The Creator’s greatest gift to creations is free will. Free will is about choices and choices form the denominator of life and living. Man (generic term for human beings) is the product of personal choices: the good man flows from a string of good choices over time and space; the bad man results from the converse. Everything else may be a parameter in the individual’s make up including nature and nurture, that is, from DNA to the limitless environmental influences people are exposed to. It is the duty of the individual to develop appropriate – and good – choice sets. People have the free will to go left or right or centre or simply remain neutral, stagnant, uncommitted, and sometimes fatalistic as several people do when they fail to exercise the free will made available free of charge but chose to blame someone or something or a concept for failure. Aristotle submitted in his book “Nichomachean Ethics” that “Man is the father of his actions as of children.” This can be interpreted to mean that the individual, a rational or thinking being has moral choices which when made should be accepted as the actions of that person rather than those of other people or circumstances.
The famed philosophy of Protagoras of Abdera (490-420 BC) comes to mind. He averred that “Man is the measure of all things: of things which are, how they are; and of things which are not, how they are not.” There have been a multiplicity of interpretations of this position and indeed, loss of meaning in the process of translating from Greek to several languages. The thesis is that reality is best left to the perception of the individual. Take the case of two people in the same room: one of them says the room is hot while the other says it is cold. The argument is that both can be correct (baring the concept of excluded middle) because the two people might have come from two backgrounds or are experiencing different health conditions.
One argument against Protagoras was that he saw humans – the physical – as taking pre-eminence over the ideal or non-physical, call it the spiritual. The first salvo against his thought was from Plato the apostle of idealism. The idealist school of philosophy held that reality, call it what we see are but forms of universals in the mind. I see a tree because I have a concept of ‘treeness’ already in my mind. Physical things are but mirrors or copies of what is in the mind. There are over a dozen variants of idealism.
Another argument against the thought o Protagoras was that he canvassed relativism when the world is better off with absolutism. Relativism is like saying what you believe is right is right because of lots of influences on a situation. Absolutism says an act is wrong or right irrespective of time, space, and circumstance. This is the basis of the concept of universals which are ideas that transcend time, space, and circumstance.
Should it be a surprise that Protagoras was hounded till he attempted to flee to safety but was stopped and drowned by his accusers without trial? If you had the opportunity to ask his accusers today they will present a perfect excuse to explain away a clear case of jungle justice and extrajudicial killing as it is termed today. Someone must be right; someone must be wrong and so the blame game goes on with each party-ready with justification.
The Protagoras position is an extension of free will. Man has been endowed the will to take a position and to act. Built into free will is the neighbour-consciousness which informs the legal maxim of your right to swing your arm stops where my nose begins. An individual’s relativist orientation must at all times take cognizance of the need of the next person. I believe this is where the concept of a social contract also comes in: all humans should discuss and agree to let go some freedoms for the general good which become enforceable through a selected body called government or authority (from peer groups to United Nations). It is questionable for one or more persons to decide without input and agreement of all stakeholders to impose their will on others. But where there is agreement including sanctions for transgression, then the rule of law is acceptable.
Some Cases Studies:
An extreme case occurred in Rivers State in 2017. The story – unconfirmed but true – was that a young man was cornered by his mates somewhere at the height of the crisis in Ogbaland. The assailants wanted to induct the particular young man say Youth A into their cult group. Youth A refused; the beating was sustained until he lost his life. He stood on his free will and paid for it with his life. There will, without doubt, arise arguments as to whether his action was right, appropriate, and justified.
Case 2 was narrated by Hon Austin Wokocha during a Rotary fellowship. A man, a drunk and lay about, call him Man A had two sons. The first at adulthood was a drunkard and lay about. When asked why he chooses that path, his prompt response was “What did you expect?” That can be read as daddy is responsible for what I have turned out to so blame him. The second son worked to raise money and paid for training in a trade of choice. On completion, he worked hard, lived a prudent life, accumulated wealth, built a house, got married, and raised a respectable family. On inquiry as to his choice, he promptly replied, “What did you expect?” This was read as to to why should I be expected to be a drunk and lay about because my father was?
Two persons of the same gender from the same parents, same upbringing, same experiences, assuredly equivalent nature-nurture mix ended up on two different paths and two different social strata. This case is not hypothetical; the family is in existence. There will be arguments and attempts at explanations. What no one can run away is the word choice and choice comes out of the womb of free will.
Someone may wish to argue about predestination or determinism but it is difficult to run away from the immortal words of William Shakespeare spoken through Cassius in the play “Julius Caesar.” It is written, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” Stars in the quote is a reference to signs of the Zodiac regarded as controlling human thoughts, actions, therefore destinies. If human beings throw their hands over their heads and declare that events are beyond them, fatalism is placed on a high stool while free will takes the back seat if any seat at all.
Think about these: Satan taking the blame when someone is caught in a criminal act; a careless wife blamed when a man sleeps with his house girl who also had a chance yet did not close the doors to her room; an adulterous wife announcing that her husband abandoned her; a carefree child absconding from school blaming parents for not monitoring or lacking parenting skills; Heads of Governments pointing accusing fingers at opposition after their actions or inaction create crises even when their advisers openly cautioned against such.
Of all the examples on passing blame, none has been as worrisome as that concerning the present and virtually intractable problem of underdevelopment of Africa and the black race in general. It is hard to imagine an argument that a block of the human race was wired to fail by colonial masters not by the Creator. The understanding is that any effort by black people to rise above mass poverty and deprivation must fail because colonialists had set inescapable traps that will keep them down. It is the colonialists that probably through education (conflict theory) direct Nigerian petroleum engineers for example not to seek to know how much crude oil is pumped out of oil wells; how much is loaded into crude oil tankers; the true value of what is sold; and why part of sales cannot be employed to either re-inject or distribute natural gas to homes and factories rather than burn them to destroy roofing sheets and pollute the air, land, and waters. Colonialists have barred Africans from investing oil wealth the way Arab countries have done; rather, the leaders are dragged by the nose by colonial masters or at gunpoint to place fixed deposits in their private accounts so the colonial masters can use the free money to develop the colonial economies. Colonialists compel African leaders to buy and own private jets and dozens of SUVs each when in their countries they compete with each one who uses the smallest car and they use commercial airlines while travelling. The West insists that Africans must not develop their rail and trams and they must not develop electricity so that importers of generators and spare parts can keep buying from abroad with the scarce foreign exchange they have. Nigeria cannot develop groundnut pyramids and processing factories and export vegetable oil. After all, the country must import chocolate and oil palm products which Western and Eastern Nigeria respectively can produce. Europe, US, and Asia are to blame. They have used vaccines to stop creativity and innovativeness in Africans. Thank God lone stars like Aliko Dangote exist who have proved that the poisonous tentacles of the colonial blue-ringed octopus cannot keep them down. The scandal involving millions of barrels of Nigerian crude in tank farms in China will, like any other unwelcome dust settle into archives and Nigeria will move on like a village stream with no ripples. In which country of the world would the head of the apex bank accept that he had no explanation for missing billions but remains in that office with no reverberations? Impunity par excellence! Of course, colonialists decreed it although it cannot happen in their country. Behold a serving Minister and his staff throwing dirt at each other in public without shame and soon the country will have a new scandal and the old ones sail into oblivion. The head of the number anti-graft agency has been grafted but soon, he will be in a brand new office if he does not return to the old one. Who is the cause? Colonial masters, who else? This is fatalism and buck-passing at its revolting worst.
Casting blame on others except self is a human condition, almost in-born. It makes an aberration of the American quote, “The buck stops here” once placed on the Oval Office desk by US President Harry Truman (33rd President, 1945-1953). Truman took responsibility for the success of the Marshall Plan and the post-World War II reconstruction of US and Europe; he also took responsibility for the disaster associated with the first and to date the only use of the atomic bomb in history. The current fashion is to blame even personal malfeasance such as infidelity and crude speech on the opposition, and wonderfully, believers and disciples of the buck-passing misleaders are not in short supply.
Towards a Personal Responsibility Index:
Most people pass the buck, that is, pass blames to others. It is possible to craft a framework that determines how each person accepts the responsibility for actions taken by that person. It may be difficult to apply this in non-democratic systems or systems with rudimentary democratic structures. It can, however, be useful in organizational settings as input into the process of selection of leaders. People that have a high tendency to run away from outcomes that are negative and rather routinely blame others should not be regarded as good candidates for high office.
Even in families, someone who does not accept responsibility for actions should be treated with suspicion. We can highlight at this juncture finger-pointing as a fallacy: when someone points one finger of accusation at another person, the remaining four, much more than one, are pointing at self or the accuser. Accept responsibility or decline positions of responsibility.
The total quality management (TQM) concept can be applied to minimize the blame game. It took root from 1985 in the US Department of Navy and spread to other arms of the military before getting to the private and education sectors (how many people know that the computer that is straddling the world today started in the US Department of Defense first?).
The simplest way to define TQM is that all participants in a corporate setting (public/private) should maintain the highest standards of performance while continually improving. If the Cleaner puts in the best possible and the Chief Executive Officer does same along with all others, a total quality organization should be the outcome. If a Clerk renders perfect job while the Nigerian President does same, Nigeria becomes a total quality country. There will be no need to blame anyone for incompetence and dereliction of duty.
A tall order in Nigeria? Maybe not. I was in the Civil Service of South Eastern State by 1973 in the days of Mr Michael Ani as Head of Service. The system was like clockwork. A contractor did not have to see anybody before payment was made for job certified as having been done. Workers without fail arrive in the office on before 7.30 am and never left before 3.30 pm except for Saturday when offices closed by noon. The efficiency and effectiveness of the public sector were reflected in the private sector also. The entrance door of all banks was opened by 8.00 am not 8.01 am. Today when a bank branch does not have cash, the management declares there is negative security report. Banks open and close sometimes all day at the whim of the branch management irrespective of the negative impact on businesses and personal lives. The blame goes to anyone, from government to insecurity to colonial masters!
Africans need training, retraining, mental re-orientation, and motivation to restart. It will take more years to rebuild than it took to destroy that working system installed by the colonial masters Africans vilify today and blame for our incompetence and lack of morality. The continent can and should start someone for as Africa’s new colonial master, China hold, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Arise O Compatriots while I rest my case.