The moral foundation of this essay is the impasse created by the “withdrawal” of the so-called oil “subsidy” and the morally problematic views of two famous Nigerians – Reuben Abati, President Goodluck’s presidential media adviser, and Adams Oshiomhole- erstwhile labor leader and now Governor of Edo state.
I am also using the ethical theory-perceptual ethics- of two African philosophers -Barry Hallen (of Morehouse University, in the United States, and Olubi Sodipo (who left us bodily) to illuminate the moral compromises of Abati and Oshiomhole.
“Perceptual ethics” is derived from the Yoruba language and the ethical standard of “Kòbójúmu”. If an act is good or bad, we can directly perceive this to be the case. On this view, an immoral act is that act which violates our perceptual space – the public sphere. That is the concept of “Kòbójúmu” in Yoruba language where “oju” or “ojude” is the perceptual space – the public sphere. On the other hand, a morally worthy act mobilizes us to defend the perceptual space – the public sphere. Why? Because, such moral act “bójúmu”.
Messrs Abati and Oshiomhole have in the past openly argued against the “withdrawal” of oil “subsidy”. Today, they defend the “withdrawal”. Mr. Abati used to be a writer with the Guardian Newspaper when he argued against “withdrawal” of oil “subsidy” while Mr. Oshiomhole used to be the Nigeria Labour Congress president when he also objected to the “withdrawal”. The question is: why did Abati and Oshiomhole claim that the “withdrawal” of “subsidy” was wrong yesterday but that it is correct today?
These gentlemen may claim that they have only argued that “withdrawal” of “subsidy” was wrong yesterday, and that they have not said it is correct today. They may argue that today, they have only stated and defended federal government position, and that they have not stated “their own personal” position. This invites a second question, which is: why should someone state and publicly defend a position that is contrary to his personal position?
A contradiction between a privately held position and a publicly defended position by the same person raises a serious ethical question of unquantifiable proportion. For Mr. Abati, this is where the moral problems in his position commence for he has described Nigerians who object to the “withdrawal” “alleged disrupters of law and order”. Based on his assessment of the protest his personal judgment and his role as an adviser merged. This is the exact moral nodal point where Mr. Abati’s initial morally problematic position becomes obviously unethical.
Messrs. Abati and Oshiomhole can resolve this moral absurdity by claiming that they actually believe that the “withdrawal” of oil “subsidy” is correct and that humans are free to change their position. This invites a third question: under which circumstance is it morally correct for a human to freely change his/her views? Should the circumstance be material such as change in someone’s fortune or misfortune or should the circumstance be new information and argument?
These are the difficult ethical issues in Messrs. Abati and Oshiomhole new position. Hence the final question is: how do we know if an act is morally worthy or unethical? In other words, how do we show the unethical nature in Abati and Oshiomhole’s act? As participating ?m?lúwàbí in the public sphere we can perceive the morality or otherwise of an act. The application of the concept “ko bojumu”- the violation of our perceptual space allows us to directly perceive the immorality or otherwise of Abati and Oshiomhole’s position. Given Messrs. Abati and Oshiomhole’s contradictory positions, we see a moral diminishing of labour and public discourse as units of the public sphere. We twitch, jerk and gasp morally at the moral gulf between a personal opinion and a defense of government position, which arose sequel to the change of fortunes. This raises serious ethical question about moral duplicity and moral fawning.
We morally twitch, jerk and gasp with moral pangs at this moral corrosion because the public sphere – of which labour and the media are part of – is a moral estate deserving the honor of consistency.
The one-time American President, Thomas Jefferson, is noted for saying: “whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct.” This may not explain all, but it helps to understand the moral duplicity of these two men.
Indeed, the most important ethical problem raised by Abati and Oshiomhole’s moral deception is a complete principled diminishing and belittling of the role of units of the public sphere such as the media and labour. Being former representatives of these units, persons are bound to ask if they should ever believe whatever the media and labour say on any issue. Herein lies the moral diminishing and impoverishment of the public sphere and public discourse. This is the ethical reason why we recoil, twitch, gasp and jerk, because Abati and Oshiomole represent an ethical violation of our collective being and our moral perceptual space. This act is morally unworthy because we are bound to ask: who is next? Who shall we believe again?
Adeolu Ademoyo is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.