COMPLEMENTARY ETHICAL REFLECTION AND THE ‘CULTURE OF NORMALIZING ANOMALIES’ IN NIGERIA By CHRIS O. AKPAN, MARY J. EGBAI

ABSTRACT

 

Most of our unethical conducts stem from pursuing interests and needs that are inauthentic.  These conducts most times are taken as a normal way of life in Nigeria.  Unfortunately, this has brought about a new culture which we term as the “culture of normalizing anomalies.”  This paper contends that complementary ethical reflection, can give us the insight into why human beings behave the way they do, and how we can escape from seeing anomalies as normal.  Underlying this ethical theory is the principle that ‘anything that exists serves a missing link of reality,” hence the best way we have to escape from this negative culture is to wear the garb of reciprocity.

 

KEY WORDS: Complementary Reflection, Anomalies, Denormalizing

Introduction

            A relatively new way of life or ‘culture’ seems to be having a grim grip of the Nigeria populace.  This way of life in its broad perspective do find expression in our uncritical acceptance of anomalies as normal; for example, when vandalism, looting of public treasury, corruption, bribery, nepotism, assassination, murder, unethical practices of all kinds, are subtly revered but “not encouraged.”  This hypocritic culture has seen Nigerians being branded and perceived as corrupt and fraudulent by people of other countries.

                These problems to a large extent have ethical undertone.  Thus, there have been many ethical theories invoked or prescribed by many Nigerian students, scholars, clergies and even bureaucrats to deal with this culture.  Many of such people have prescribed national or social ethical principles; some have made reference to the utilitarian ethics; some the Buddhist ethics, some Kantian deontologistic ethics, etc, as panaceas of curing Nigeria of this ethical maladies.  Accepted that these ethical theories and many more not mentioned above, have to a large extent, pointed out what constitute the wrongness and badness of actions, or immoralities involved in such actions, they do not seem to make recourse to the fact that each moral action done by man is influenced by an interest, which to some extent must be hinged on the joy or sadness of doing the said action.  To this effect, those ethical theories are often lopsided as they are not comprehensive enough in their explanation of human ethical conducts.

                For an action to be regarded as morally good, it must be comprehensive enough as to display not only the goodness of the action but the joy derived from such action.  But being that man most times do things that he thinks would bring joy, only to achieve the opposite, means that human actions are replete with the phenomenon of ambivalence.    It is the lack of understanding this phenomenon and to that effect, failing to manage this phenomenon that has seen Nigerians revel in the garb of anomalies as if this constitutes a morally acceptable code.

                Complementary Ethical Reflection; an ethical theory propounded by professor Innocent Asouzu in his book The Method and Principles of Complementary Reflection in and Beyond African Philosophy,  seems to be a more viable doctrine which could be used to tackle this unwholesome culture of anomalies.  This ethical theory is anchored on the principles that we cannot understand actions when viewed isolatedly, but that actions could be better understood when evaluated in relation to its missing link; and that inspite of our ‘facticity’ as limited beings, we should joyfully accept our  limitation as a condition which can help us achieve higher level of legitimization.

                Complementary ethical reflection thus has the capacity of giving us the insight into how we can manage our ambivalence situation and to that extent how not to accept the culture of normalizing anomalies as a constant which we can continually live with.  In this paper, we attempt an overview of complementary ethical reflection and show how its understanding and application can help us denormalize certain anomalies in our ethical life.

An overview of Complementary Ethical Reflection

                Complementary ethical reflection is one of the teachings handled by Professor Asouzu in his very encompassing philosophical blue print Complementary Reflection.  This philosophy aims at building bridges of unity between and among the opposing strands of reality and competing interests, not unmindful, however, of the potentialities of each diverse strand or interest respectively.  It seeks to interpret and explain realities from a complementary standpoint rather than from an exclusivist standpoint, taking cognizance of the possible usefulness of each component of reality – whether positive or negative.  It has two underlying imperatives, namely, “principle of integration or harmonious complementation”, which states that “anything that exists serves a missing link of reality” and its practical variant, the principle of progressive transformation, which holds that we should allow the limitation of being to be the cause of our joy (Asouzu, Method 273).

                What the first principle means is that all realities, including human ethical actions are composed of diverse components.  For a comprehensive understanding, we do not have to view such realities singly or in isolation from their missing links, but the components have to be brought together such that they become aware of each other.  The second principle simply means that as humans, we are limited beings but we can through our limitation make effort to achieve a higher level of legitimization through which we can then arrive at an authentic meaning of life.    In his “Redefining Ethnicity Within the Complementary System of Thought in African Philosophy,” he notes that “limitation of being” is simply “the capacity to view and accept all stakeholders in their relativity and insufficiency and the help and services rendered to them as part of the joy intended in one’s owe action” (77).  The bottom-line of this principle is that human actions are geared toward the joy of being.  This logic is at the basis of his ethics, which he calls “Complementary Ethical Reflection.”

In expanding his ethical views, Asouzu observes that man as part of nature shares the tendency of self-preservation with other lesser beings.  He notes: “the need to self-preservation is the primordial human interest around which human beings articulate their actions either individually or collectively” (Method, 52).  The implication of this is that even ethical actions are tied down to certain interests.  But he warns that human interest is ambivalent.  This is because it has a double capacity and as such, can represent something negative and positive at the same time.  In other  words, we are often being misled by our shallow parochial and quasi insightful drives toward what we think is positive only to achieve what in the final analysis would be negative, and as such, the consequence of such action would be sadness rather than the joy which was intended.    He opines that the tendency of not understanding this human existential situation is the root cause of social disorder, crisis, distrust, and in our own thinking immoralities or unethical conducts which find expression in the acceptance of anomalous behaviours as normal.

                The task of this ethical theory is to unravel the reason why human beings are bent on doing those things that they ordinarily would abhor to do believing that what they have done is good and perhaps, the wisest thing to do.

                Asouzu calls this the “paradox of the ambivalence of human interest”  (355).  Question could be posed thus: why do human beings detect and even accept that some actions would be wrong if done, yet they would not help going ahead to do those actions that they have detected as wrong?  Put in a different way, why do we choose to do things the other way (wrong way) when we actually know the right way to do them?  Again, why do we do things in the hope of conserving our interests only to end up shattering whatever interests we were trying to conserve?  Instances that can explain such paradoxicalities abound in Nigeria.  Few examples will suffice.  Why should a suicide bomber or an assassin, for instance, engage in this bizarre activity, knowing beforehand and quite well that at the end he may loose his life, kill other people apart from the targeted victim(s)?  Why do people vandalize pipe-lines in order to scoop out fuel illegally when they also know that they may end up being burnt to death?  Why do people vandalize, connect, disconnect and even de-connect high tension and low-tension cables illegally without fear of being electrocuted?  Why do Doctors aid the killing of life (for example, as in abortion), when they had even sworn to an oath, never to take life; why do politicians loot the public treasury without any iota of sympathy or respect for the Common Good?  We can continue to think of so many ‘why questions’ like those above.  But it is important to note that accepting and projecting these anomalies as being normal constitute a relatively new culture which has eaten deep into our fabrics.

                These anomalous and unethical ways of life are driven by certain human interests, which of course, are ambivalent – portraying something positive and something negative at the same time.  Thus to act morally, according to complementary ethics, is to act in view of overcoming this phenomenon of ambivalence.  The only way to overcome it is to be able to manage it.  Managing this phenomenon entails choosing interests that are authentic.  The inability to manage the ambivalence of human interest well is a fundamental sign of bad-will and this is the basis of unethical conducts.

                The concept of Good is fundamental in any worthwhile ethical doctrine, though it has been expressed and qualified in several ways.  For example, Kant has reduced “Good” to “Goodwill.”  For him, Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good, without qualification, except a goodwill” (402).  A Goodwill is therefore, a will which acts for the sake of duty.  Acting for the sake of duty is to act purely out of the reverence for the moral law; that is, doing something not in expectation of any gain; infact, even at the detriment of one’s material loss.  This is distinguished from ‘acting according to duty’, which is to act out of considerations for one’s interest.  For Kant, such actions may not be bad but they are not morally praiseworthy.  In the same vein, Kant rules out actions done in accordance with natural inclinations as having no moral worth.  The bottom line of Kant’s notion of good action is that it must be done strictly for the sake of duty (406).

                Complementary ethical reflection is opposed to Kant’s deontological ethics.  While Kant dispenses with inclinations as a part of ethical conduct, complementary ethical reflection takes into consideration inclination as the propelling force of very human action.  Thus, in complementary ethics, actions are not viewed isolatedly as per which is done devoid of any inclination or otherwise.  This is why it emphasizes on taking all missing links of reality into our equation of action.

As noted by Asouzu:

For human action to be moral or ethical it must take into account the comprehensive outreach of any action we perform.  That is to say, duties are no longer performed for their own sake but are tied to human interests in a way that defines their realization within a more universal, total and comprehensive framework.  Here, our interests and all missing links of reality are seen as opportunities for a higher form of legitimization and for the joy of being.  This is duty in complementarity and any duty we perform in a complementary sense is duty performed, directly or indirectly for the Common Good and for the well being of the actor (372).

What this quotation above simply means is that as humans, it is almost impossible to perform duty for duty sake.  All our actions, viewed from a comprehensive framework as human beings, are tied to interests.  but  when these are done with a view to taking other beings as ourselves, then we are doing duty in complementary terms and this will lead to the protection of the Common Good, and of course, the well being of the actor.

                Asouzu distinguishes common good into two senses.  First, common good refers to “the ultimate common foundation that gives legitimacy to all human actions.”  Second, it refers to “the authenticating foundation of interpersonal relationship in society, expressible in all those socio-empirical goods and services we own in common, whose up keep is necessary for well-coordinated and contented existence” (380).  This aligns well with John Thornhill’s definition of the Common Good as a good or benefit which human persons can only attain through coordination of their activities (45).  This means that the goals which we set or benefit which we seek should be pursued in the hope of not jeopardizing other people’s goals or benefits but in the hope of enhancing other’s benefit and good as members of the human specie in the given society which we belong or share in common.

                Jacques Maritain has taken time to outline what constitute the common good and these include: the collection of public commodities and services, the roads, ports, schools, a sound fiscal condition, the body of just laws, the various institutions, the living traditions and cultural treasures and all other things that provide the state with its structure.  In addition, the society’s wealth, economic resources, taxes, industries and the like constitute the common wealth for all (51).  Of course, all these items fall under what Asouzu calls “socio-empirical goods and services.

                The idea of common good implies the notion of common possession and collective legitimization which supersedes the dictates of a subjective ego.  This is why “Common Good” reminds us of the idea of “we-consciousness.”  It is this “we consciousness,” which should bind every human person within any given community to the collective responsibility, protection or mutual benefits that accrues from such facilities that we see as “Common Good.”

                Underlying this idea of Common Good in the context of complementary ethical reflection is the concept of reciprocity.  Asouzu emphasizes that this concept “offers the framework of explicating the idea of the common good in a relational, comprehensive and future oriented manner” (Method 383).  Reciprocity refers to a situation where human beings in their society recognize the necessity of mutual dependence on each other inspite of their secondary differences, in a bid to live a harmonious life.  Asouzu’s idea of reciprocity is brought out more clearly in his Ibuanyidanda: A New Complementary OntologyIn this book Asouzu draws the attention of the human specie to the teachings and the wise sayings of traditional Igbo philosophers that “no task is insurmountable for ‘danda.’  ‘Danda’ is said to be a specie of ants, which through mutual dependence and interdependence, are able to work together to surmount very difficult task, hence “Ibuanyidanda” (where ‘Ibu’means load or task, and ‘anyi’ means not insurmountable for) (11).  This clearly is the idea of reciprocity in which case the imperative of complementarity could better be appreciated.  Thus, serving a missing link, as the principle directs, refers to the capacity for existent realities, including humans, to be in a mutual complementary relationship, as against individualism or the attitude of standing aloof from each other.

                It is in this sense of reciprocity that we cannot talk of acting authentically without taking into consideration the interests of others.  Thus, our actions, if they have to be ethical, must be founded on the fundamental will of reciprocity, through which all forms of egoism is put paid to; this, leading to the protection of the Common Good.

A Window into the Culture of Normalizing Anomalies

                The term “culture” can mean so many things to so many people.  But it is used here to mean the attitude about something that people in a particular society share.  It should be noted that in most cases such attitudes do eventually gain grounds and become integrated as a way of life for such people.

                This appears to be the case with regard to our subject matter.  In the traditional societies anomalous behaviours that went against the ethical codes were condemned and taken as taboo.  But this does not seem to be the case anymore as unethical behaviours of all ramifications seem to be taken as a normal way of life for many people.  Thus, Nigeria is engrossed in certain ethical paradoxes and contradiction of living anomalous life as normal.

                Actions that constitute the phrase “culture of normalizing anomalies” vary and touch on all ramification of the life of Nigerians.  This fast spread ‘Nigerian culture’ could be seen in religion, Politics, Economic, Social life, Education, the judiciary, etc.  To be a little more elaborate we can see this ‘Nigerian culture’ in Religious spheres as when some so called “men of God” or Christians use the name of God to proliferate and perpetrate evil in the guise of winning souls.  This is why we seem to have the highest number of churches, yet attain the infamous height as one of the most corrupt nations in the world.  We have heard of, or perhaps seen “Pastors”, Evangelists”, “Bishops,”  “Overseers”, “Pious men of God” dupe, sacrifice, and maim unsuspecting adherents who  perhaps are drawn to them as a result of seeking fame, money, wealth, fruit of the womb, or success of all kinds.  The irony is that we sometimes know these people, yet accept them because we don’t want to ‘put sand in their garri.’  The question is, why do these people engage in these anomalous ways of life and why do their “faithless,” faith-seeking culprits put themselves at the mercy of these wolves in sheep clothing, as if they are doing the normal thing.

                In politics, Nigerians, even the highest placed, see it as a do or die affair.  Thus rigging of election, politics of calumny and assassination are taken as a definitive characteristic of Nigerians Politics.  This constitutes “a normal strategy” for winning elections.  Most importantly, the Common Good is an anathema to these politicians; hence, they abuse entrusted power and arrogate the wealth of the nation for personal use.  To be candid, politics in Nigeria is engrossed in deep corruption, and any one who wishes to succeed in politics must engage, either directly or indirectly, in these corrupt practices.  Politics for Nigeria, therefore, is “a dirty-game.”  If one wants to be “dirty” he an engage in it with a high hope of success and if one want to remain ‘clean,’ then there can hardly be hope for success.  ‘The end justifies the means’ is the slogan here.    Engaging in dirty business in the name of politics has become the normal route of achieving fame and honour.  This, of course, is anomaly normalized.

                We do talk of the falling standard of education.  Yet it  is the highly placed who will stop at nothing to make sure they buy admissions for their wards who in actual sense do not merit such.  We are quite aware that people buy certificates and grades in this country when they do not deserve such certificates.  Yet these anomalies are subtly accepted usually as the “Nigerian way” or “Nigerian factor” as Chuma Chinnye would call it (228).  In most Nigerian Universities, we see academics and even Professors of long standing exchanging grades for money, because they want to share in the spirit (affluence) of the modern world and they happily blame their actions on poor remuneration from government.  The implication here is that such attitude has become a normal thing in so far as they achieve their aim.

                Again, it is not uncommon to see people continue to fake their real ages in a bid to achieve their aim.  The unfortunate thing is that staffers of Nigerian courts are ever ready to issue age declaration without   ascertaining whether what is sworn to is correct or not.  The false declaration may be to keep their jobs, or contest in an age-grade championship for fame, or to gain entrance or employment into a certain institution, firm or company respectively.  Ofcourse, these are all anomalous ways of doing things but which in Nigeria are taken as “normal.”  Such people do not think of others who have the qualification and merit, and are within the correct age bracket.  Thus merits are usually suppressed for mediocres or “experience as the apologists of this culture are wont to say.

                Perhaps, the latest trend which we do not have to forget here is the new culture of using human beings as bait to get money.  For the militants and their cohorts, its ‘normal’ to abduct human beings or hold people hostage and expect monetary ransom, either from government or families of the victims.  Most prone to this abducting business are children and non-Nigerian oil workers.  Sanctity to human life and dignity has been thrown to the wind as a different form of slavery has taken centre stage in Nigeria.

                The few examples we have given above, provide just a window into what we mean by the ‘culture of normalizing anomalies’ in Nigeria.  We actually do know that these are anomalous ways of life, yet because it is a factor which has seen most Nigerians succeed, we tend to see them as ‘normal’, and infact accept them with ignominy.  One can actually argue that government does not take these anomalies as normal, hence its effort in combating these crimes and corruption through such agencies as EFCC and ICPC.  But one should also be apt to note that some of these government officials are not honest, as these agencies are used to witch hunt those who are regarded as not belonging to the camp that matters.  Hence, fighting official crimes are sometimes directed toward some members of certain dissenting camps, while the political stooges are left to swim in the affluence of corrupt induced wealth and positions.  To many Nigerians this is taken as ‘a normal political strategy’ of conserving and maximizing power.

Denomalizing Anomalies through Complementary Ethical Reflection

                We have stated earlier that the task of complementary ethical reflection is to unravel the reason why people choose to do those things that they ordinarily would abhor to do, yet believing that what they have done is good.  What underlies this paradoxical ways of life is the phenomenon of ambivalence – where man’s interests have a double capacity - both positive and negative.  Human interest, we must note, is not homogeneous.  It is a web of intricate links of desires and needs.  But not all these are authentic needs and desires.  Thus, since our interests are not homogeneous, they have certain concealment and these most time force us to see only the short term or adhoc benefits of our interest and not the negative dangers in the long run (Asouzu, Effective 29).  And because of our moral weaknesses, we are often tempted to take these adhoc benefits as normal and indeed, authentic, whereas they are not authentic.  In our understanding they are anomalies normalized.

                Now, the fundamental question is, how do we denormalize these anomalous ways of life?  How do we escape from this negative culture which has eaten deep into our fabric?  Professor Asouzu seems to proffer answer that, “if we were aware of the dangers associated with the ambivalence of our interest, we would vehemently resist those things that would complicate matters later and put us into trouble” (6).  This does not however, mean that we are totally unaware of the dangers that lie in-wait as consequence when we take certain actions.  For example, the assassin knows quite well that it is bad to take human life, the same with the pro-abortionist, the rapist, the militant, the armed robber, and all such people who pull a veil of ignorance over their faces as regards the sanctity to human life.  Furthermore, the tax evader, the contractor who eats the contract money without completing the work, the teachers who produce half-baked graduates through sorting, the Pastor who preaches the outside of the Bible rather than the inside, the Politician who eats all without leaving even the crumbs to the poor, etc, know that they are impinging on the Common Good.  Why they engage in this abnormal business, sometimes with impunity, is that their rationality have been subverted by the irrational part of their beings, hence leading them to do what they know is actually wrong.    They take their short term benefits as authentic, without thinking of the future consequence of such actions.

                Thus, for us to escape from the devastating effects of our misunderstanding of the phenomenon of ambivalence, which unfortunately leads us into normalizing certain anomalies, and in effect, to denormalize the anomalies, we have to understand what we need authentically.  As members of the human specie, what we need authentically are not those things or wealth that will endanger the well beings of other members of our specie.  Our authentic needs or interest therefore are hinged on those things that we need in the hope of enabling and strengthening the Common Good.

                The idea of Common Good, we should never forget, connotes the idea of mutual relationship.  Mutual relationship does not mean that everybody has to be alike in their physique, attitude to life and perspectives.  Underlining the idea of mutual relationship is the fact that in our relativity and some sort of secondary differences, we can dwell in tolerance, together as members of the human specie.  It is in this way that complementary ethical reflection has its soul in the principle that ‘the limitation of being can be the cause of our joy.’

                By denormalizing the anomalies that have come to become the Nigerian culture, we have to remind ourselves that the Common Good does not merely entail what the state can do for her citizens or owe them, but rather what the citizens can also do for the state.  It is the spirit of thinking of only what the state can do for her citizens that has seen many Nigerians, both well placed and lowly placed, force the Common Good to become private good.  If this is not the case, then, how can we explain the attitude of embezzling public funds, stealing, corruption, exploitation and vandalization, which have become ‘a normal’ way of life for Nigeria.  It should be noted that such nefarious acts and several others on the part of the Nigerian citizens are a violation of the public and social order; for the Common Good is the basis of social order.    It is a subtle fact that the private or individual good or wealth accumulated by some people via illicit means offend the Public Good, thus denying others the right to a decent living and happiness.  The embezzlers, swindlers of public funds, the vandals of public utilities and those who turn public goods into private property offend against the common good and remain the foremost enemies of the state.  It is such unwholesome attitudes that have caused some of the tensions and crises in our democratic society.  This is why Steve Tamuno correctly notes that “the crisis of democratic governance and nation building in Nigeria is in summary a crisis of core values and ethics” (97).

                It is in view of this that complementary ethical reflection reminds us of the notion of reciprocity, which is the most basic constant of peaceful co-existence.  We can do away with such anomalous acts that have seen us enmeshed in crises of all sorts, if we imbibe or put on the garment of reciprocity in all our actions towards each other.  Reciprocity in this sense is the act through which distinct entities stay in complementary relationship to each other, such that each, more or less, recognizes the necessity of mutual dependence that is fundamental to their well being (Method 383).

                The idea of reciprocity was at the basis of the traditional African life, hence, the Igbos talk of “Igwe bu ike” (Strength in togetherness), the Ibibio talk of “ubok mum ubok mum emen ekpat” (the joining of hands can lift a heavy log).  Julius Nyere presenting the Tanzanian mind-set of togetherness, talks of “ I am because we are” (Njoku 62).  This reciprocal mindset ofcourse, is not peculiar to traditional African life.  The Chinese talk of it, and infact take it as “a golden rule” hence, according to Confucius “A virtuous man wishing to establish himself seeks also to establish others, and wishing to  enlighten himself, seeks to enlighten others” (Qtd.  In Moore and Bruder 555).  This is what Roger Ames means when he says that “becoming a Confucian person involves benefiting and being benefited by membership in a world of reciprocal loyalties and obligations which surround and stimulate one, and which defines one’s worth (153).  In essence, one cannot talk of self-realization without taking into consideration the others in the society.

                This then is why complementary ethical reflections sees the concept of reciprocity as the fundamental constant which if imbibed can help us manage the human existential situation that is beset by the phenomenon of ambivalence.  Reciprocity will always remind us that acting immorally simply because we want to achieve our interest with total disregard to the happiness of the other persons of whom we direct our actions against, is bad.  The “we – consciousness” that underlies the spirit of reciprocity and the soul of the Common Good should always compel us to act authentically by choosing and doing actions that are good.

 

Conclusion

                This work has been an attempt to look at a very negative culture which has unfortunately eaten deep into the fabrics of almost all Nigerians.  This culture finds expression in the manner we accept certain anomalous activities as normal without thinking of the devastating effects of such actions.  This paper contends that complementary ethical reflection can give us a deep insight into why human beings not only engage in anomalous activities but tend to take them as normal.  Complementary Ethics is diametrically opposed to such ethical theory like Kantian de-ontologism where duty must be performed for duty sake without consideration for any interest.

                In complementary ethical reflection, duties are tied to human interest, which naturally are ambivalent – portraying something negative and something positive.  Thus human beings are led to immoralities because they only think and do what to them is positive without knowing that their actions may also habour some negative consequences, which would bring sadness rather than the joy intended.

                To act morally entails our ability to manage the ambivalence situation.  Managing the ambivalence nature of our interest means we should know what  we need authentically and pursue only that.  Failure to understand our authentic need is the root of all the unethical actions that we carry out.  Our authentic needs should be screened by the fundamental concepts of Common Good and reciprocity.  These concepts entail us to always act in accordance with the “we consciousness,” that ofcourse, has been the strong-point of our traditional society.  It is our thinking that acting in the sprit of reciprocity, the Common Good; understanding and choosing needs or interest that are authentic is the only way we can do away with our negative cultures of normalizing anomalies.

 

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