Nigeria and its ‘Lef Am for God’ Mentality

Where two or three or more Nigerians are gathered together in the name of Nigeria, one can be certain, that right there, in the midst of them, is an impassioned debate about Nigeria in full flow. No matter the function, or venue, or the different Nigerian people groups present, Nigerians love to talk and bellyache about Nigeria. And although we may not readily want to admit it, much of why we love to talk and gripe about Nigeria, is because deep down within us we love our nation and would really rather that things were much better than they are.

In talking about people who love talking about Nigeria, sometime ago now, I was at a function at which more than two Nigerians were present. And in no time at all, a discussion about Nigeria – past, present, and future – ensued. It was a lively and spirited debate involving a good mix of people drawn from different generational groups in the nation; most of whom had their nativity or spent their formative years in Nigeria. Everyone who was a part of the debate had their own perspective on Nigeria, and everyone bemoaned the fate that had befallen it.

Every discussant offered their diagnoses and prognoses as to what went wrong and what needed to be done in order to put Nigeria right. And everyone was convinced of the soundness of their point of view (we wouldn’t be Nigerians otherwise). After a short while the discussion became circumlocutory, losing its thrust and edge. But no matter how much the discussion strayed from its aim, the consensus of opinion seemed to be that it was the Babangida/Abacha intervention in our national affairs that set us on our present path of national decadence.

Up till this point, an elderly lady present, who in keeping with the dignity of her age, had maintained a noticeable silence during the debate; restricting her contributions, to the occasional nod of the head, suddenly offered her perspective on things. And if her silence, up to this point had been golden, her ensuing contribution was of a sterling nature.

Given her age, experience, and overall deportment, we were all keen to hear what she had to say. She agreed, but to a limited extent, that responsibility for Nigeria’s present ills, sits with the Babangida/Abacha regime. She accepted without dispute that their regimes had caused enough damage, sufficient to fray Nigeria’s moral fabric and squander its national fortunes. But to her mind, their combined actions were simply contributory to, and symptomatic of, a much bigger problem afflicting Nigeria. She said her perspective, given its wider purview, would of necessity, and experience, differ from ours. She was in her 70’s and had lived almost exclusively in Nigeria; right from before independence to the present time.

She said that much of Nigeria’s moral decline and the concomitant breakdown in basic honesty standards in everyday social and business intercourse – at nearly all levels in society – had to do with what she termed Nigeria’s ‘Lef am for God’ mentality. And by this she meant, that it was now all too common in Nigeria, to suffer willingly and accept being wronged or duped by the unscrupulous amongst us, simply on the basis that God would requite such actions in the afterlife.

Unfortunately, she believed that this mindset, rather than encourage better conduct, had succeeded only in emboldening large numbers of people to take advantage of the well intentioned in the nation. Nigerians, she believed, by their very nature, were more likely to persist in dishonest forms of behaviour, as long as they were confident that there were no sanctions to face up to. In her youth, she said, it was always at the fore of one’s mind, that if one infringed upon the rights of another in a dishonest way there would be swift and dire consequences to face.

For example, she said, that in her day, if one went out to buy – say firewood in whatever quantities – one would, more often than not never meet the seller of the goods. The seller would simply leave his or her wares and an accompanying sign advertising their price, in order for buyers to select what they needed. An interested buyer would simply select their requirements and leave an appropriate payment in a place designated by the seller. It would never have occurred to anyone in her youth, she said, to take more than what they had paid for. In contrast, she said, today, not only would a supposed purchaser neglect to pay for the wood, they would take the entire bundle, and whatever money was left by other buyers and walk away without a fear of the possible repercussions. The defrauded seller would simply be told by sympathisers of his plight to ‘Lef am for God.’

This ‘Lef am for God’ mentality, she felt, was engendered in large part, by ‘imported’ religious doctrines. She conceded that as noble as such a prescription was in theory; it was wholly impractical, given the prevailing character of Nigerians. Our character, she believed had not yet evolved to a point sufficient to allow such a regime to operate successfully in Nigeria. Nigerians had shown their observance of this doctrine in breach, rather than compliance.

To prove her point about our character deficit, she narrated a scenario, which she claimed had happened on numerous occasions. She said that she had noticed, more often than not, that whenever these ‘Lef am for God’ advocates are involved in matters before a Court of Law, and asked to swear on oath on the Bible or Koran – to speak the whole truth and nothing but the truth – they very often proceed to lie through their teeth without any fear of the possible consequences.

But if the same people, she maintained, were offered a machete, upon which to swear an oath of truthfulness to the Yoruba deity of justice, they would decline to do so. This refusal, she said, would not be based on a point of religious conviction, but on the certain knowledge, that should they take such an oath and proceed to lie, justice would not only be certain, it would also be swift. Nigerians she said were a hard-hearted and stiff-necked people who needed a code of conduct which matched their essential character. Anything short of this would only continue to fuel the mayhem that has left us in such a combustible state, which will, if not doused quickly, engulf our whole society in its blaze.

Some of the blame, she felt, also needed to be placed at the doors of the colonialists, who she felt had disrupted Nigeria’s natural evolutionary rhythms. Had our people, she believed, been allowed to complete their natural character maturation process under their stringent indigenous systems, no one would have needed to counsel them, before they themselves would have cried out for ‘grace and mercy’ systems to replace their harsh local ones. But this process was not allowed to run its course; and now character-wise we have become unrecognisable, even to ourselves; being as we are now, neither fowl nor fish. She felt that it was only a return to the old ways that can redeem us from our present predicament.

It is difficult to disregard or dismiss the wisdom of much of what the elderly lady had to say. And who can tell, maybe a short sharp shot in the arm of harsh justice is what we need as a people. Although, I doubt that the lady’s youth was spent in a golden age of law and order as she seemed to depict in her narration. But in comparison with today’s deplorable standards, it may easily seem to have been so. I am not fully persuaded that a return to Old Testament type ‘eye for an eye’ or Sharia based criminal justice systems or the swift and certain justice methodology of our indigenous Oracles is necessarily the way forward; even though I do not doubt their utility in any reformation process.

I believe that much of the way forward will require a deliberate strengthening of critical aspects of our current Criminal Justice system; including our Religious Houses, Police, Schools, and Homes, and other societal institutions. Those in high and low public places will also need to set better examples for others to emulate, if we are to avert a widespread societal catastrophe.

If, indeed, we have plumbed the depths of individual and societal dishonesty, then maybe in reaching the bottom of the barrel, we may now be minded to change direction and retrace our steps. God willing, we will have the good sense to effect this change sooner, rather than latter; for one thing is clear, and that is, that we can no longer afford to ‘Lef am for God’.

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