Unknown to Dr. Reuben Abati, one of President Jonathan’s media spokespersons, when he referred to Nigerian youths who are genuinely passionate about the wrong direction the only country they have is going as “collective children of anger” he, Dr. Reuben Abati took a moral stand on the moral and social question in our country. That moral point indicates a social and ethical divide down the line among Nigerian peoples, families and parents.
Also, a while ago when it was revealed that the children of Nigeria’s political and economic class, the children of the “very high” economically and politically, who by that virtue cannot belong to Mr. Reuben Abati’s “children of anger” are part of the oil subsidy thieves, the parents of the “children of oil subsidy theft” and their advocates balked and attempted to distance themselves from their allegedly thieving children. Messrs Mahmud Tukur and Abdullahi Àlàó are part of these children.
Given our primary concern on this platform, the moral question in this regard is: to what extent in a broad sense are parents of thieving children culpable when their children are caught in the immoral act? And in a specific sense of the “children of oil subsidy theft”: to what extent are parents of oil subsidy thieving children culpable? In other words, to what extent are Mr. Bamangar Tukur and Mr. Aríṣekọ́lá Àlàó culpable of the alleged oil subsidy theft of their children? If they are culpable, is their culpability legal or moral? If so, what is the basis? If neither, why are they said not to be either morally culpable or legally culpable?
Of interest is the position of Senator Babáfẹ́mi Ojudu of the ACN and who currently represents Ekiti Central in the Senate. I will like to quote him verbatim. He said: “I disagree with my party a little on the call for Bamangar Tukur to step down.
“This is because the moment somebody is above 18 years of age such person is an adult and could be held responsible for his misdeed“. For now, Tukur is innocent until he is proved guilty. The sin of the son should not be visited on the father,’’.(Premium Times August 2, 2012)
Senator Babáfẹ́mi Ojudu seemed to have confused too many things in one fell swoop. First and most important is ETHICS, a moral estate, its inheritance from forebearers, and its transfer to children and grandchildren. Second is LAW. Third is SANCTION-legal and moral.
Let me say categorically that Messrs Bamangar Tukur and Aríṣekọ́lá Àlàó and the parents of “children of oil subsidy theft” cannot be legally held responsible for the alleged theft of their thieving children. The parents cannot even be tried in court, so the question of legal culpability and punishment do not arise for them.
The question however is: can they be morally held responsible? Can they be asked simple moral questions? Based on the history of democracy, families, inheritances, and bequests, I think that even when parents are not legally culpable for the actions of their grown up children, they have moral questions to answer when their children commit serious injury against the public, the moral and public good. While they may not be morally obliged to answer such questions, the public is morally obliged to ask them such simple moral questions.
As part of the building of our democracy, asking such simple moral questions may just be sufficient. They put a moral caution and check on so-called political families whose political and economic estate, the moral source of such estate, and the use to which they are put is part of our moral problems. It will then be left to parents of thieving children, and “children of oil subsidy theft” to morally caution their children.
The assumption that parents of thieving children cannot be asked simple moral questions is unhelpful for many reasons. In many instances, these thieving children set forth into the public, the economy, and politics with the wind and momentum of their parents behind them. In many cases these parents groom these children to take over their economic, political and social estate. And we must add-moral or immoral estate depending on the source of their political and economic wealth.
And worldwide children of business and political families and moguls have taken advantage of their parents’ estates. Just as we have the Kennedys, Clintons, Bushs in American politics, we have the Awólówòs, the Abiolas, the Ahmadu Bellos, the Babangidas, the Abachas, the Azikwes, the Yar’Aduas (I am sure President Jonathan will be getting ready to build his own political family fortunes for his children as all politicians do) the Ọbásánjọ́s, in Nigeria, the Ghandis in India. Now take this. It is such inheritance and estate of the Ghandis in India that made Mrs. Sonia Ghandi (wife of one of the Ghandis) who is not even of Indian blood an accepted candidate in Indian politics.
So if all these are true, and if the “sin of the son should not be visited on the father” as our dear friend Senator Babáfẹ́mi Ojudu asserted, why should sons, daughters, in-laws take advantage of the political, economic and social fortunes and inheritances of parents and use them only for parents to balk when their children are caught in the immoral act? Why do parents subtly, covertly, build these children up to take over from them but want to balk when these children injure the public and moral good by literally stealing what does not belong to them? Sometimes this immoral act is even called “business”!
I know we often demure and shy away from doing this. But let us look at one another straight in the face and speak the moral truth. What will make the sons of Messrs Sanni Abacha and Ibrahim Babangida claim to want to lead us besides hoping to tap into their father’s fortunes and name tags? Also, beside the fortunes of the late M.K.O Abíọ́lá, Mr. Bamanga Tukur, and those of Mr. Olúṣẹ́gun Ọbásanjọ́ what will qualify their children as leaders in situation where we do not see their service to the public before their forays into politics? In other words, besides their fathers’ nametags, what public credentials do they have that would have made them acceptable by the public? Except a few decent ones like Mrs. Hafsat Abíọ́lá-Costello, and a few others, what service have the children of Nigerian political class rendered to the public as civil preparation for public service like children of political families in other countries and political cultures do before going into politics?
My point is that if children and spouses of our political class take advantage of their political, social and economic inheritances and they mess up, the source of such inheritances should be morally held responsible even when they are not legally culpable. To free the source of inheritance of moral culpability when the source has overtly and covertly propelled the children who are beneficiaries of such inheritance and estate is to want to eat our cake and have it. It is called moral opportunism on the part of our political, and economic class and it is morally unacceptable.
Senator Babáfẹ́mi Ojudu ought to know this and he ought to have properly distinguished criminal guilt from the moral questions that are being legitimately asked. Sadly he did not.
Finally, that it is fair to ask parents of “children of oil subsidy theft” basic moral questions is underscored by the African fragment, which says: Bí ará ilé ẹni bá ń jẹ kòkòrò, bí a kò bá sọfun, hùrùhàrà ẹ̀ ko ní jẹ́kí à sùn lóru.” Substantively, this fragments rests on the correct moral balance between the individual and collective in human affairs. It means that “if a member of our household is engaged in a morally unacceptable act, and we fail to caution him/her, the moral consequences of the act will put us in a morally difficult situation.” This is a moral statement about the correct balance between individual and collective moral responsibility. As Africans we often take pride in our sense of collectivity. If this is true the moral call oblige us to be consistent. Thus we cannot choose when and when not to balance the individual and the collective in us. It is unethical to think we can pick and choose this.
Our political and economic class ought to pay attention to this and act on it to stem the sickening tide of corruption, which so-called political families and their children engage in.
And as one of the parents of the “children of anger” I call on parents of “children of oil subsidy theft” to accept the moral responsibility of having birth morally problematic children and morally caution them to stop looting public funds and taxpayer’s money.
Adéolú Adémoyọ̀ (email@example.com) is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.