Where do values come from? The Oxford dictionary defines values as principles or standards of behaviour; one’s judgement of what is important in life.
A society is the expression of its values. Over the past five and a half decades of my life, I have seen a seismic shift in what is important in my life.
I grew up in a society where my parents’ friends could discipline my brothers and I in the absence of my parents. When my parents got back they would still discipline us. Today this will fall under child abuse.
Respect for elders was a big deal. If I was in the house and an older person was carrying something and I did not get up to help, I would be in deep trouble. Today, an adult could be struggling with a piece of luggage in their own house and all they will get from young people who will probably be playing computer games will be, “Hi”.
I was listening to a morning radio show and the conversation would have earned us punishment when we were young if it was discovered that we tuned into the station. Similarly, some television ads today have content that could have passed for soft porn when I was young.
Where did the seed for the foundation of our values come from? When were the seeds planted? How did we get here?
In my primary school, it was illegal to speak my native Yoruba language. If we did, we would get punished. Appropriate dressing to events was a suit and tie, no matter how hot it was. The posh were the ones who could speak with a foreign accent. Those with a local accent were made fun of.
In a slow but sure way, these things started to erode our authenticity and we began to lose our identity. The values that were once held sacred by society were replaced by new foreign ones.
A person who claimed to have eaten a burger was placed higher on the social ladder than the one who ate local bean balls called akara. With the loss of identity, we did not know what was coming.
Now we have a generation with no respect for what is important anymore. Nigeria with an estimated population of 200,962,417 has 84,004,084 registered voters (as of March 11, 2019). The average turnout for the last elections was about 49 percent. When things do not work, those who had an opportunity to change them but did not do anything also complain. Yet all they had to do was get up, go to a polling station and vote.
Let us look at another side. Big Brother Naija is a reality show in which young people are holed up in a house with one another for a period of time. Over 900 million votes were cast during Season 5 of Big Brother Naija reality TV show, making it the biggest season ever. Nigerians spent 7.2 billion naira ($17.57 million) to vote in the contest.
Do you think these voters would have done the same thing for things that actually do affect their lives — like who rules over them? Can you imagine if people took elections as seriously as they took Big Brother Naija.
Imagine an election directly funded by the people. However, this will not happen because our value system has been eroded. If it is funded directly by the people, it will cut out those who make their fortunes from elections. We complain about leaders, but when we have an opportunity to do something about it, we shy off.
The way back is to reclaim the values that produced greatness. What are the values that produce integrity? When we begin to highlight these values and make them mainstream, then the natural result will be integrity.
Wale Akinyemi is the convenor of the Street University (www.thestreetuniversity.com) and chief transformation officer of PowerTalks. [email protected]