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Nigeria and Gandhi’s Seven Sins

It is interesting to analyse how Ghandi's social sins apply to contemporary Nigeria(ns)
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A social media post late last year by Professor Pat Utomi drew my attention, once again, to the list of seven ‘sins’ outlined in Frederick Laws Donaldson’s Seven Social Sins, which was published in Mohandas Gandhi’s weekly newsletter Young India on 22 October 1925. It is interesting to analyse how these social sins apply to contemporary Nigeria(ns).

The first sin is Wealth without Work. The Nigerian attitude towards wealth and work does not neatly align with Max Weber’s Protestant ethic of hard work and delayed gratification. While wealth is inordinately celebrated in today’s Nigeria, the sources of wealth are rarely questioned. Thus, there is an unhealthy tolerance for ill-gotten wealth. In fact, honest poverty is considered as a “vice” that is worse than ill-gotten wealth.

The second sin is Pleasure without Conscience. This sin is all too common in Nigeria. Every now and then, we read a story of a millionaire boss who goes on expensive holidays or splurges on expensive luxury items yet has not paid his workers for months, or pays them only a fraction of their salaries.

The third sin is Commerce without Morality. In certain circles, this immoral attitude to commerce is strongly encouraged with expressions such as “a snake that does not swallow its fellow snakes will not grow.” That is, in many cases, commerce is conducted shorn of basic morality, with illegal measures to cut corners and outright cheating being more of the norm than the exception.

The fourth sin is Knowledge without Character. During elections, for instance, this sin is best embodied by university professors who supervise and condone rigging and other forms of electoral malpractice, thereby cementing Nigeria’s reputation for election rigging. In our country, the most knowledgeable citizens regularly fail to take a stand against this assault on basic voter rights.

University professors are not the exception. There are many other examples of unethical behaviour by academics, medical doctors, bankers, and other professionals who pride themselves on being knowledge or science experts but whose lack of character or humanity renders their contributions to society almost meaningless, if not harmful. These people exemplify both the sins of Knowledge without Character and the fifth sin, which is Science without Humanity.

The sixth sin is Religion without Sacrifice.  The level of religiosity in Nigeria is high, but this does not often translate into morality. Neither is there a willingness to work or even sacrifice for others or for the common good. In many religious circles, there is a desire for instant gratification for oneself and one’s immediate family, with little or no consideration for others. Too many religious Nigerians have a faulty moral compass.

Finally, we get to the seventh sin: Politics without Principles. The state of Nigerian politics was aptly described by a former US ambassador to Nigeria, who said, “Nigerian politics is basically an elite sport dissociated from governance.” Politics in Nigeria is rotten to the core and serves no purpose beyond the personal enrichment of the participants.

Since politics drives everything, from leadership to development, it is no wonder why Nigeria, a nation endowed with immense human and natural resources, has consistently underperformed. Nigeria’s attitude of politics without principle, further compounded by a society with questionable morals, is the main reason why a nation with Africa’s largest reserves of natural gas has frequent electricity blackouts.

The resulting feeling of frustration which has engulfed most Nigerians is that nothing works here.  Clearly, our problem lies primarily in Nigeria’s faulty moral foundation. This is the reason why Gandhi’s Seven Sins is an important scorecard for measuring how defective our moral foundations are.

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