Pondering over Pondei


THE PUBLIC SPHERE With Chido Nwakanma

The year of the doubleheader 2020 is throwing up many uncomfortable facts even as it dismantles fallacies about human existence. Many settled issues and behaviours are coming up for review. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, we now have the “new normal” in several areas of life.

Nigerian politicians continue, however, to operate in the old normal. The only visible change has been in the escalation and increase in their propensity for and actual committal of atrocities. Crime walks tall in high offices across our land.

I made this cryptic commentary on Facebook the day after the Big Faint. “After a successful “mini-heart failure” on Monday 20 July, Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei walked away from the National Assembly. No stretcher or ambulance. Act One, Scene Two brought confirmation as Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila announced that Pondei would not need to come and conclude his testimony. Do not ponder over the matter. It is a charade.

Act Two: Tried and tested in deviousness, Senator Godswill Akpabio delivers the uncommon blow. He asserts that the National Assembly members got the most contracts from the NDDC. The chairman of the so-called probe chants “it’s okay, honourable senator, minister” and the probe ends.
Nigeria has organised confusion. The political class is myopic. They are setting the stage for Rawlings 1983 soon”.

Other scenes have since played out from the events of 20 July. Akpabio succeeded in halting the probe and has done what politicians do. He has skirted around the issue, offering a rational lie for his statements.

I take the warning back. We must ponder over Pondei and the meaning of elite behaviour in our land.

The Big Faint and IsssOkay succumbed to the Nigerian proclivity to turn otherwise lamentable situations in our socio-political and economic realities into a source of humour. Please do not misinterpret the resort to humour as evidence of unseriousness in the Nigerian populace as we have often done. A more in-depth look at the issue would see it as one manifestation of anomie.

Nigerians turn to satire and comedy in repressed anger. The women of Kaduna recently reverted to an age-old form of social commentary and disapproval. They marched half-naked to underscore their disgust with the killings in Southern Kaduna and the perceived cooperation of the State, at all three levels. They drew attention to the issue as most citizens do. The challenge is compelling action in the right direction. It remains a very long road to travel.

Protests, petitions, and other forms of drawing attention to issues of corruption or lack of service have failed to change the narrative. Their reporting to the police yields nothing while interminable delays in justice administration mean that the courts deliver injustice.

Citizens feel helpless. Citizens satirise the growing crisis of confidence between them and the State. They lampoon the officials who represent only themselves in the many High Offices of our land. On Twitter, they have turned it into barbs and bombs. The language is incendiary.

On further reflection, we need more than an encore of Rawlings 1983. I recall that Nigeria’s version brought in the dysfunction of 15 years of the second round of military rule featuring the reign of the generals. They succeeded in demystifying the military and confirming their status as locusts on the farm. We do not deserve another round of visits by locusts.

Yet. These are troubling times. There is growing normlessness and descent to anomie in our beloved country. Our country today recalls the efforts of renowned sociologists Emile Durkheim and Robert Merton at the roots of Anomie Theory.

Anomie, the venerable Encyclopaedia Brittanica states, “is a condition of instability resulting from a breakdown of standards and values or a lack of purpose or ideals.” Anomie “refers to a widespread lack of commitment to shared values, standards, and rules needed to regulate the behaviours and aspirations of individuals, is an intermediate condition by which social (dis) organisation impacts individual distress and deviant behaviour.”

Most people in Nigeria lack access to culturally recognised goals. It is blocked. Young people graduate and rather than join the ranks of breadwinners they join queues of the beggarly who are unemployed. In return, their younger siblings wonder about the value of education. It does not help that under the guise of concern for Covid19, our government considered making those in final secondary classes lose one academic year and more. Elsewhere, governments are working around the problem of the School Certificate while others are resorting to online to ensure the continuation of schooling for those in higher education.

The standard explanation is that the blockage of access to culturally accepted goals leads to deviant behaviour characterised by rebellion, retreat, ritualism, innovation, and conformity. Those often in this category are the dispossessed who lack access. Nigeria is introducing a new dimension.

Perpetrators of deviant behaviour in our land are the chieftains of high offices. They have access to all that the Commonwealth of Nigeria offers. These persons elsewhere carry out the function of system maintenance, definition and enforcement of norms and the social order. In Nigeria, chieftains of high office, the likes in the National Assembly, Governor’s Lodges and the big offices such as NDDC are the ones who disregard societal norms. They are exemplars of misconduct rather than beacons of acceptable behaviour.

Nigeria has all the indices that Merton and other sociologists identified in Anomie Theory. A persistent one is “a shared overemphasis on monetary success goals”. Our society worships the god of money with manifestations in white-collar crimes. While we note the Hushpuppies, the more virulent criminality takes place in the High Offices of our land.

The NDDC revelations and others before it point to the need to pay even more attention to white-collar crimes among the elite of Nigeria. Enough of the sanitisation of the issue by calling it corruption. Nigeria needs now to tackle white-collar criminality. Who will bell the cat? Join as we ponder over Pondei and other scenarios of the recent weeks.