by Abdul Mahmud
Shame isn’t a feature of our public life today. Not that it has ever been a feature. Or put this way, it has never been the tradition of public servants, politicians, enterprise moguls, husbands and wives, to publicly atone for their sins, seek their day in the moral court of public opinion, or accept that their wrongdoings fall far below acceptable standards of public behaviour.
Whenever an individual commits a shameful act, there are other individuals who suffer. Name them: wives, husbands, children, friends, political and business associates, etcetera. Shame is the scarlet letter they wear around their necks. That is if these individuals have any sense of shame.
A public servant who dips his hands into the public till forgets he will be caught one day or his misdemeanour will someday invite public ridicule. The pension thief, John Yusuf Yakubu, who was recently convicted by an Abuja High Court, forgot the common saying of our people: ‘’every day na for the thief and one day na for the owner’’. When he was finally caught and hurled before the court, he hid his face behind his palms. His was a public display of shame comparable only to the now infamous mug-shot of a certain James Ibori. But, spare a thought for those who are related to John Yusuf Yakubu: wife who will forever live through the tongue-wagging and finger-pointing of neighbours, children who answer to the name callings of the playgrounds.
Think about those thieving CEOs who haemorrhaged our banks. Think Erastus Akingbola! How he bolted to England. And when he was later repatriated to have his day in court, he shrugged his shoulders and waved the questioning moments away as kini big deal – what’s the big deal? Certainly, for him, it wasn’t a big deal since he didn’t force his victims to surrender their monies at gun-point. It wasn’t a big deal; so he bribed his away to secure freedom from the prosecutorial clutches of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. A common crook, he was the quintessential ‘’smooth operator,’’ the Nigerian-born British music queen, Sade, once sang about. True, he found company in another shameless guffaw, Justice Charles Archibong. Happily, the judge has now been ordered home to enjoy the proceeds of his crime.
Remember Bode George, who smiled his way to prison, as if the criminal charge of theft brought against him was a badge of honour, as if his criminal trial was puppetry for laughter.
Can we forget the Governor-General of Ijaw nation, Alamiyeiseigha, who dressed as a woman fled the long arm of the British law? Today, that ex-convict has been granted presidential pardon for his crime against the people of Bayelsa state. Here is a man who turned that oil rich state into one of his many vassals now walking away with a presidential golden handshake. What message has Aso Rock sent to our many countrymen and women: ‘’steal and be rewarded handsomely’’? Granting a common thief presidential pardon is a disquieting new low for our country. God, we can’t go any lower than this, with men who know no shame ruining our country for the rest of us? Shame.
Then, what can one make of Lawan Farouk who in the last few days has found his voice? Here is a parliamentarian who confessed collecting bribe from a notorious businessman, Femi Otedola. Whilst the businessman claimed he bribed him – an offence itself – to compromise the outcome of the 2012 Oil Subsidy Probe, Lawan Farouk swore he collected the money as evidence to nail the businessman. The after-thought of a defence put forward by an idiot who buried his head in the sand as his stinking parts oozed in the sun. Interestingly, in saner climes, Lawan Farouk and Femi Otedola would have been banged up to pay for their crimes. Not so here. Suddenly, Lawan Farouk has found his voice again as chief spokesperson of the northern agitation for oil blocs.
Foucault, in his brilliant seminal, ‘’The Order of Things’’, posed the question: ‘How can one think what he does not think… inhabit… something that eludes him?’ I ask: how can men who have no sense of shame feel shame? Men with no shame do not sense the outrage their shameful actions elicit. They don’t process propriety in their thought processes. They always shrug their shoulders. Kini big deal? Given that their attitudes are emphasised by arrogance, these shameless men are screwed up in the many amoral places where they put their thinking faculties to amoral uses.
Men who show contrition when they are caught tell us they are human. Like us, they too can be overcome by the frailties of nature. How they repossess the capacity to behave in a rational and reasonable manner defines how the rest of society empathises with them. Let’s us not forget that shame has its beatific side. The shame that comes with contrition serves as restorative justice, sufficient enough for many to take account of it as punishment deserving of the crime.
To be contrite isn’t rocket science. Contrition indicates self-respect and honour. It is to the existence of honour, taken as an aspect of humanity, that self-respect is attributed. Men who are ashamed of their wrongdoings understand truth as a virtue when they throw their hands up. With acceptance of wrongdoing, shame becomes the first step towards righting wrong, dealing with one’s individual demons. And for the rest of us, we are invited to look at the mirrors of ourselves to recognise our own frailties and failings.
Professor Wale Adebanwi in his book, ‘A Paradise for Maggots’, provides us with profound insights into men who know no shame. There are lessons we can learn from men who fall from grace to grass. Adebanwi names those men. And the lessons too.