"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
January 6, 2015
Shame and Shaming
by Imo Eshiet

Any time I write anything that tends to reinforce Western stereotypes about Africa, I often feel like a child who desecrates its parents’ grave.

At the same time, I also feel conflicted when I stow our storied failings away in a closet. At moments when I feel like glossing over what a famous African poet calls the “open sore” of our continent, I receive strength from what our elders used to say about folks who hide their illnesses.

As a kid, I often heard that a man who hides his ailment ultimately dies of it. When our elders talked like that they meant sexually transmitted diseases.

In my childhood days, the village had a rigid moral code against which venereal disease was an affront. Folks, especially the youth who contracted such infections, often preferred to endure the pain and agony because their illnesses carried a stigma.

As one genuinely concerned with teaming up with others to find solutions to the challenges of Africa, I have come to believe that it is better to bring these disturbing issues to the open rather than surrendering to a complicit silence.

Also, I remember that in my growing-up days in the village, shame and shaming were culturally accepted ways of communal sanction.

If, for instance, a man was caught stealing yams or vegetables from the farm of another, the family of the offender took matters into their hand. Their action enabled them to distance themselves from the crime of their kin and hence to repair their damaged reputation.

Since the struggling village had neither police nor prisons, justice, depending on the nature of the case, was dispensed by family, village, or clan councils.

If the case involved theft, for instance, the stolen item was hung on the neck of the thief. He would then be paraded around the village while kids, men and women sang derogatory songs and threw filth on the criminal.

If the offense was of a grim nature like murder, then a more severe form of punishment other than shaming was meted out.

In that instance, the village or clan council took over the proceedings. Punishment for murder was often capital. Here again, family or extended family members played an active role in executing the criminal. After a jury of village elders had carefully studied the evidence and decided on a guilty verdict, family members would lead the action against the offender.

The village or clan would rely on family members to turn in the criminal. The family would lure their kinsman to the village square at night. Once there, they were draw their knives and start hacking him down before others would join in.

The emphasis was on collective responsibility. If the blood of the dead man cried from the dust, it would first haunt the relations who turned him in, convinced that he had wronged the group.

Was the mode of execution brutal? Of course, and while I make no case for savage acts, the village’s system of justice made unusual deeds unattractive.

Ironically as the police and prisons became commonplace, crime rates also spiked.

In the villages everyone knew everyone else. But as people moved into cities they became faceless. Shaming lost its restraining hold on criminals.

In a ragbag like Nigeria that has been forged by a colonial power without regard to whether the people had any shared culture, belonging, or history, the arbitrarily lumped tribes frequently contest the statehood while reserving their allegiance to their tribes.

This explains why impunity has gone berserk in the country. Thugs who muscle their way into political positions use their authority as license to brazenly loot state funds and bizarrely sabotage the state. Once they slink back safely to their tribes, they are received with standing ovation and ululations. Instead of being shamed as in the past, they are rewarded with chieftaincy titles, beautiful women, and powers of life and death over anyone who dare call them by what they really are — crooks!

Men and woman whose faces have been licked by slum dogs have no room for shame.

But the rest of the world cannot afford to look on unconcerned. Planes from these morbidly corrupt countries routinely fall off the skies like chaff buffeted and strewn about by storm. Anyone, just about anyone, could be an unfortunate victim of these crooked countries.

A tourist could get ill at a tourist destination and instead of being treated gets killed by a doctor who cheated his way through medical school in countries where corruption is norm.

Statistics of road fatalities in Nigeria is numbing. Inferior materials are often used in road construction here when roads are built at all.

In other sectors of the economy — education and health, for example — the story is just as grim. The Secretary of Education and other school authorities such as college presidents, deans of faculties and heads of departments have no qualms walking away with monies originally voted to improve quality in schools and colleges.

That is why in these institutions the struggle to corner these positions often get as violent as elections in the larger society where bloodthirsty thugs rule the turf.

In the military the story is as murky and it is distasteful. Generals shortchange their officers and men. This readily explains why barefoot, ragtag Muslim fundamentalists in Nigeria slaughter soldiers as wanton boys do flies. While the insurgents are armed with precision missiles, soldiers fight with rusty and impaired weapons.

Humanity needs to work concertedly against challenges posed to world security by the dumb orgies of corrupt nations.

In this the United States is leading the way. Its refusal to continue to buy oil from Nigeria is a step in the right direction. Nations that ride roughshod on the welfare of its people deserve to be shamed. Turning a blind eye on the thriving irrationalities in countries in Africa, Asia, Middle East and Latin America can only hurt the rest of the world in the long run.

In this New Year, one hopes that advanced countries will resoundingly reject the dark reproaches hurled at decency by nations infamous for corrupt practices. These rogues ought to be disgraced at all fronts using perhaps a more refined model of shaming that helped to keep criminal excesses in check in my village.


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About Imo Eshiet

Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.

Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North Carolina Stake.

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