Our propensity to keep silent in the presence of abnormalities has brought us to where we are. Such can range from the innocuous act of someone shunting the absurdly long queue at the Bank thinking he’s smart; being aware of a colleague cutting corners at the office because he believes that’s the way it’s done, after all this is Nigeria; or even people thoughtlessly disposing of litter on the floor, betraying a mindset that simply doesn’t recognize right from wrong. It’s not just one of these acts but all of them put together and more, that corrupts a system; especially when it’s seldom corrected. We say to ourselves, “What is my own? I better keep quiet before they all insult me that my own is too much.” “Na your papa get am?” Is what they’re almost certain to ask me. And from this point, forever you must remain quiet because at the end of the day, where were you and what did you do when moral standards were gradually being eroded? When wrongful acts were repeatedly committed before your very eyes? It’s now almost too late to talk. The horse bolted long ago. It’s pointless trying to close the stable doors now.
We turn a blind eye to these things when we feel it doesn’t affect us directly. And that’s where we get it horribly wrong. Continuous silence by the majority can only lead to an increase in the number of those emboldened to do wrong. A whole generation now grows up without an absolute sense of right or wrong; it’s all become so relative. It depends on who’s doing the wrong. If it’s themselves, their favourite trouble prone celebrity or their political benefactor, then it can’t be wrong. May I also add that if you don’t get caught, that too means it can’t be wrong. You’re just sharp. By the time it degenerates to this level as it has done in our society, you can no longer claim it doesn’t affect you because it affects everybody.
I remember an incident during the time of endless fuel queues. I visited the station on a Sunday afternoon in preparation for the week ahead and joined a horrendously long queue. With the sweltering heat it was quite unbearable. We like to suffer ourselves in this country sha! The amount of avoidable hardship we repeatedly find ourselves subjected to. Anyway, before digress, as the queue edged forward painfully slowly, a motorist came along who said he wanted to use the Bank’s ATM. Because of the queue, he couldn’t get access into the Bank’s compound so he asked permission of the motorist in front of me, who happened to be a woman, if he could park beside her on the road, since he wasn’t going to be long. She graciously agreed. His parking on the road even caused further gridlock which infuriated motorists who were forced to squeeze past. One enraged gentleman wanted to deflate his tyres to teach him a lesson and I was among those who pleaded with him not to. Unknown to us, the morally bankrupt individual who parked on the road had other plans. While pretending to use the ATM, he was actually using the vantage point he gained to watch the front of the queue so he’ll know when there’s movement long before it gets to us. He timed his movement from the ATM back to his car so perfectly without raising any suspicion, that before the motorist in front of me could start her engine, he hastily slipped his car in front of her. Those who’ve been unfortunate enough to experience the long petrol station queues before will appreciate the sort of camaraderie that develops amongst fellow motorists at times. Not always but sometimes. Several of us motorists queuing both in front and behind the female motorist, jumped out of our vehicles to confront this thoroughly despicable young man but despite our protestations which quickly degenerated into scuffles between him and those who resorted to trying to wrestle him down, he sternly refused to budge. I was utterly disgusted by this shameless display of treachery and moral emptiness but it was his justification that really took the biscuit. In his own words, he proudly told us that he saw an opportunity and he was smart enough to take it! He further backed up this dishonest act by relating how he too had fallen victim to such perfidy and had ended up spending the night on a similar queue some months (not days, not weeks) before. On that day, while he was still queuing, the station ran out of petrol, all because the station attendants were collecting ‘egunje’ and allowing motorists to enter through the exit gate. In the eyes of these attendants what both they and their ‘partners in crime’ were doing was not wrong. They too recognized an opportunity and decided to take it. But if someone who refused to pay tried to do it, they would speedily shut the gates and remind him that it contravenes the rules. Wrong has become so relative; depending on who’s involved. As such the whole system becomes totally rotten and dysfunctional and we all pay for it eventually. Because this terrible young man felt he had been ‘chanced’ and the culprits appeared to have gotten away with it, he decided to also do his own. Maybe, just maybe if he and fellow motorists had protested stridently enough on that day to force the station attendants to abandon their money making venture, which was so clearly unfair to those who had spent hours of their productive life at the station, he may not have taken his own ‘revenge’ on innocent souls like us, thereby polluting the system further. We can no longer afford to play the ostrich by keeping silent in the face of impunity and other displays of antisocial behaviour. Litter thrown into the gutters will always come back to haunt us when it causes perennial floods in Lagos and yet people in wanton ignorance continue to do it. This illustrates how our actions will always come back to haunt us and the sooner we wake up to this fact, the better. Silence is not always golden.
Changing the nation…one mind at a time.
Dapo Akande, a Businessday weekly columnist is a University of Surrey (UK) graduate with a Masters in Professional Ethics. An alumnus of the Institute for National Transformation; with certification in Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence from Case Western Reserve College, USA. Author of two books, The Last Flight and Shifting Anchors. Both books are used as course material in Babcock University’s Literature Department. Dapo is a public speaker, a content creator and a highly sought after ghostwriter.