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Crisis Of Values: Reclaiming Our Society

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Sunday, May 1st, 2016

If we were to judge by the dominant tenor of headlines in the Nigerian media, we would come to the conclusion that the problem of our society is simply a question of formulating the right economic policies or fashioning a suitable political ideology. We can be forgiven for this assumption. Despite the undeniable importance of economics and politics, there is no doubt that the national discourse tends to overlook the most fundamental aspect of the society which is its ethical dimension. In any scheme for understanding society, we must see ethics and values as the very foundation for developing all other sectors of society. Therefore, even as we attempt to design accurate economic policies and adopt the proper political ideology, we must also pursue ethical behavior in every area of our public life as the fundamental philosophical foundation. Our economic and political choices as a society are ultimately determined by our moral values.

Let us look beyond politics and consider the trends of the past thirty years. Look at the state of our schools – the perversion of the relationship between teachers and students that has warped what should be a vital mentoring relationship into an opportunity for various kinds of abuse. Spare a thought for religious institutions that have fallen into moral disrepute owing to a number of high profile scandals. Or the fact that religious leaders are increasingly vulnerable to the criticism that they are far more comfortable courting the rich and the powerful than speaking truth to power.

Look at the level of vulgarity in popular culture which further taints young hearts and minds. As a husband and a father, I am dismayed by the sexism and misogyny in certain genres of popular culture in which women are basically objectified as no more than sex objects and instruments of male gratification. I am disturbed by how such portrayals by the entertainment industry are warping young minds, feeding young males on a steady diet of sexist attitudes, sexual irresponsibility and a perverse sense of entitlement to the female body. If the moral temperature of a society is taken by how it treats its most vulnerable demographic, then we must admit that Nigeria has not yet attained the place of the desired society.

It is obvious that all sectors of our national life are reeling from a crisis of values. Politicians are subjected to the most scrutiny and criticism because of our relatively high profile and the visibility of those found wanting. But it would be a grave mistake to zero-in on politics as the most troubled sector of our national life. In fact, I contend that the state of our politics and governance simply reflects the society’s moral condition.

The definitive elements of the national moral condition include a raging culture of instant gratification that feeds short termism, profiteering, and fraud. Without making unsustainable generalizations, we can all agree that too many of us are given to cutting corners and trying to attain inordinately disproportionate returns on relatively small investments. In fact, it has been argued that our social, civic, political and economic relationships in Nigeria are defined more by mutual predatory exploitation than anything else. The sense of communal being that used to be a cardinal feature of public life has been diminished by the rise of an “every person for themselves” ethos.


The Quest for Happiness

As a society, we seriously need to reconsider what it means to be rich. We need to ask ourselves certain questions. Are frantic acquisition and primitive accumulation all that we have to live for or should we be seeking intangible values that cannot be measured in terms of raw cash but which nonetheless are the real basis for living a fulfilled life? In all our traditions, the idea that there is far more to life than the pursuit of riches is deeply ingrained. It is a timeless truth that we need to re-emphasize today.

Both current research and our moral traditions teach us that the things that what we truly require for happiness is not money but otherwise simple things that we take for granted, such as – nurturing healthy relationships, cultivating friendships, serving others, raising well-adjusted children,  and being involved in a community.

A society in which all individuals are committed to nothing more than the single-minded pursuit of their self-gratification at the expense of everything else is a dangerously predatory society in which no one can ever be truly safe.


The search for values-based citizenship

The most significant indicator of national instability is not to be found in politics or economics but in the ways in which we are raised and socialised. For example, I was born into the Catholic Church in which the belief that the Church must be an active agent of social justice and political transformation is rife. This belief found expression in the social activism of Catholics in various nations and in the liberation theology movement in Latin America. And this understanding of the catholic faith has guided me through my years at the frontlines of pro-democracy activism and in my service in public office. Our parents, teachers, older relatives and friends leave long lasting influences on our lives. These early influences define our identities. The lessons drawn from those who influence us within and outside of the family determine what we later understand to be acceptable standards of societal behaviour. The family, very broadly defined, is the premier learning environment.

What all this means is that no programme of transformation of society can succeed if it is not domesticated in the ways in which we groom and raise coming generations. To renew our nation today, we must be reawakened to our duties as parents, spouses, wards, teachers and mentors. There is no relationship that levies as much responsibility on us to be moral exemplars as that between us and our children. As parents, we are the guardians and caretakers of the next generation.

The challenge of balancing the demands of the workplace with those of running a home and raising children is more acute than it has ever been. This is a burden that you can all relate to as women. As women in the marketplace, you are surely breaking new ground, breaking barriers to female achievement, breaching the glass ceiling that keeps you from fully manifesting your potential and in so doing you are setting a valuable example for the next generation of girls who will now see that there is no limit to what they can aspire to.

This is why I must call on men to step up in their role as fathers. I do not subscribe to the view that building the home is exclusively the woman’s work. Women should not be made to feel guilty if they choose to work and build careers. Parenting is the responsibility of the father as well as the mother. In my book, there is no excuse for Dead beat Dads! Children need stable parents who are present in their lives, whether the parents are married to each other or not. Today, as parents we can no longer assume that we have an exclusive influence over our children that we can exercise from a remote distance. If we are unduly absent, our children will be reared by the internet, Hollywood, Nollywood or the house help. Such an outcome would be an unfortunate instance of parental abdication.

As a network of women that have come together to strengthen women’s leadership in the public, corporate and social sectors, may I leave some thoughts with you about how you can position this very important space of yours as we search for solutions to the crisis of values in this country.

Take your place as leaders

Women’s involvement in decision-making contributes to redefining political priorities, placing new issues on the political agenda which reflect and address women’s gender-specific concerns, values and experiences, and provides new perspectives on mainstream political issues. Without the active participation of women and the inclusion of their perspectives at all levels of decision-making, the goals of good governance and inclusive, transparent democratic processes cannot be achieved.

The skills and experiences that women bring to the leadership table are as important as what men have to offer. We therefore need to encourage a critical mass of women in leadership – especially in governance – so that hopefully, we will start seeing some real changes in the ways in which our communities are led and managed.

Socialise your children more progressively

Most of us have grown up learning certain attitudes and behaviours about gender roles and identities. If we want to see a shift in values, attitudes and behaviours, then we need to teach our children to learn how to work and play as equals. Girls should be brought up to be independent, productive and creative, and boys need to learn how to value and respect girls. The deeply patriarchal societies we live in tend to render women invisible. If you want to see our society move forward with positive values, we need to raise our male and female in ways that provide everyone with the same opportunities.

Utilise the power of your networks

As women leaders, individually you might have clout, but as an organisation, you can be truly formidable. You need to use the power of your numbers and your political and social capital to take a stand on some of the problems we are grappling with in our country today.

Mentor the next generation of women leaders

I know that WIMBIZ has a well thought through mentoring program for young women, and that many women’s networks today have such programs which are vital for raising the next generation of female leaders. I would however like to advise that you build in the need for young women to have more appreciation of what it was like to have a Women’s Movement sixty years ago. The women’s movement globally and locally, has made a lot of gains over the years. However, a lot of these gains have been taken for granted, and if care is not taken, the modest gains that have been made might be lost. Women have fought for the right to vote, to be educated, to be protected from violence, to be able to inherit land, to have access to capital to even be able to own a passport without the signature of their husbands or fathers for approval. There is nothing automatic about all these rights – they were fought for. You therefore have a role to play in ensuring ongoing support, awareness-raising and sensitization so that women can indeed, make genuinely transformative choices for themselves and not false choices born out of coercion.


The Need for new Exemplars

Given the long history of failed campaigns to provide an ethical roadmap for Nigeria, we must ponder how the moral rebirth of a society occurs. My belief is that a nation cannot rise above the values of its citizens. If we want our country to function at a certain standard, then we must become the first exemplars of that standard.

Exemplars show that another way of doing business or politics is possible. They redefine standards and set the boundaries of possibility. They raise new plumb lines for measuring ethical behaviour. Vast areas of our national life require the redemptive presence of exemplars. We need them in public service, in our courts, chambers of commerce, business offices, public service, our universities and schools, legislatures, security services among other sectors. We need them at the fore front of advocacy for the many causes that require standard-bearers in our society. I wish you all the best as an organisation, as you all commit to playing your role in making this nation great again.


Dr. Kayode Fayemi (CON), is the Minister for Solid Minerals Development. He is a former Governor of Ekiti State, Nigeria. This is an abridged version of the recent 2016 WIMBIZ annual lecture. The complete lecture can be found in the Resources Section of


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