An Ex-Convict and A People Without Shame

By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú

What is shame? Shame is a painful emotion caused by the consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety. It is doing something that brings censure or reproach. Shame is a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute. Shame arises when we compare our behaviour with the ideal social standard. That is why shame is based on self-regard and volition. When we draw comparisons that makes us feel shame, it is against existing standards that are primarily enabled by socialisation. Even though shame is often considered an emotion, it is also a state, a condition, cognition and an affect based on philosophical and psychological considerations.

Upon deep reflection and introspection, I wrote here a few weeks ago that what truncated Nigeria’s path to greatness was the systemic corrosion and erosion of values. It is shameful that Nigeria has lost its moral compass. Actions that would have brought enormous shame to an individual, and his family, in the 1960s and 1970s are accepted as normal these days. We no longer have a sense of wrongdoing. There is a general acceptance of shamelessness in our day to day living. Oh! How Nigeria has changed! In today’s Nigeria, men and women commit crimes eagerly, aggressively, arrogantly and with impunity without a sense of shame! The collective behaviour, attitude and reasoning has become twisted and accepting of a corrupt way of life. People commit crimes without fear because they are convinced that they are authorities unto themselves. There is no hesitation in committing crimes or engaging in disgraceful conduct because they have no fear of being unaccountable. We live in society where the conscience no longer condemns, where the law no longer forbids, where choices are made on the basis of individual appetites, instead of acceptable standards of behaviour.

The Nigerian society has lost its shame, from top to bottom. That is why a Director of the State Security Service will meet up with an ex-convict to celebrate his return. That is why jubilant crowds welcomed an ex-governor who is a convicted felon back home from prison as if he had just won a Nobel Prize, without a sense of propriety or shame. Someone with astonishing temerity even compared the just released ex-convict to Jesus Christ! What a shame! What a people! What a nation! Many years ago, our people avoided shame as if it were leprosy. A suspension or expulsion from school brought shame to the family and our fathers meted out punishments that fit the crime and in proportion to the shame brought on the family. It is a different ball game now. Students belong to cults, they cheat in exams with the help of their parents, take drugs and engage in institutionalised prostitution. No one is alarmed because they have seen their elders do worse things. For long, authority figures recruits students and the youth to source girls for their orgies. They use them to fight political opponents and train them for a life in the service of the criminal enterprise. All these are commonplace and hardly worth a second look on the headlines. Nothing shocks us anymore.
James Onanefe Ibori was a governor. He cheated, lied, stole and embarrassed himself to the applause of his people. General Murtala Mohammed wiped out a whole generation in the civil service for an infinitesimal portion of what Ibori did. In the 1960s and 1970s, these actions would have caused Ibori to go quietly into the sunset and no one would have given him excuses. Oyenusi faced the firing squad for stealing next to nothing compared to Ibori. The distinction was in the choice of weapon; Oyenusi used the gun, Ibori used the pen. When we elevate and celebrate the Iboris, we not only denigrate ourselves, we stink up the present and destroy the future.

When did the rain start beating us? Some have traced it to the military. Well, government officials bear the responsibility for enabling and encouraging the degradation of our moral fabric. For too long, they showed no respect for uprightness and decency. Immediately the oil boom began, they started promoting lifestyles that are hedonistic and inherently perverse without any sense of responsibility for their constitutional obligation to uphold basic standards of virtue. From the mid-70s up till date, gradations of perversity percolated our individual and collective psyche such that we embrace, promote, and defend that which is bad and counter-morality. We took it further by demonising those who seek to uphold, guard and encourage good behaviour. From the level of looting in this nation and how we celebrate our thieves, oppressors and tormentors, disgrace no longer exists because nothing is disgraceful anymore. Everyone does what is right in his own eyes, not what is right by the law.
When you do the crime, you do the time. Ibori did his time for his crimes in the United Kingdom. I heard he was a model inmate but I saw no remorse in him when he exited the prisons. I expected him to enter Oghara quietly and issue a trite and penitent statement as a way to jumpstart his self-rehabilitation. He did none of these. Instead, he was smiling for the cameras, clenching his fists at times and waving at other times. Shame on Ibori, shame on those who hailed him and shame on all who have raped this country. Shame on all of you who set bad examples by taking advantage of your status and or position. Ibori has not answered for the crimes he committed in Nigeria. He must be made to answer. Ibori should be arrested. Nigeria must make an example of its anointed thieves or nothing will change.

Finally and for the record, a people or a culture without shame cannot stand. Nigeria’s shameless trajectory is a path to hell. No nation subsists this way. We must repudiate the Iboris in our midst. We must find our bearing and get back on track. The choice is simple and it is ours to make. We either find our way or we are lost.


Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for the PREMIUM TIMES.

Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo

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