a reasonable measure of godliness and piousness. Today, we have prophets, seers and clerics, of all shades, who desecrate the name and altar of God, like the biblical Esau, for a pot of porridge. The altar of God is now being corrupted by men who claim to know God but whose god is actually mammon. How does one explain the double standard of a ‘man of God’ who preaches faithfulness to marital vows but himself secretly keeps several concubines? Regrettably, these so-called ‘men of God’ boast of a passionate and highly fanatical followers. Talk of the blind leading the blind. What a pity!
The traditional institution is not equally faring better. Today, across the country, we have respected monarchs, who occupy sacred ancestral thrones, but carry themselves in manners that would actually incur the rage of the gods. We have suddenly turned deceit into a national pastime. We complain of bad leadership, but without knowing it, we are partially responsible for what some of our leaders do. Is it not amusing that people place curses on their relations for upholding integrity and honesty while holding political offices? This is, to some extent, why some of our compatriots could compromise their electoral preference for a paltry sum as low as a thousand naira. What does it matter? Operators of the informal sector are not exempted from this culture of deception. If you have ever given your car to a mechanic to fix or you have had cause to deal with plumbers, electricians, carpenters etc, you will appreciate the ingenuity of the average Nigerian at cutting corners! Ironically, these are people with varied religious convictions.
Until we reorder our priority as a people, we will continue to get it wrong. Since independence, our efforts at nation building have been tortuous because we have imbibed the wrong attitude as leaders and followers. In the days of our founding fathers, men of ideas and principles were widely respected and honoured. Our national heroes such as Herbert Macaulay, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, and Aminu Kano among others did not rise to national prominence as a result of the fatness of their bank accounts. Rather, they won the hearts of men of their generation because of the strength and depth of their ideas and principles as well as their total commitment to those ideals which they held in high esteem. The late Niger Delta environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa put his life on the line not because of a pecuniary advantage.
Sadly, discipline, integrity, hard work, honesty, and selflessness among other hitherto revered virtues in our society, have taken the back seat. Gone are the days when student unionism was anchored purely on principles and ideological leanings. Today, student union leaders secretly hobnob with the very oppressors that they are supposed to boldly confront. If Mandela had acted in such a manner, perhaps, South Africa would still be under political bondage today!
The way forward is for everyone to have a rethink. A nation that is built on falsehood and deception will continue to breed nutty and boorish people. No nation makes real progress with such people. If we must get it right as a nation we need to uphold truth, honesty and integrity above other such brazen self-centered values that have stunted our growth as a nation. This is the time to embrace new lines of thinking. This is the time to reorder our steps.
•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.
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