My belief in the concept of right and wrong was what led me to study law. In fact, as a young girl growing up with a mother who taught me with the help of a flexible bamboo stick that there were rewards for certain actions, it was hard to ignore this concept. By nine years old, the word repercussions had become a new word in my vocabulary. It was my mother’s favourite word and the word that usually heralded the appearance of the dreaded bamboo stick. The concept of right and wrong as taught by morality is one of the many principles that governs human behaviour and is most times necessary for a chaos free society. It can be tied to religion or culture. In Africa, different folklores carry one moral lesson or the other as tradition seeks to instil that which is acceptable in the consciousness of the average African.
Yet in spite of the attempt by our forebears to pass moral codes down to us, corruption and poverty of ideas has made it impossible to follow these codes. In place of the old is a new belief system with new moral codes to suit the ideals of today. It is this new belief system or culture that has made it okay for teachers to help students cheat during examination. This culture says it is right for contractors to collect their fees from government agencies without expending energy to do what they have been paid to do. This culture sees nothing wrong in sending a petty thief to jail without the courtesy of a court trial as stipulated by law while the government official whose fingers have reached the bottom of the public purse is let off with a light prison sentence or if they know the right string to pull, no sentence at all. Best of all, this culture approves of relegating individuals who have spent the better part of their youth acquiring education to survive the harsh economy, to the background, while rewarding gun totting militants handsomely with foreign rehabilitation programs, fat salaries and in some cases, government positions.
In my article, “Amnesty : The Day After” published in Guardian Newspaper on 19th August 2009, I said among other things that the amnesty program spearheaded by the then government of the late President Umaru Musa Yar Adua was not enough to address the issue of underdevelopment in the Niger Delta region and felt the hydra headed monster that was militancy would be hard to kill by merely extending an olive branch to militants from the region. Three years after, under the government of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, there seems to be a new twist to the whole amnesty issue. While government does everything to see that militants are sent to foreign vocational schools to learn new skills and their ‘commanders’ awarded juicy contracts, the feeling of entitlement continues to grow among these former militants. We read with horror and consternation, newspaper reports of militants trashing hotels, creating nuisance or outrightly staging riots against what they perceive as inadequate provision of bonuses promised to them. For those who were moved to Igbinedion University, there were clashes with cultists that left normal students terrified to the extent of sending distress calls to parents, guardians and media outlets.
Just a few days ago, the media was awash with stories that the presidency pays over five billion Naira annually to former militant generals like Asari Dokubo and Tompolo. The presidency has explained that the money being paid to these militants is for protection of oil pipelines in the Niger Delta region while one of Asari’s wives has gone ahead to call people insane for questioning the amount being paid to her husband. When news like this come up, I get confused about the relevance of the Niger Delta Development Comission (NDDC). What is its function? What issues does it address? What projects has it undertaken since its creation? How many bodies, both artificial and human represent the Niger Delta struggle? And just how many of them will continue to demand restitution from the government for past misdeeds? These monies, bonuses and priviledges have in no way helped the people of the Niger Delta, nor has it lessened the suffering brought by incessant oil spills and environmental degradation. What it has done is re-inforce the belief that bad is good and good is bad.
Now that the government is rumoured to be in talks with Boko Haram, I fear that it is sending a wrong signal to the youths. It is telling them that crime pays and that bad behaviour can be rewarded if you get the right guns and political connection. It is sending a clear message to undergraduates, sweating away in dilapidated buildings under the supervision of hand-outs trading lecturers that they are wasting their time. It is worrying that government is yet to place effective policies in place as a check against regional militancy. Resorting to financial inducements in exchange for peace is not the solution to the crises plaguing the country. It is a vicious circle that will not end. What happens when other militant groups advancing one cause or the other begin to ask for their share of the national cake?
The government should take stringent measures to ensure that insecurity is dealt with. Even though the insecurity problem has its roots in our social make up, the cleansing can be done from the top down to the bottom. If the educational sector is well taken care of and salaries are paid to teachers on time, there will be fewer cases of teachers cheating for students. If the contractor is made to face jail term for abandoning projects, there will be an abundance of completed infrastructures. If the thieving government official does not benefit from plea bargains and other legal loopholes and is made to face the full wrath of the law, the petty thief stands a chance of getting appropriate punishment under a sane legal system. If true federalism is practiced and revenue generation accorded priority, regional restiveness will be a thing of the past and militancy, a distant memory as virtually every state will be able to enjoy development. We cannot be stuck in this rut forever. It is time for the government to have a rethink about this culture of rewarding bad behaviour.
A Culture Of Rewarding Bad Behaviour
Was Published On Omojuwa.com On September 3, 2012.