The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) flagged off some programmes and activities under the theme, “Youth, Religion and the Fight Against Corruption”. This is an institutional attempt at a more holistic, more realistic and more sustainable approach to the fight against crime, criminality and corruption in Nigeria. Whereas the main thrust of the event was to address the challenges of youth involvement in cybercrime, the Commission used the occasion to launch its freshly produced “Interfaith Preaching and Teaching manual”.
The manual was developed by its Interfaith Anti-corruption Advisory Committee (IAAC). The document is a handy reference material that would be used by preachers to deepen the positive values espoused by the various religions. Thus, it is really a matter of using religion, or, more appropriately, working with the teachings of religion and the platforms offered by religious leader, in a partnership for attitudinal change and values reorientation.
Perhaps a caveat is needed here, especially in order to accommodate and address the possible concerns, and/or even objections, of those who may be wondering how religion and religious leaders come into the matter of youth criminality, and even the fight against corruption, at all. Begin with, the EFCC Chairman lamented the involvement of a religious organization in a fraud case up to the tune of seven billion Naira. Religion, and especially several religious leaders, have brought religious morality into disrepute because of their preachments and conduct. In the face of religious bigotry, fanaticism, extremism and the banality of many who are prancing all over the place with the name of the Creator of heaven and earth on their lips, should anyone really be excited to hear about religion being partnered to build a better Nigerian society?
This question is often raised by people who truly take religion seriously, but who have been repeatedly disappointed by the commercialization of religion and fake religiosity. Their concerns, and perspectives, are perfectly understandable; give the benefit of experience. But there are other perspectives as well.
It is trite to say that the goal of what we now call religion is to make people better human beings. It is true that many people are now masquerading with themselves in the name of religion. But, should this warrant a blanket condemnation of all preachers and all religious organizations? False preachers, and even false prophets are not new. Yes, they are not. I even wager that they are an absolute majority today. But is it just false preachers and contrived religiosity? Where do you not have one species of epistemological summersaults, commercialized spirituality, romanticized debauchery and intellectual shadowboxing today?
My suspicion is that the EFCC has said to itself: Let us see what can be salvaged via this platform that traditionally should be the custodian of the highest moral values. The Commission’s anticipation of the prospect of some positive outcomes – no matter how marginal – is the point here.
Without prejudice to the fact that the lifestyle and media reports about elite corruption pose the greatest challenge to the anti-corruption war, the effort at values restoration, and reorientation, is expected to percolate, over time, into something worthwhile. But that is if other agencies of government, and institutions of state, also explore new approaches. In sum, the EFCC has initiated a values-driven approach to the war against crime and criminality.
Let us look at the philosophical foundations of such an approach to social reengineering, before concluding on the detailed actions and activities that could consolidate whatever gains are made over time.
It rarely occurs to most people that crime and criminality, at the end of the day, always revolve around values. The choices we make about what to do, or what not to do, in any situation is usually based on our core values. Take for instance, a man who decides to steal a billion Naira. It is not just the lack of money that would make him do that, no! It is his rejection of the value of honest warehousing of the common good and rejection of the virtues of responsible leadership, in favour of selfish accumulation of what he is not entitled to.
The presence of a car alone, as well as the desire for it, for instance, won’t make someone kill another in order to take the car from him. To do such a thing, you need (1) The presence of a car, (2) The desire for it, (3) Disregard for the sacredness of human life, (4) Rejection of the commandments of God, (5) Rejection of the communal norm, which says that you cannot take what does not belong to you without the consent of the owner, etc.
If your values do not approve an action, you won’t do it. Once you do it, we can see your true core values, no matter what you profess in public. Thus, any change in a person’s notions of right and wrong will also reflect as changes in his actions, choices and what he considers attractive and commendable.
So, how do societal values get to become entrenched? They are inculcated and spread from the family and through schools, traditional institutions, institutions of state and religious organizations. It will always take all of society, involving institutions and individuals, for any lasting and sustainable change to occur in the domain of values.
I refer to the aforementioned as the Custodians of Value. If you take away these Custodians, namely, the family, schools, teachers, traditional rulers, institutions of State, religion and religious leaders there will be no shared norms. Also, if these Custodians are not well primed to deliver on their mandates, they become the Patron Saints of distortion of values, moral decay and the death of the future.
What emerged in the course of last week’s programme was the fact that the EFCC set out very deliberately to “involve multiple stakeholders in the fight against economic and financial crimes”. It was an attempt to put forward new paradigms through a “Whole of Society Approach” to social engineering. And this attempt to widen the network, and net worth, of custodians, is obviously designed to build synergy around the foundational principles of social stability.
Equally commendable is the focus on the youths, with particular attention to their involvement in cybercrime. This segment of our population represents the future of this nation. If our youths are allowed to walk into the future with the wrong set of values, then the tomorrow, of which they are said to be leaders, is already in jeopardy. Our youths must be properly groomed on the right value, for them to become that right Replacement Generation for the Nigeria of our dreams.
Religion espouses lasting values, which ought to form the human character and personality for the better. The EFCC used the event to draw our attention to the formative impact of those values espoused by the various religions as a tool for youth reorientation. And the reason is simple: (1) Values drive, and determine, the quality of life in any society, (2) Values form the hidden pillar guiding the disposition of citizens and the orientation of the youths in any nation, (3) The youths, in particular, are like receptacles into which the society ours its core norms; through conscious and unconscious mentoring, (4) This makes them the most vulnerable demographic group in any society, especially when we think of how easily they can be being damaged by the wrong values and the wrong role models.
Once the wrong values are promoted and condoned, the wrong actions will become the norm. And the immediate casualties and inheritors of what is thus distorted would be the youths. What they then end up propagating with great vim, vigour and rigour, through their actions and their choices, would be the values of decay, social ruination and death.
This is because the youths are like receptacles into which every society pours its dominant values. Because they are the Replacement Generation for every society’s current leaders, once the wrong values are dispensed to them, the foundation is laid for ruin, degeneration and decay, rather than development. Thus, the task at hand, and which was part of the purpose of EEFCC’s event, is to create the right Replacement Generation for our fatherland.
If the Custodians of Value target the same ideals, and work towards the same goals, the society enjoys lasting, and holistic development and value stability. If parents play the role of parents and make the home a nurturing platform, and the schools, teachers, leaders and Institutions of State all play their respective roles in the right way, they will so reinforce each other that misconduct will become very unattractive; and easily isolated and penalized..
Considering that the etymology of the word “religion” also means to link up’, and to bind or tie fast, the aspiration of all religions is to connect us with something higher than our everyday mundane aspirations and purely earthly goals. When the right values are inculcated in the youths, it moderates the ease with which many of them would embrace crime and criminality; because it gives them a higher sense of purpose as well as a moral counter force to the pull of instant earthly gratification.
The dangers of religious extremism must be properly contextualized for our youths, so that they do not become destructive their true humanity out of ignorance. Since the presumed goals of the dominant religious faiths in Nigeria is to imbue man with that goodness which is pleasing to God, religious and ethnic tolerance should be made essential components of human goodness. We cannot be striving to eliminate, or undermine, others who are different from us without also acting against the Will of God.
The work of the Interfaith Anti-corruption Advisory Committee (IAAC) can benefit from the efforts of the now-defunct national Association of religious and Ethnic Tolerance (NARETO) which was started by the late Prof C.S. Momoh, of which I was one of the national coordinators. All said, the EfCC’s “institutional attempt at a more holistic, more realistic and more sustainable approach to the fight against crime, criminality and corruption in Nigeria” needs to be taken seriously.