Nigeria: Agents of Communal Decline

Published on 15th February 2015

Reading through the fundamental principles and the demands of communalism, one is wont to wonder why anyone in his/her right mind should have anything bad to say about it, let alone want it discarded. Respect, love, orderliness, unity, humility, service, hospitality, honesty and good neighborliness are values that all human beings cherish. But under the rugged individualistic atmosphere of modern Nigeria, such values are very scarce. Many of us want respect, love, service and fulfillment for ourselves, but are not ready and willing to grant the same to others.  In public, we shout and plead for unity, honesty, orderliness, and love of neighbour only to turn round and quietly and stealthily, not only support but actively engage in actions that openly contradict those ethical values; we do nothing to put into practice what would make the ethical values possible in public life or to encourage their application in our own lives.

The “escape from the tyranny of tradition” referred to above, implies freedom to be oneself, and rights to do what one wants. But true freedom is not personal; it is individual. And it is not the absence of restraints, but the willing obligation to, or acceptance of, an end that is socially beneficial.  This is what Magesa (1997: p. 74) was referring to when he said that freedom is what enables a person to be fully what he or she is. But he failed to take into account the warning by L.P Jacks seventy-two years earlier (1924: p.42) that  --

The value of rights…is strictly contingent on their subsequent development into duties.  Unless this development takes place the rights which the citizen has won are a social danger, for they are apt to become a means in his hand for exercising over others the tyranny from which he has escaped himself.

Two major sets of factors would appear to have created the environment for the devaluation of the significance of communal principles in the lives of majority of Nigerians. The first is the greed of Nigerians – both leaders and the led and the insouciant and exploitative attitude of the powerful towards the fate of the nation, and their carefree attitude and behavior towards the suffering of majority of the citizens. Platitudes and Words which come from lips and not from the heart do not bring about positive change; they are the seed of negative and reverse change which inevitably deadens the spirit of the citizenry. The second factor which has a number of causes and concomitants is the selfish exercise of the right to what many people erroneously see as freedom, and the morbid desire of the majority to get-rich-quick, at all costs. 

Let us take the second first. As a result of education, exposure to the world through the mass media, and the absence of effective leadership and guidance, the power of elders to advice and guide the young on desires, responsibility, relationships, and expectation has been badly, if not completely, eroded.  These days, rarely does a son or daughter need the permission of parents to go out, to decide whom to marry, or to get married; neither is he/she willing to listen to honest advise about temperance, self-control, and family honour. The exercise of such selfishly-based freedoms or rights have now created very dangerous social ills that are rattling the socio-cultural foundation of the nation  – spousal abuse, adultery, separation, divorce, broken homes, abandoned children, destitution, prostitution, rape, teenage pregnancy, and so on.  But the desire for false ‘freedom’ is so strong that some of the social ills that were seen as abominations in the past are now being justified.  

The exposure made possible through travels and by the mass media has also created negative empathy – empathy in a socio-economic vacuum. When a people begins to desire what they cannot afford; when they spend their time plotting out how to get what they want, in an environment in which they have nothing tangible to honestly satisfy those wants, the aspiration raised by empathy soon turns to frustration.  The consequences of this has been with us since the late 60’s – armed robbery, political jobbery, deceit, large-scale cheating, exploitation, bribery and corruption, economic sabotage, organized chaos, importation of fake goods and drugs, and now – insecurity and terrorism.  

For many, if not most Nigerians, it does not matter, any more, the source of one’s wealth; what is important is “making it rich.” The end, indeed, is justifying the means! It is not that there is no corruption in other parts of the world.  But in such other places, Corruption is a drop in an ocean of Honesty. In Nigeria, Honesty is a drop in an ocean of Corruption. People have come to instinctively expect the anti-social behaviors mentioned above; in fact the behaviors have become the order of the day. The adverse effect of such anti-social behaviors has become so pervasive and damaging to the moral fabric, social and economic life of the nation that there is now a quiet but insistent cry for a return to authentic communalistic principles. That cry is silently loud!!

But there is no letting down the guard by those bent on making it rich and getting the satisfaction they want through any dishonest means possible. There is a strong feeling that those who caution moderation and honesty, and a return to communalistic principles are seen as the weaklings of society – those who cannot fight their way through.  The momentum is on the side of the ‘optimists.’ Their statements and their actions bulk large, and are imbued with implicit and explicit approval of modern tendencies. Care for the aged is seen as parental weapon to impede the economic progress of their children. Help to fellow community members and contributions (both financial and manual) for the development of the community are seen as unnecessary burden to prop-up the ‘indolent’ and create undeserved opportunity for the ‘lazy’ ones.  Religion is seen as irrelevant to life; its only function, they claim, is to instill fear into the young in order to subject them to the control of the older generation. Children find pleasure in saving-up for the expected burial ceremony of their aged parents rather than give part of that saving to these parents for feeding and fairly comfortable living condition while they are still alive. Moral, ethical and communalistic points raised by the so-called pessimists are treated as dead on-arrival and as unproductive beliefs that carry disturbing resonance. The so-called pessimists are accused of talking too loud for the people to listen. This is why we have concluded elsewhere (Moemeka, 1998:) that –

Today, the division between those standing firm in favor of the fundamental principles of communalism and those who oppose most of such principles is very clear. They use very contradictory communication codes, communicate on different arenas of the social environment, and have opposing views on what constitutes the “good” and for whom.

Under authentic communalism, the moral legitimation of government and leadership depended to a large extent on  the capacity of the leader to listen and to act on the basis of ‘the good of the community’, He was required to lead, not to rule; he depended on his lieutants for advice and guidance, that always reflected the will of the community.  Therefore, the leader’s true exercise of the right to enforcement of law and social order was basically an exercise that depended on listening.  But under the selfish environment of the new carefree order, most leaders hear the people but do not listen to them.

As has been noted above, communal bonds and their cultural base become weak and loose when leaders live lives that are less than exemplary. The morbid selfishness of most of Nigerian leaders serves as example for the public to follow. It is therefore not a surprise that the behavior and activities of leaders have poisoned the entire fabric of society. It is assumed (and rightly, too) that every leader should have two basic forms of responsibilities.  The first is the responsibility for the conscientious and ethical use of the powers entrusted to him. The second and, perhaps, more important responsibility is that of upholding values that are community-enhancing and citizen-empowering, and ensuring an environment in which individuals can pursue honest and sincere interests that build up their self-worth. 

These basic responsibilities have not been taken up seriously by most National leaders – Presidents, Ministers, and government officials, leaders in industry and commerce, even by most religious leaders.  What conspicuously exist almost everywhere are examples from these leaders that implicitly as well as explicitly approve of selfishness, dishonesty, disregard of law and order, fraudulent practices and freedom seen as the “right” to do anything one wants, any time, any where, irrespective of who is hurt or what damage is done to the image of the nation.

“A selfish person,” says Melvin Rader, (1964) “will deliberately choose his own lesser good in preference to the greater good of another person (or of the community) simply because it is his own good.” Is it any wonder that Nigeria, after more than half a century of independence, and with enormous financial resources, has much less to show economically, politically and socially than she would have if honesty and the good of the nation had been the guiding principles of those in power?  With a broken heart one is wont to ask: where is the once-thriving Nigerian Railways, the once-thriving Nigeria Airways, or the once famous Ogba Palm Oil Estate/Institute?  Indonesia came to us to learn about palm oil production and palm produce and went home with some seedlings; today she is a thriving palm produce exporter. Where is Nigeria? And where have our Ground-nut export, our Cotton production, and our Rubber Industry gone? 

Need one talk about the damage contractors and the powers that award contracts have done to the socio-economic life of the nation! Here, corruption is a given.  It is here that the devastating impact of corruption on national development is conspicuously evident.The impact of corruption is also evident but covertly in the deteriorating physical and academic condition of our universities!! Our premier universities of the sixties and seventies are today almost shadows of what they were – suffering from financial handicaps, overcrowded classroom, and very uncomfortable levels of student/lecturer ratio. Yet, they are dolling out more than ten-to-fifteen times the number of First Class degrees they did award in their hay-days. No longer is a distinction made between the best students and the best of the best students, which used to be the distinction between 1st Class and 2nd Class Upper Division degrees. And the newer universities have refused to be left out of this First Class degree rat-race. University education which was once directed towards Intellectual Certitude is now mostly for University Certificate. And students like it! Do we really need more evidence to show to what extent morbid selfishness has openly and forcefully put a strangle-hold on the nation’s image and progress?

To be continued

By Andrew A. Moemeka (Ph.D) 
Professor Emeritus, Department of Mass Communication
Covenant University, Ota, Nigeria.


Jacks, L.P. (1924). Responsibility and Culture.  New Haven: Yale University Press.

Magesa, L. (1997).  African Religion: The Moral Traditions of Abundant Life.
New York: Orbis Books.

Melvin, R. (1964). Ethics and the Human Community.  New York: Holt, Rinehart
& Winston.

Moemeka, Andrew A. (1998). Communalism as a Fundamental Dimension of Culture. Journal of Communication  pp. 118-141. Autumn.

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