The Case for Moral Capital



There is a point that is often unstated in the discussion of the socio-economic consequences of the novel coronavirus.
It is the fact that the pandemic caused by the virus will worsen the crisis of global capitalism. Before the outbreak of the pandemic, the socio-economic landscape was already defined by poverty and inequality, two social scourges which are also virulent.

The microbial globalisation of the virus is putting the globalisation of capital in serious jeopardy. When global capitalism was deemed to be booming, there was no distributive justice. It was a game in which 1% gained while the poor became poorer especially in most countries of the south.
So, when politicians and their experts put together economic recovery packages, forces of human progress should insist on the clear definition of recovery in the light of the momentous changes that would take place. Efforts at recovery should put the basic needs of the people at the centre. The class content of the dreamt economic sustainability should be examined.

Recovery should not only mean good news from the stock exchange and board rooms of banks amid increased growth rates.
The real indices of development should be considered. At least, a lesson from this crisis is that economic prosperity should also encompass the provision of basic needs of the people including an inclusive quality healthcare delivery system, potable water supply, social housing, nutrition and sanitation.

From the rhetoric of the socio-economic and political establishments, the twin anxieties about coronavirus and its socio-economic impact have primarily focussed on the havoc being wreaked by the coronavirus on the economic capital. That is why official and expert pronouncements and statistics are more about the size of the economy: the economy is shrinking. Not much is heard about the expansion of poverty and inequality, which is making lives miserable for the people.

Yet, there is another important societal asset that the establishment and the people should think about in tackling the current crisis of capitalism. That is the moral capital. Here we are talking about the realm of institutions, values, virtues and morally-based choices to promote the common good.

Moral capital is often considered as the fulcrum of social capital.
In the context of the present crisis moral capital represents the people’s perception of the trajectory of governance and the habits of politicians.
That is why beyond rebuilding the structures of economic capital, moral capital should also be bolstered as a vital resource.
This current crisis has proved that when the moral infrastructure for common good is decimated the whole society including the capitalist structures are imperilled. Hence, even rich countries that failed to invest adequately in universal healthcare are now overwhelmed by a public health emergency.

Take a sample of the essential elements of moral capital and assess how much of each is embodied the Nigerian polity and society.
The results should interest the leadership and the people alike.
Save for the element of solidarity which is a salutary lesson of COVID-19, Nigeria would be rated low in other fundaments of moral capital.
It is even more worrisome that the remnants of this crucial capital are still being squandered by the leadership at all levels in the most insensitive manner.

Trust of the leadership and the establishment is hardly considered a virtue any more. The difficult process of breaking the chain of coronavirus is further bedevilled by lack of trust in leadership and institutions. Factoids have submerged facts in the public sphere. The other day, a survivor of COVID-19 reported that his sibling, a well educated person, said but for the experience of her brother (the survivor) she wouldn’t believe the pandemic was real. Even professors and some scientists are in this club of deniers. The activities of those studiously misleading the public in this crisis are , in fact, a continuation of what Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway describe eloquently in their book, Merchants of Doubts: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke and Global Warming. The social media is replete with conspiracy theories. Not a few believe these theories despite the official sensitisation about COVID-19.

Among the plethora of falsehoods in the cyberspace is that this pandemic is hyped in Nigeria by officials who seek to make money from the crisis. Some state governors are openly hostile to the national agency at the forefront of the anti-COVID-19 war, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). An official of a state government alleged without proof on television that NCDC bribed members of the public in her state to pretend to have tested positive for coronavirus. Scientific findings are treated with contempt. Fighting coronavirus has become more political than epidemiological in Nigeria.

Civility is fast disappearing in the public space. Those in position of authority talk down on the people. The manner in which this anti-COVID-19 war has been prosecuted by some state governors is anything but civil. Some governors elect to stage theatrics on a matter of life and death.

Respect begets respect, as they say. So does lack of respect. Little surprise then that the public response in some instances has also been extremely disdainful. In this ugly reciprocity, insults, curses and abuse are rained on political office holders. It’s almost impossible to have a civilised and productive debate on any issue. Yet this country has a rich history of great debates mostly inspired by the leadership at different periods.

The story is different today. Rather than engage in logical disputations, all that you have now is a shouting match laden with prejudice and hate speech. Scholars also participate in this purveyance of hate. Even the legislators cannot be accused of rigorous debates of issues in a memorable and enlightening way.

Doubtless, in the public interest there are many valid grounds on which to criticise the handling of the Nigerian political economy by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. However, many otherwise legitimate critics miss the point when they begin their criticisms with the nonsense that the president holds no school certificate. Some of Buhari’s critics are so fixated that they are yet to mentally concede that he won the 2015 presidential election, much less the one of 2019.

From the other polar end, the response from the presidential villa to the critics is sometimes supercilious. Arrogance of power is often on display instead of engagement of the public with truth and reason.
To reverse the current massive erosion of moral capital in the society, the leadership itself needs a lot of moral authority.

Buhari should endeavour to accumulate moral capital by paying attention to what may appear now as imponderables, but which are already tangible to the public given the groundswell of geo-political disaffection in some parts of the country. These lacking elements of moral capital include social justice and commitment to national unity.
The President’s moral choices on these factors could foster or reduce the moral capital Nigeria needs to develop as a nation even within the framework of the present capitalist system.

The President cannot inspire Nigerians to pay allegiance to national unity when complaints against nepotism and lopsided appointments and recruitment into sensitive agencies and departments are routinely ignored. The alienation of any part of Nigeria on the account of being discriminated against is a categorical derogation of the nation’s moral capital.

To be sure, as an ideal, the ethnic or regional origin of the man for the job may not matter provided there is the evidence of capacity for good performance. After all, someone once observed that no one would raise an eyebrow if all the members of the national football team were from the same village and they won the FIFA World Cup for Nigeria. This is an ideal. It’s hoped that the Nigeria of the future would function that way.
However, the reality now is that there is a provision in the constitution that appointments should reflect character.
Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution makes it quite clear:

“The composition of government of the federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies.”
The historical background to this was to forge a sense of belonging in all parts of Nigeria.”
This provision is meant to boost Nigeria’s moral capital.

To worsen matters, for a long time the Federal Character Commission remained comatose. Even a complaint rumbles on that the composition of this constitutional body that should monitor compliance with the federal character principle may not have reflected character.
Perhaps, more fundamentally as a factor of moral capital is the pervading sense of social injustice in the land. To garner the needed moral authority in the eyes of the millions of poor people who believed in Buhari during the elections, Buhari should do more to fundamentally structure policies against mass poverty and inequality.

The socio-economic structure of Nigeria is structured against the majority who are poor and denied the basic needs for decent living. Meanwhile, members of the establishment squabble on the control of the levers of economic and political powers invoking the name of the poor in vain.
That’s not the way a leader can build moral capital.

Come to think to think of it, Buhari should be the last Nigerian leader that should need any persuasion about moral capital. In 2015 when he defeated an incumbent president in an election, all that he had then was his moral capital. The multitude of followers trusted him. His assets were the confidence and belief of the people in him as a candidate capable of being president and commander-in-chief.
In this crisis, the President certainly needs immense moral capital so as to optimally mobilise the creative energies of the people and the national spirit for development and progress.

It is time, therefore, Buhari stopped squandering his moral capital.
The president should instead be consciously building more moral capital as the bedrock of the legacy he would like to leave behind three years from now.