Nigerian Society and the real dangers of relativism

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Chris Odinaka Nwedo

Picture on the wall Fabriano
An Image of self destruction

The wide-spread assertions that Nigeria as a nation has not made commensurate progress in appropriating herself is gradually becoming less polemical. The self-inflicted pains of the malfeasance is today more evident and disapproving. The stunted aspiration of Nigeria as a nation is felt everywhere particularly in the disorienting dispositions of the rulers and in the dysfunctional national infrastructures. The pains of these self-injuries are becoming intolerable. The proves of the intolerability of the situation are graphically presented partly by the thousands of Nigerian youths forced by the suffocation into illegal migration. There are horrifying stories of how Sahara desert is littered by countless corpses of Nigerian able-bodied young men and women who were no longer able to successfully complete their escape from plight at home. However, those who survived the desert contented mortally with Mediterranean Sea-sharks and finally into the hands of slave dealers of all sorts. There is the trending dreadful chronicles of how Nigerians are sold, bought and butchered with impunity in Libya.

The effects of the hopeless situation in Nigeria are wide spread. The growing secession threats are the indices of the dissatisfaction with the state of order. More than ever, Nigerians are punching themselves in anger. The disorderly attitudes of many politicians are clearer-pointers to the nature of the degrading circumstances. The APC government by Mohammadu Buhari has demonstrated the historicity of winner takes all, thus the Nigerian society has become invariably divided between the ‘winners’ and the ‘losers’. The political gang-up, the treacherous political contests and the sabotages of collective interest in the race for power are explainable in the context of power for immunity against the sweeping of political witch-hunt in the pretext of war against corruption. Nigeria has capacity not only to appropriate herself but to excel with the infinite benefits of human and material endowments. The capacities for the excellence have become degraded by the protracted period of political indiscretion. The enthronement of deception as weapon power consolidation ‘slaughtered’ opportunities for meaningful progress in Nigeria as a nation.

Deception is the foundation for the national culture of relativism, bias and untruthfulness. These are vices swiftly infecting Nigerian society with malaise of bad ways. The vices seemed to have wholly taken over the national politics and the governance. Unfortunately, Nigerians are today more than ever inundated by propaganda of absolute lies, deliberate distortion of truth and false claims. There seemed to be an overt artificiality in the body languages of those who have assumed authority to rule over the nation. What has appeared as immediate repercussion of the evolving trend is a progressive scepticism of among Nigerians of the government’s actions and pronouncements. We may be approaching a point where believing the truth is difficult when the truth is indubitable truthful.

At the commencement of this political dispensation, it was said that the president, Mohammadu Buhari has great distrust for politicians and that he had less than 10% trust in the systems of national politics and politicians. This alleged declaration from the president was applauded and swallowed hook and sinker, uncritically. It was for the gullible the reaffirmation of the virtuousness of the president who was said to have been incorruptible, tested and trusted. By the statement, the president surely mistrusted over 90% of the politicians because they are fraudulent, corrupt, subversive and treacherous, and therefore, unworthy of his association. However, the fact that the president was given electoral victories by the machinations of the malefactors was hastily rationalised on the thesis that God uses bad people to make the good ones. In support of this off-centre hypothesis, copious citations were made from all scriptures available to validate the defected thinking.

The objectives of the citations were to becloud and diminish the values of the evidence that the president’s campaigns were paid wholistically by the Nigeria’s savage looters and with looted funds by wrong and disgruntled politicians who felt the PDP’s umbrella was no longer large enough to accommodate their intensely growing morbid ambitions. More so, these politicians were among the over 90% distrusted or despised by the ‘morally upright’ president. During the earliest stages of the campaigns, there were perfidious plots to shade off the former ruling party with heart-tearing sabotages and decampments. Some of the schemers absconded with campaign funds of the then ruling party, PDP, and conspiratorially turned it in favour of the APC and thus contributing to the electoral successes of the president. Thus the victory was engendered and fed by the faultless game of political disloyalty.

In the pervading cultures of relativism it is not necessary to make valid judgement or inventory of the processes giving us the opportunity we wanted, because our interest has been wholly served. In the bias, pretence and untruthfulness we always wanted the end to get rid of impurities the vicious means. After the swearing in of the then new President, it took disquietingly very long time for the government to hit the ground running as the Federal Executive Council took approximately one year to be constituted and there were no Ministers. The criticisms generated by the irregularity were quickly stampeded by a defence that because Buhari was incorruptible he was taking time to personally investigate, select, disinfect and to make incorruptible the ministers, appointees and the associates of the new government, and therefore the delays were necessary. And besides, the iniquities of the defunct government was so much and therefore plenty time must be needed to clean the mess ahead of the ‘minister-saints’. When the appointments were eventually concluded, they were inclusive of ‘republicans’ and ‘sinners’. Some of the appointees were allegedly common criminals with heavy allegations of corruption and varied forms of criminality. The critics were told that these politicians worked hard for the political victory of the present government because they funded the campaigns and mobilised the support that invariably produced the victory. It will be indiscretion and political suicide to leave out of consideration the enormous contributions of these wrong and powerful people.

Meanwhile, the hypothesis that the disorienting delay in the constitution of the government was to enable Buhari personally investigate, select, disinfect and make incorruptible the ministers, appointees and the associates of the new government was deflated by the wife of the President, Aisha Buhari. In an unprecedented move, Aisha overtly criticized her husband’s cabinet stressing that strangers have hijacked the government alienating those who struggled to build the All Progressives Congress (APC). According to Aisha, Buhari did not know and never met most of the top officials he appointed into offices. “The President does not know 45 out of 50, for example of the people he appointed and I don’t know them either, despite being his wife of 27 years.1

It was not surprising that this honest X-ray of fact sparked fierce condemnation in Kano State. “At Jamaatul Izalatul Bid’ah Mosque in Farm Centre, Kano, Shiek Ismail Illyasu Mangu spoke to the thousands of worshipers immediately after the Jumaat prayer, calling on security agencies to arrest the first lady. According to the Shiek the comment of Aisha was “capable of inciting millions of Nigerians against her husband. We are sad about the interview granted by the wife of the President.2  The Sheik rationalized that it was the “opposition members in the country that are using her against the government. Her statement is unfair and capable of inciting violence. It is a threat to the peace of the country and we do hope the security agencies will immediately arrest her. We believed that some ungrateful elements in the country are using the wife of the president to tarnish the image of the president and the country.3 The president instead of owing the truth of the fact disowned the wife saying: “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room.4

In addition, the overt sectional predisposed appointments were also rationalised on the hypothesis that the president was led by the passion for best. Buhari faced criticism about lack of gender imbalance in his cabinet. Gender right is a hot topic globally. Women rights group have been at the forefront of demanding that the rights of women are respected in a male dominated world.5 It was said that the president’s concentration of almost all the appointments on masculine gender and people very close to him and from a particular section of the federation were inspired by the need for credible, efficient, corrupt free and sincere Nigerians to help him drive his messages of transformative change and corrupt free Nigerian society. There were also calls for the president to go ahead with the governance devoid of the ministers because the ministers could be unwanted distraction and proven waste of resources. The argument continued that because of the incorruptibility, capability and suitability of Buhari he was disposed to do better as a sole administrator or absolute dictator of Nigeria. This, according to the proponents creates the atmosphere for proper concentration on the urgent duty of bringing the clamoured positive changes. When the president claimed he wanted the portfolio of petroleum ministry for himself, the irregularity was applauded too. The argument was that PMB knows everything in the petroleum industry because he worked there as a defunct PTF chairman close to thirty-five years ago. And with combination of incorruptibility, he was the best man on earth to handle the technicalities in the industry and stop the leakages in the corruption prone opaque institution. The relativists made efforts to persuade credulous Nigerians that the decrepit old soldier was an expert in petroleum industry and a panacea to every problem in Nigeria.

Today, Nigerian nation is bedraggled by uncritical apologies to Buhari in which the truths of facts are turned upside down. This character has always given the Nigerians of questionable scruples opportunities to score cheap and hypocritical political points. It is as embarrassing as irreverent that the National Chairman of APC, John Oyegun told Nigerians that in spite of the poor performance profile of Buhari, the chastising conducts of his ministers, top government appointees, scandalous rivalries and trending open fight among security agencies under the president’s supervision, the Buhari’s integrity is very, very intact. In fact, Buhari is not even capable of being dishonest. Even if he tries to be dishonest he cannot.6 With the Oyegun’s position, it is no long doubtful that there are those who have deified Buhari exculpating him from common imperfection. Oyegun may have become childish and evidently out of his mind due to obsession for ephemeral political gains. By making Buhari infallible he may have effectively courted the favours to remain a permanent national chairman of APC. He may not be as dumb and old as that, for he is conscious of his needs for power but, only, unconscious that his is becoming irrational and disparaging himself. For Sam Etujoel, Oyegun, the dumb old man from Edo, what a ridicule you have become in your old age, much like Sagay and just like your brother the diminutive Oshiomole; Edo politicians seems to be biting the dust in droves. Like the almajiris, their mouth goes wild in the direction of their stomach, shame.7 It has to be noted that this blunder by Oyegun like every other blunders of the diehard proponents of Buhari’s incorruptibility are the inputs for incapacitating Nigeria for worthless gains. For decades Nigerian nation has not made significant advancement appropriate to her due to the brands of deficient politicians that are depleting her like fatal cancer.

It is a constitutional requirement for every Nigerian to present academic records for pre-qualification assessment for elective and/or appointive positions. But “Buhari failed to meet up with the basic requirement in filling CF001 form submitted to the INEC which required a candidate to attach his or her credential to the form. He was not qualified to contest the Presidential election but due to the bad systems of the country and lack of integrity he had audacity to contest the election. Buhari violated section 131 of the Constitution, which prescribes a minimum qualification for nomination to participate in presidential election and section 31 of the Electoral Act that stipulates all presidential candidates to depose an affidavit in proof of compliance with constitutional requirement to be President of Nigeria.8 Nevertheless many Nigerian ‘intellectuals’ and ‘masters of the law’ sophistically argued that Buhari should not be subjected to the basic scrutiny of certificate verification because he was a well known general in the army. These intellectual fraudsters who would corruptly approve anything in favour of Buhari insisted: “let Buhari come and rule over us even if he has no any skill in reading and writing he was better than President Jonathan, a PhD holder”. Those crooks slanting truth to favour Buhari have been ‘forced’ to accept that PhD holder as a president is progress. It is indeed blessing. President Buhari “has performed woefully by not justifying the mandate given to him by Nigeria masses during the 2015 Presidential election. All the Buhari’s policies are anti-masses and undemocratic these are against his electoral promises. Buhari has no clue for resolving the mirage of problems facing the country as the situation is getting worst since present administration came on board…9 At present, many Nigerians believe that President Buhari lacked educational requirement to become the President of this country. For these Nigerians this error has shown clearly in his style of governance of this nation in the last two years, for not being able to proffer a single solution to the one of the problems facing the country, rather, he aggravated them… President Buhari has become a disaster to the masses of this country as all the Buhari’s government policies have brought pains and pangs to the lives of the Nigeria people as Nigerians experienced in 1985 when Buhari was Head of Military junta.10

It was same Nigerians that do not need certificate from Buhari to rule Nigeria that are vilifying Dino Melaye on allegation that he was a university drop-out and therefore, lacks capacity to seat in the senate. Buhari was encouraged to move on even without the basics, expensive lawyers were contracted to argue away his deficiencies. It was reported that the revisit of the certificate saga by the court “threw the presidency into unprecedented panic, and rather than go to court with a prove as simple as just showing his certificate in order to erase any doubts whatsoever in the minds of everyone, it was said that Buhari instead chose the expensive and cumbersome option of hiring 13 high profile Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) and ten other lawyers.11 For Ndukwe J, “rather than argue the substance of the case, Buhari was playing to the gallery by allegedly employing the services of a retinue of highly expensive lawyers just to frustrate a simple case through unnecessary delay tactics, the same luxury for which he and his acolytes continuously condemn their “anti-corruption” victims and political opponents, harass lawyers for choosing to accept to defend those victims, intimidating and blackmailing the judiciary for entertaining ‘frivolous’ suits brought against the government, flagrantly disobeying court orders and destroying the judiciary in the process just to get at their hapless victims.12 The Department of State Security (DSS) was praised to high heavens for indicting high profile judges but was despised for commenting negatively and realistically of Ibrahim Magu the acting EFCC chairman. There are so many other self-refuting propositions and contradictions that disparaged standards or justice system in Nigeria. In synopsis, these politically motivated misrepresentation of facts collaborate denigrations of truth and progressive cultures of relativism and falsehood. As Nigerians, we have lived too long in deceit to the injury of all. The most challenging national predicament is this mind-set, the distortion of value and detrimental disorientation.

Existential facts such as the disinclination to national integration, social discrimination, corruption, injustices, political imprudence and the comprehensible inability of the leadership to halt the spinning of the nation out of balance are rationalise subject to sectional predispositions of the individual citizens. It is therefore difficult to find objective truth or dependable fact about anything in our streets. Nigerians seemed to be manically defending or covering something always, and evidently, weighed down and disoriented by this mystical responsibility. It is simple to say as Nigerians that we are unwilling to liberate ourselves from the slavery of falsehood. Many Nigerians live on fast-lane of lies, deceiving and happy to be deceived in turn. The most fashionable expression in the streets is ‘it is well’ when in fact it is not. We decree it is well in pretence.

It is well is surely in pretence because we endlessly move round on the same denigrating point in spite of the affirmation of the faith. I assume that there is nothing our honest relationship with God cannot do through faith that is truthful. However, our natural inclinations to falsehood tended to make us repeat words of faith without commitment. In the confusion and disorientation we often turn the truth head-down and legs-up in a deliberate empty devotion. The existential fact is that as politicians disfigure facts, steal and lie for illusory material advantage, ordinary citizens cheat in the hope of accessing survival, while some ‘men of religion’ are too fraudulent, perverse and idiosyncratic. ‘Men of religion’ in this context is differentiated from men of God. Men of God are true servants of God working piously for God through passionate service. The national political and religious culture of deceitfulness seemed to have reconditioned us to hypocritical reactions to every situation. We invoke God, claim inspirations and constantly swear in God’s name even when we are intensely atheistic. Notwithstanding the duplicity, our schemes work because in a religiously deceptive society like ours the name ‘God’ is powerfully a legal tender, even the counterfeit is potent. I have been able to discover something significant. This significant thing is that there are good and bad people everywhere in the world. In the western climes for instance the really good people intentionally do good. They are reasonable and dependable; the really bad people have no pretence to their inclination. But in Nigeria the remarkable thing is that both the really good people and the really bad people are indistinguishable mostly because they both reason and behave alike. The will to take undue advantages of situations seemed to be painting Nigerians as people to patrol endlessly. The anti-graft war is declared a triumphant war because it became a potent device for victimization of political dissenters and the people that ‘failed to belong’. Long list of people under chastisement by EFCC demonstrated that the war is productively biased. However, it is applauded as successful and comprehensive even when it is overtly targeting specific individuals. Now the pertinent questions are “how many times have the presidency and other government agencies declared innocent people guilty in the media even before such people were investigated for any crime? Who is undergoing persecution today that has not been declared guilty in the media by government officials? Who is a victim of the vindictive fight against political opponents disguised as fight against corruption today that has not had his or her reputation badly maligned in the media even before being charged to court?13 Ours is a society that is progressively becoming no more fit for purpose with the drafting of religion and ethnicity in the political power struggle. This mortal political combat is staged and rehearsed in the biased media court while hapless victims are the targets.

For Ndukwe, beyond the manipulation of a section of the media to subject their political opponents to a destructive media trial, even dishing out the guilty verdict on such individuals in the pages of newspapers and online news portals, the government and its agents have actually subjected most of their victims to actual jail terms in the absence of a court verdict.14 Ndukwe noted that “these victims have all been demonized in the courts of public opinion as championed by government agents while government officials and relations of powerful individuals close to government of the day have continued to be shielded by government even when there are damning petitions supported with hard and incontrovertible facts against them before security/anti-graft agencies.15

For whatever reason, ‘relativism’ in our clime is absolutely a reserve of no class judging by the extensiveness and impact. The kind of relativism in the context of this discussion is neither ideological nor philosophical. Our narrative rises and falls on the treacherous practice of impeding the truth, twisting the truth, deforming the truth, making the truth to depend on another ‘truth’ that is untruthful. It is tagging lies with emblems of truth, the grafting or implantation of fact. This situation is dramatised more logically in the current political order, the narratives from various election theatres, the judicial arbitrations, the predetermined hostilities against allegedly corrupt politicians, the distributions of the national patrimony and the management of signals from the sick president. “Relativism’ comes in a plethora of forms that are themselves grounded in disparate philosophical motivations. There is no such thing as Relativism simpliciter, and no single argument that would establish or refute every relativistic position that has been proposed. Despite this diversity, however, there are commonalities and family resemblances that justify the use of the label philosophical “relativism”.16

There were arguments between two Nigerians Idris and Stella, and the substance of the argument was the supposed incapacitation of president Buhari. Stella noted that it was as a result of this incapacitation on grounds of ill health that the president was hospitalised approximately for many months. And it was not the hospitalisation that was the main national migraines but the enormous financial costs of the treatment, the embarrassments and the stalling of the courses of governance because the head of the government was ill and absent and therefore critical decisions are delayed or not taken. The Idris speedily retorted that the absence of Buhari has not in any way affected the courses of effective governance because the vice president was there doing everything the president should do in acting capacity. Idris continued that Nigerians should not be distracted about the health of Buhari as long as the Osibanjo is actively acting; moreover, the president’s health is a private concern of the party’s family affairs. In the main, Idris furiously accused the opposition of stoking irrelevant controversy and working very hard to cause disaffection in the country and therefore, Almighty God must destroy the enemies of the government. He continued raining curses with the strength of his voice having taken the matter personal. Idris queried the Stella for being irredeemably biased against the Buhari’s government. For Idris, medical treatment abroad has been there after all, Mrs. Patience Goodluck Jonathan was flown abroad severally for medical reasons and nobody raised the matter and Mrs. Stella Obasanjo died in the hospital abroad. Though these points raised by Idris were fallacious and inconsistent they do not matter to Idris because he displayed unwillingness to entertain anything that he considered demeaning to the person of the president.

In fact, Idris does not care about anything as long as Buhari remains the president. From facts, Idris has no concept of good governance; his interest rises and falls on where the president comes from and his religion. But how can anyone censure Idris alone because most Nigerians have perverted intellect and reason like Idris. It is this brand of distorted interpretations of fact that disparaged Nigeria and make mockery of her greatness. However, Idris is overtly biased, he is infuriated by the upsetting facts about Buhari, and Stella’s assertions may not be completely exculpated from any trace exaggeration. But the denial of the right to speculate about the national situation and the condition of health of the president in absence of reliable information from the government is particularly strange. It is very objective, and indeed, a responsibility of Nigerians to bother about the nation, the state of health and the where about of the leaders. Buhari claimed the mandate to rule Nigeria and he has constitutional responsibility to do just that. Osibanjo is not the president, Buhari is the president. Osibanjo is not known to be ‘incorruptible’, Buhari is said to be ‘incorruptible’, ‘capable’ and ‘suitable’. More so Buhari was attractive to many as the president of Nigeria on a hypothesis of ‘incorruptibility’. Therefore to shun and criminalise those asking for Buhari when Osibanjo is presumed to be doing part of Buhari’s work is that part of the ridiculing fact about the distortions in our society. The corruption in our system is not only in the use of state outfits for expropriation of funds, other funds related criminality and subversion of justice, it also involves deliberate twisting of facts for whatever purpose. Corrupt Nigerians use different criteria for evaluating same situation with the view to depreciate the value of the facts. These unscrupulous folks use politics, religion or ethnic factors to deny or cheapen the truth. The ‘relativists’ live falsely and die negating fact. For a ‘relativist’ like Idris there is no absolute fact because every fact, truth or validity is further re-subjected and re-interpreted according to religion, tribe and\or personal interest. These brands of relativists are ‘condemned’ to endless to self-denial.

                                          Philosophical views of relativism

Relativism is the view that truth and falsity, right and wrong, standards of reasoning, and procedures of justification are products of differing conventions and frameworks of assessment and, that their authority is confined to the context giving rise to them…17 Relativism, therefore, is the position that all points of views are equally valid and the individual determines what is true, subject to experience and the interpretations. Relativist theorizes that truth is different for different people and that different people believe different things to be true. While there are relativists in science and mathematics, ethical relativism is the most common variety of relativism.18 As a philosophical doctrine, relativism has been in the centre of blistering debates and has been recipient of bruising attacks. However, the proponents have been robust in the defense.

For typical relativist, relativism is a prove of a tolerant mind, “the only ethical and epistemic stance worthy of the open-minded and tolerant.19 But this stance is not assuaging to critics who “dismiss it for its alleged incoherence and uncritical intellectual permissiveness.20 The critics’ stand-down relativism as a vain dissipation of time and energy, and since the core idea of the movement has remain elusive, it is treacherously subversive.

Various schools of relativism found expression in the belief that truth, knowledge or justification may be influenced by hidden factors such as preconception and inappropriate parameter. For this position, the instruments for moral judgment must be accessed within the context of belief and prescription. In moral judgment, therefore, relativists maintain that truth or justification is to be seen within the content of the specific moral codes. For instance it is abhorrent to eat meat in a totemic society. Therefore, the evil of slaughtering and eating animal as meat is relative to belief in totemism. Consequently, there is no way to establish the truth of the matter whether it is wrong to eat meat without reference to this specific ethical provision. Thus on the hidden parameter account, a consequence is that the relevant claims will be true, if at all, relative to some parameter.” Advocates of relativism, particularly outside philosophical circles, often cite tolerance as a key normative reason for becoming a relativist. On this rationale, all ways of life and cultures are worthy of respect in their own terms, and it is a sign of unacceptable ethnocentrism to presume that we could single out one outlook or point of view as objectively superior to others. Moral or ethical relativism is simultaneously the most influential and the most reviled of all relativistic positions. Supporters see it as a harbinger of tolerance, open-mindedness and anti-authoritarianism. Detractors think it undermines the very possibility of ethics, and a signal of either confused thinking or moral turpitude. Ethical relativist believes that nothing is objectively right or wrong and that definition of right or wrong should be subjected to the specifics of the situation in context. “Ethical relativism represents the position that there are no moral absolutes, no moral right or wrong. This position would assert that our morals evolve and change with social norms over a period of time. This philosophy allows people to mutate ethically as the culture, knowledge, and technology change in society.21

Briefly stated, moral relativism is the view that moral judgments, beliefs about right and wrong, good and bad, not only vary greatly across time and contexts, but that their correctness is dependent on or relative to individual or cultural perspectives and frameworks. Facts about right and wrong vary with, and are dependent on social and cultural backgrounds. Understood in this way, moral relativism could be seen as a sub-content of cultural relativism. Values may also be relativized to frameworks of assessment, independent of specific cultures or social settings. Moral relativism, like most relativistic positions, comes in various forms and strengths. It is customary to distinguish between descriptive or empirical, prescriptive or normative, and meta-ethical versions of moral relativism. These views in turn are motivated by a number of empirical and philosophical considerations similar to those introduced in defense of cultural relativism.22

As in the case of cultural relativism, the imperative of tolerance is often seen as a normative reason for adopting moral relativism. Moral relativism, it is argued, leads to tolerance by making us not only more open-minded but also alerting us to the limitations of our own views. Consistent relativist can tolerant and refuses to be in a position to condemn even the most abhorrent of worldviews as he\she admits that every point of view is right, relative to the perspective of its beholder. However, if we believe that any one moral standard is as good as any other, we are likely to be more tolerant. We shall tolerate widow-burning, human sacrifice, cannibalism, slavery, the infliction of physical torture, or any other of the thousand and one abominations which are, or have been, from time approved by moral code or another. But this is not the kind of toleration that we want, and I do not think its cultivation will prove “an advantage to morality”.23 Modest moral relativists endorse the idea of diversity and plurality of ethical values and accept that such values are justified according to differing local normative frameworks, but they avoid a full blown “anything goes” relativism by maintaining that all such frameworks are ultimately answerable to conditions for human flourishing and other overarching universal constraints such as the value of accommodation.24 Relativism is the conception that existential truth, concrete fact or the truth everybody sees or feels does not exist. This position permits subjective truth and conversely the degradation and rejection of indubitable reality. The danger of this position is the denial of or subjectivity of moral principles. This position subjects the truth of morality to sheer convenience.