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Defining Morality in Nigeria


Leonard Karshima Shilgba

Last week, General Yakubu Gowon, the coordinator of Nigeria Prays and former military Head of State of Nigeria, visited our university and made some moral claims. On the unfortunate Nigerian civil war, the general said, “Nigeria’s integrity was threatened by the action of some rebels. I had no choice than to use the constitutional powers conferred on me as the Head of State and my oath of office to always defend the integrity and unity of the country at all times.” I was not yet born when Gowon chose to exercise his “constitutional powers.” But I should ask, Who gave General Gowon those constitutional powers? I would like him to educate me. Only three questions were permitted for Gowon at his visit and talk. Was it moral for the military to forcefully take over from an elected government, and then for Gowon’s military goons from Northern Nigeria to stage a revenge coup and say, “We are back”? Our students and youths need to sift the bran from the flour and appreciate their country’s history and unlearn her fooleries, hypocrisies and self-destructive proclivities. This is the same journey of discovery that I have been engaged in for the past years.

Who are the rebels that Gowon referred to, and what rebellious acts were they found guilty of by General Gowon? Who was the general that unilaterally went back on the Aburi agreement in Ghana? Was General Gowon morally right to violate the terms of that agreement which he had signed? With whom were those “rebels” fighting before the general chose to “defend the integrity and unity of the country”? General Gowon claimed, “I was only trying to bring back my sisters and brothers that were misled by the rebels. I took that action in the best interest of my country Nigeria, guided by the constitution of the country.” May I ask which “constitution” Gowon referred to, and what powers that “constitution” had conferred on a military invader like General Gowon? And in bringing back his “sisters and brothers” who were “misled”, was it morally right for Gowon to murder more than two million Nigerians in the process, who out of dismay at their persecution by some Nigerians chose to be called Biafrans? I am a Tiv man; and I understood as I grew up that many Tiv soldiers took part in the massacre of the Igbos, wrongly and immorally called “Civil war”.  There was nothing civil about that war. I have called on my people to apologize to the Igbos. I now ask Tiv leaders (traditional, political, and religious) to embark on a penance visitation to Igbo land over this egregious pogrom.

There is a biblical account of how the nation of Israel under King David suffered mysterious and severe economic and social crises for more than two years. The cause was eventually revealed. King Saul, David’s predecessor had killed the Gibeonites (with whom Israel under Joshua had made a covenant of peace) decades ago. It was after seven sons of Saul were delivered to the Gibeonites, as they had requested as a condition for penance, and hanged that God brought relief to the land of Israel and removed his wrath. When did it become a crime for a people to peacefully seek self-recognition and self-determination under any arrangement of their choosing? I am scandalized that Gowon did not show any remorse for the historical fact that he had supervised an organized immolation of human beings between 1967 and 1970 on the altar of self-acquired authority! And he is boasting about his sins today and yet leading a prayer group! How futile those prayers must be! Is it any wonder that since he started off on those prayer trips around Nigeria, things have only gotten worse?

Gowon is a war criminal, and must be put on judicial trial for his crimes against humanity. But Nigerians have lost the sense of and knowledge of true morality. And I would never be surprised if many of my Middle Belt brothers and sisters pour excoriating invectives on me for what I have said. That is the way we Nigerians usually react to words and conduct we dislike. We feel so entitled to some assumed behavioral rectitude that we perceive our outpoured obscenities as moral conduct.

Recently, the Council of State in Nigeria approved the pardon of some  Nigerian ex-convicts. One of those was a former governor who less than 10 years ago was convicted for stealing public funds. Before that, he had jumped bail in the UK and sneaked into Nigeria disguised as a woman. When he got back to his state at that time, a huge crowd received him as some sort of hero. I wondered then and wrote that something was definitely wrong with the moral compass of Nigerians.  Alamasiegha was convicted, released, and allowed to walk about freely in Nigeria. He lost no legally acquired property. Yet, General Gowon, in defending the recent pardon granted Mr Alamasiegha, said to the young and old, Nigerians and foreigners last week on the campus of the American University of Nigeria that the Council of State (to which he belongs)  “took the decision based on the grounds that he (Alamasiegha) had finished serving the punishment for the offence he had committed and that he promised not to commit such an offence again.” It is very obvious that such reasoning is being played again and again on our television stations and in our newspapers. Many Nigerians have lost it! Gowon’s claim that Alamasiegha had “finished serving his punishment” brings up some questions. What punishment? What are we doing to our children; what moral lessons are we teaching them? It is my firm belief, as I have learned in the Bible, that all things are lawful, but all things are not helpful or edifying. A great nation goes beyond the compass measure of legality and seeks a substantial measure on the scale of morality.

Few days ago, the governor of Akwa Ibom state, Dr. Godswill Akpabio confessed to rigging PDP senatorial primaries in 2007 in favour of Senator Etuk.  As shocking as this was, I am yet to read of any formal response from either his party or relevant government officials. As if that justified his action, Governor Akpabio said his action was not unusual in PDP as the seat had been “zoned” to Mr Etuk’s constituency and so that excused his unilateral action in substituting the winner’s name with Etuk’s. So, it is moral to use “zoning” as an  excuse to cheat a person of his victory in an election conducted according to the laws of the country? If our leaders have warped understanding of morality, and they go about with a seared conscience, what is then the hope for ethical revival of our country? And can we have a country to call our own few years from now if her moral foundation is continually being corrupted by our leaders? I am afraid for Nigeria and her children!

Human life is being devalued in Nigeria, and amnesia has set in among the people. Haven’t we forgotten about the grotesque murders in Okijia forest that were exposed in 2004? Some leaders in Nigeria,including Ohaneze leaders, who made it an ethnic issue,  defended such murders at that time. What has become of those who were arrested in connection with that? The national conscience has been so calloused that we hardly balk at reports of murders of even dozens of people, not to talk of “just” a single individual. The Attorney-General of the nation could treat with a cavalier attitude the murder of a Nigerian taken seriously by the victim’s governor because we have become morally lost in the wilderness of wild living. It is not in the character of Nigerian leaders to respond with decisive resolve to hunt down murderers of the people. Our children or students could be burnt alive by a mob (For instance, University of Port Harcourt students were likewise killed last year) and you hear no whimper from the president. The heart of Nigeria is inhuman. Civilization of a nation is measured by how it treats the weak and victims of societal brutality.

Lavish spending of monies that do not belong to Nigerian leaders is not news in this country. But is this right? Well, Nigerians would agree it is immoral until they are made some financial offer from the same illegal funds. We encourage our leaders to steal. We put pressure on them to learn bad ways and become self-indulgent. Let me ask you a question. If I decide to run for a public office and you are qualified to vote for me, would you not expect me to sell some of my properties and even steal or take loans to fund my campaign (which, in Nigeria, includes cash gifts to traditional leaders, customized politicians, youth leaders, and the common people) before you would cast a vote for me? If that is the case, after my “victory” would it be morally right for the same Nigerians that took money and gifts from me in exchange for votes, to expect “good governance” from me? Let us reason together. Nigerians who expect, demand, and collect gifts from candidates for public office have lost any moral right to good governance. They have sold their birth right for a plate of broth. If Nigerians truly desire good governance and are deserving of it, they must invest in it. We cannot expect a soldier to go to war at his charges. It is the responsibility of the people to help raise campaign funds for a political candidate. If they fail to do that; if they “extort” money from candidates for their votes; if they watch idly and make no contributions, then they have no right to expect good governance. Good governance is not a gift, it is a return on investment.

Good people are always blessed with good leaders; and there are good leaders that may be burdened with bad people. There is a problem with Nigerians. We have monetized our values. Almost every relationship in Nigeria is money-denominated. Many Church leaders and Islamic clergies have higher regard for members that are heavy donors. Nigerian women expect wads of money from their boyfriends and fiancés, not minding the source. Traditional leaders have lost their voice for justice because obscene gifts corrupt wise words. State houses have become pilgrimage sites for thousands of Nigerians who hardly allow public officials to concentrate on the task of governance. Relatives expect of public officials more than their legitimate incomes can support. Children can hardly go on errands without expecting monetary compensation. When shall we start arresting people and confiscating from them properties they have acquired far beyond their proper income?However, presidents and governors who steal cannot do this. We have destroyed our nation. But how do we start the re-building process?

We must encourage reading. We must build and equip public libraries across Nigeria. Reading competitions should be encouraged, and we must improve the mind of our people through strategic reading. Nations of readers are great. When you travel with Nigerians they chatter about inanities; when you do same with Japanese, their faces are buried in books. A country where authors hardly live on writing alone because the people would rather buy the latest fashions than books, is a dying society.  We must study to be renewed. Knowledge is strength. Nigerians are gradually becoming anti-intellectual. We make mockery about “too much grammar”. We underestimate the power of information. We prefer brawn to brains. True intellectuals don’t worship money because they have more than money. The love of money is the root of all evil; and that is why Nigeria is dying in the cesspool of all kinds of evil. Nigerians have made money their god.

The two dominant great religions in Nigeria—Christianity and Islam—require reading. The first revelation to Prophet Mohammed, we were taught in college, was Iqra, meaning, “Read”. In Christianity, we are taught that faith comes through study; the new birth comes through study; and mind-renewal and enlightenment come through study. Most importantly, we are taught that we shall be saved if we keep in memory those things that we have learned. It is ironic, therefore, that Nigerians would be so religious and yet religiously ignorant. The vulgarities that come out of our lips during discourses give us away as unlearned people. And immorality flourishes in the soil of ignorance. For we can’t see far enough; we steal what we don’t even need, and then destroy ourselves in our quest for perpetual self-preservation.

Leonard Karshima Shilgba is an Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria, Chair of the Middle Belt Alliance and founder and overseer of the Bible Clinic Ministries.

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