The values and norms of citizens, residents, and migrants – not the raw measure of the country’s natural and economic resources – are the mark of a country’s morality in every social and economic parameter.
Citizens and residents of socially prosperous countries have mainly adopted a set of values, ethics, and norms that makes for civil society and wholesome community. These are tangible and intangible rules that are driven mainly by Western culture. Western civilization is synonymous with Western culture. Western values are embedded in the mindsets of inhabitants of “civilized societies.”
One mark of the crucial importance of Western civilization to society was well-stated by Guardian commentator Natalie Haynes on Oct. 19, 2016. Ms. Haynes asserted that the “classics,” or studies in civilization, underpin the modern world. She described how modern literature is rooted in the classics, and in ancient and medieval civilization. Screenwriters learn from Sophocles. Politicians echo Cicero. Doctors take the Hippocratic oath. Western culture has dominated the world, and with good reason: It has proven its strength by its endurance and its success.
Modern Western civilization has been heavily impacted by ancient philosophers. From Socrates, Aristotle and Plato to Augustine and Sarte, great thinkers have directed the trajectory of civilization. Civilization is driven by principles, values, rules, and norms that promote life, security, safety, and prosperity. Civilization further promotes geniality, equity, honesty, and freedom. Possessing an appropriate values matrix is a signpost to a patient, tolerant, happy, and compassionate society ruled by law. Civilized values are the route to true social and economic prosperity.
Now, Western history as defined and narrated by Ivy League historians is the basis for the Western value system. Western history is further intertwined with local custom, folklore, fable, mythology, and oral tradition. The preceding form the Western value system that itself is the bedrock of academia, economy, society, and governance in most developed states.
A caveat is requisite: It is agreed that Western culture and modern civilization have been supremely successful in driving modern society. From the time we wake up in the morning until we go to bed at night, and even when we sleep, we are governed by our values, and subsets of these values. However, Western civilization is a synthesis.
Civilization is not the domain of any one country or society. Neither is civilization the domain of any one race or ethnicity. Agreed, societies such as those of the United States and Western Europe have played a dominant role in the transmission of Western values. However, many countries and societies have contributed to Western civilization. The culture of the West is a global culture. It is organic and fluid. It is past, present, and future. It is forged from myriad histories, cultures and value systems.
The tumultuous tribal and religious dichotomies of the Moslem Levant and Arabia; the mystical cultures of Cuba, Santo Domingo, and Haiti; the eclectic colours of Trinidad and Tobago; the sweet fungi rhythms of the Virgin Islands; the dominant technological and media set that is the US; the ancient traditions of the United Kingdom; Brazilian salsa; Russian and French revolutionary history; the tragic Balkans; Canada’s cosmopolitan model; the exotic smells of Dakar; Eastern mystique; Africa’s dark mystery; and so on and so forth, are all part of the motley that is Western civilization.
And yes, civilization as we understand it flows from a specific geographic space that is narrated in written history and its direct antecedents. Civilization can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece, and before that to ancient Egypt. Western civilization has evolved over millennia into its present form where social nuances laws govern everyday life, and direct the activities of the majority of organizations and institutions that impact all our lives. Western values and norms are the bedrock of democracy and law in all regions of the globe.
The rule of law preserves the stability and wholesomeness of Western society. It is proscriptive and it has contributed to political, economic, and social stability in most regions. It is not overstretch to state that Western civilization and social and economic prosperity are synonymous.
Now, the nation-state called Nigeria is at a crossroads. The tumultuous and troubled country has always teetered on the precipice. It appears to have finally plunged into the abyss. Its present state may be irreversible.
On Oct. 21, 2016 the Nigerian Vice President Dr Yemi Osinbajo declared the following: “Corruption has permeated every stratum of Nigerian society. All institutions of government, executive, legislative, and judiciary are corrupt, so therefore a value reorientation is the key weapon to fight the corruption monster.”
Mass corruption and criminal behavior in Nigeria’s judiciary is the very antithesis of what makes for a socially prosperous nation. Nigeria, for all intents and purposes, is presently in a state of anarchy with those revelations of a moral meltdown of the country’s legal establishment.
Where laws cease to be observed, especially by the judiciary, the result is anarchy. When critical institutions that preserve and enforce the rule of law break down, the result is tyranny. Dictatorship and the rule of the strongman are the only forces able to confine the darkness of a breakdown in the social order. This may be happening in Nigeria this moment.
Good values and wholesome norms are at the root of successful societies. Strong communities and healthy societies unite around a set of values that in turn guarantee social and economic prosperity. Good values derive from a country’s history, traditions, customs and culture. These are in turn influenced by the ubiquitous influences of Western civilization. Western values have been proven to foster strong morality and a healthy ethical subset based upon equity, honesty, and integrity.
Where a nation’s set of values are driven by compassion, tolerance, and the rule of law, society is frequently stable, secure, and prosperous. Healthy social values lead to strong institutions and good governance. The preceding arguments have been tried and tested by world history. Western civilization is based upon the shared values, norms, and laws of the countries and peoples in the western hemisphere.
Eze Onyekpere is a columnist with Nigeria’s Punch Newspapers. On Oct. 10, 2016 he wrote a story titled “Building institutions for national development.” He stated rightly in his article that countries prosper on the back of rules governing human conduct under the rule of law. Where Mr. Onyekpere “missed it” was him failing to link an effective national institutional framework to Nigeria’s values subsets. Since the discovery of oil decades back, Nigeria’s values system or national character has become perverted, irresponsible, and toxic.
People make up a country’s civic, social, and economic institutions. National institutions, whether of governance, law, defense, education, finance, transportation, security, medical and so on, reflect the people who manage and benefit from them. If the people who make up these institutions are corrupt, greedy, and dishonest, then no amount of tweaking of that institution will change its poor outcomes.
Institutional outcomes are as successful or as flawed as the people who sit in and use those institutions. Institutions are primarily driven by the values of the people who manage and use these institutions. And that is why President Muhammad Buhari was correct when he stated that Nigeria needs its values reset.
Mr. Buhari may be disliked and hated by a significant subset of the Nigerian population. However he is correct in stating that without that change in the “Nigerian personality,” all is in vain.
Nigeria has got to get back to a place where the values of honesty, integrity, patience, and discipline are at the center of Nigerian culture and national life. Nigeria has to seek these “virtues” above all else if the country is to survive. And things certainly do not look good for Nigeria at present.