By Abdullahi Musa
A Nigerian newspaper uses this quotation from Shaykh Usman bin Fodio as its motto, “conscience is an open wound, only truth can heal it”. But with the state of human situation today, it is almost impossible to find an acceptable definition of what truth is. For instance, in the political arena, we are always right, and those who oppose us are always wrong.
Conscience pricks us to act in a certain way, or to refrain from acting in a certain way. A man or woman of conscience may not extricate a N1000 note from the hands of a five-year old on errand just because his parents are not watching. But experience has shown that instead of healing conscience with truth, many choose to kill it with falsehood. Were such to happen, the individual concerned may feel no qualms stealing from the child, as per our example above.
The quest for, and retention of power, has through the ages been conducted without the input of conscience. In the path to acquiring power, many had to throw away their conscience as an unwanted burden.
The law, in some ways is not dependent on our conscience. It operates even if we have no conscience to respect it with. An armed robber, who long ago had killed his conscience, would still be tried and sentenced if caught. On the part of those with conscience, they will not in the first place consider armed robbery as an option in their lives.
We are interested in conscience in Nigeria today, because those who lack it, are apparently in the majority in the corridors of power at various levels. But society never lacks those whose conscience is alive. They may be in business, are ordinary farmers, or they may aspire to hold power.
One of the key indicators to help us know men and women of conscience, is that they do not compromise on justice. They believe in, and act out the rule of law. The religion of Islam enjoins its adherents to be just even against next of kin.
In the Nigerian political climate, you do not expect a ruling party to prosecute its own for wrong doing, but will, in Satanic haste, try and punish one who is not its member. This will be so when it knows fully well that its members are equally guilty of the said offences for which it tried and punished those who do not belong to it. Were conscience alive in such actors, it would bar then from following the path of inequity. One would have wished to finish the article without mentioning names. But of recent, a political actor who does not belong to the ruling party, narrowly escaped death when a bomber tried to ram into his convoy. We do not rush into judgement to say so and so group is responsible. But that political actor has suffered immense trauma because he refuses to let his conscience die. It mag be that somebody wishes him dead. That person or group of persons does not have conscience.
But a question needs to be asked: should it be the norm that we live out our lives in defiance of the law we agree to govern our lives? We do not find it abnormal that others submit to the law when we are declared winners of elections. They stay back and watch his enjoy the perquisites of office, believing that there is another time they will contest again, and possibly win. But while waiting, they see the occupants of the thrones conducting themselves in defiance of the law. Their conscience pricks them to act: to speak out, to draw the attention of the electorate to this anomaly, and to offer themselves, as the law allows, as credible alternatives.
However, they get called names. And, as happened in other climes, may even be eliminated. Why should people of conscience be willing to lose their lives when even the society they intend to serve does not care? Men and women of conscience are not masochists. They behave the way they do because they believe in higher order. They do not believe that human beings should be so base as to live out their lives without respecting the law. But those without conscience are fighting back. They allude that those opposing them are no better. Why? May-be it is because a member of the opposition has been impeached from office for wrongdoings. He who comes to equity they say must come with clean hands.
Can we be allowed to say that the opposition be allowed to audit the books of those who govern the centre? If evidences are found, would a National Assembly not controlled by them be just enough to impeach the persons who approved the wrongdoings? Over their dead bodies! That is benefit of lacking conscience: you do unto others what you will not like others to do unto you. Why do we stomach injustice? Because majority of us cannot pay price that establishment of justice demands: it may sometimes call on us to sacrifice our lives.
To many, it is better to live without dignity, in slavery.
Abdullahi Musa via firstname.lastname@example.org