Commemorative Days: Let’s Declare a National Non-Stealing Day

by Sheyi Oriade

Since it is and has been for many years a convention of the United Nations and nations after a certain fashion to set aside days, months, and years in commemoration of specific events for the purpose of raising awareness and promoting positive behavioural attitudes towards them; it may well be time for Nigeria to follow suit by extending its current national commemorative practice beyond its ritual calendrical observance of religious festivals and political events. To accomplish this change, will require a minimum of effort as ready made inspiration for such an initiative is easily obtainable by borrowing a leaf from the sheaf of the United Nations’ rich compendia of commemorative dates and events.

The United Nations, as it happens, is so far in advance of all nations and other international institutions in its commemorative dates and acts, as even a cursory perusal of its annual calendar will reveal. To the extent that hardly anything seems to escape its commemorative purview. For instance, it has commemorative dates pertaining to issues as diverse as: Cultural Diversity; Children; De-colonisation; Disabled Persons; Drug Abuse Control; Human Rights; Hunger; Older Persons; Human Settlements; International Water Rights; World Day for Water; and Biological Diversity. The list goes on and on; you name it they have it!

And since Nigeria is a nation renowned for replication rather than invention – which is not an altogether bad thing – considering what such an approach has done for Japan! It might as well begin to consciously replicate some of the more beneficial and positive aspects of other nations and international institutions. So I suggest that we earmark a number of commemorative days in our national calendar (which do not need to be public holidays); but days on which our political leaders and functionaries are encouraged to exhibit certain positive behavioural patterns for the good of the nation.

For instance, a realisation, which may not have dawned upon many, is that we have a whole generation of leaders who in their formative experience, were never exposed to governments which were transparent or accountable in much of their dealings. Now if this is the case, which I think it is, even though I rather it wasn’t; it means that our present leaders have no idea of what it means to govern with probity. It may seem an incredible observation, but if we think of the various leaders the nation has spawned over time then you begin to get the picture. I accept that there may be exceptions here or there – but not in sufficient numbers as to form the basis of a prevailing norm.

So what this then means is that many of our leaders are simply acting in ways that reflect their formative experience (which is convenient). What we then need is a re-education of sorts which reinforces desirable and acceptable behavioural patterns; first of all amongst our leadership class and then amongst the people. We need to change the images they behold and are beholden to. And there’s no better time than the present, to begin such a process, particularly as our Information minister is presently in the throes of re-branding the nation (in whose and in what image I do not know); methinks it is much better to re-orient the nation than to re-brand it!

To this end, the EFCC should take the lead in recommending to the federal government a ‘national non-stealing day or days’ in which political and public functionaries are encouraged to lay off the wrongful appropriation of the proceeds of the public purse and assign such monies to their proper ends. The declaration of such a day should be accompanied by publicity blitzes (spearheaded by the Information ministry) pointing out the benefits of such a campaign.

Now this may at first appear to be fanciful and nothing more than high level gimmickry, but think about the issue of our national sanitation; at one time as a nation we were as dirty as we are now corrupt, then someone in government came up with the idea of national sanitation days; days on which the people were compelled to clean their surrounding environment. Before long the idea caught on and became ingrained in the cleanliness consciousness of the people.

Imagine if we did have similar commemorative national non-stealing days and they were adhered to? Imagine the immense benefit that would accrue to the people over time. I recognise immediately that at least two major problems would threaten to scuttle the letter and spirit of such an initiative: one being the fact that our political leaders may pay heed to the initiative in a perfunctory manner simply going through the motions. The other problem being that agreeing to take part in such an initiative in the first place is itself something of an admission of sorts of having ‘sticky fingers! A situation redolent of that timeless legal and philosophical conundrum, to wit:

‘Have you stopped beating your wife’?

If you say yes you have, then you admit to having been a wife beater. And if you say no you have not; then it means that you are still a wife beater. So you are damned either way. I suppose one could say that one is not married, and that would put paid to that!

But nonetheless, I encourage the EFCC and the Information ministry to consider and adopt the ‘commemorative day’ approach as one of many ways of tackling corruption. To begin with, I think that one day every month supported by a series of unremitting public service announcements will suffice. And once some sort of traction is gained over time, we can then think of introducing other societal beneficial days of commemoration to the national calendar.

To those who may think it unthinkable that there can ever be a successful observance of a ‘national non-stealing day’ in Nigeria, I say it is worth a go nonetheless. From a purely anecdotal point of view, I understand that when the great Fela Kuti was interred years ago, there were hardly any acts of theft reported in Lagos. As almost every urchin, hoodlum, robber, thief, and others were otherwise engaged in paying their respects to the late musical genius. If those predisposed to such activity can show restraint, then so too can our political leaders.

I recognise that this approach is never, on its own, going to eradicate corruption in our nation, but what it will do is complement other initiatives in this regard; and even if we can’t redeem our generation from its entanglement with corruption, let us at least attempt to provide a basis for oncoming generations in their turn to be able to govern more accountably.

Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness!

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