Morality is as old as any religious belief that exists in the world. There are schools of thought that believe that religion is a product of morality, and that any religion that does not dwell on moral values is not worthy of adherence. The place of morality, which in the early days among the African people was sacrosanct, has now been relegated to the background to the extent that it hardly influences any part of our lives, be it private or public.
Most of the African traditional beliefs or religions have morality at their base. The issue of morality is not a peculiarity of the African religions. It finds expression also in both Christianity and Islam. However, in spite of its existence, adherence of these two religions tend to throw it overboard while they substitute legality for it.
Democracy rides on the wheel of legality. The rule of law is the most important guiding principle of democracy, and this gives strength to the principle of human rights and the dignity of humanity, because these values are embedded in equality and justice. Therefore, democracy cannot operate maximally outside the rule of law.
Why most African democracies fail is because Africans copied everything about democracy, its practices, from the Western world, especially America. What they did fits in for description as “cut and paste.” Whereas, new wine should go into a new wineskin. What African leaders should have done with democracy is to customize it in such a way that morality would be the guiding principle of the constitution under which governance should be run.
Most of the time, there are conflicts between legality and morality. This is because law, which is a legal document, does not recognize morality for it is either legal or illegal. There is no place at all for morality in law. However, there are instances where law tries to agree with religion, and that is why you have Sharia cults in operation in some countries, especially among the Muslims. The relationship is real, but this is not the same with the other cults where proceedings have no recognition for religion or morality.
The absence of moral values in our behaviors as human beings is the major cause of hatred and other activities that do not engender peaceful coexistence, but violence and other destructive reactions to one another. A good example of the lack of morality in our society is the case of the governor of Ebonyi state, David Umahi, in Nigeria who was elected into office alongside his deputy under the platform of a party called the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). After being in office for some time, he unilaterally defected from the party that brought him to office to another party, APC, which is the ruling party in the country.
This reveals a man with competence but without character. The ex-governor, when he was asked to comment on the judgment delivered on Tuesday, March 8, 2022, by Justice Inyang Egwo of the Federal High Court Abuja, which sacked him, his deputy, and the fifteen members of the state House of Assembly who defected with him, he claimed that his action was constitutional in that the Constitution does not stop presidents, vice=presidents, and governors from defecting from one party to another. It does not matter even if the party they’re defecting from is the party that canvassed their votes and sponsored their elections. The case has now moved to the Federal Appeals Court.
This action, beyond a matter of legality, is that of morality. The governor tried to substitute morality for legality and these kind of behaviors account for why public office holders like him are considered irresponsible and undependable to say the least. Point of reference, let the African leaders under the aegis of the African Union consider customizing the African kind of democracy by crafting a constitution that will draw richly from the deposit of the African moral values, which are gradually phasing out for lack of use, the action which also accounts for the failures that we have recorded so far in Africa, due to bad governance and recklessness in the use of public funds to satisfy personal needs as opposed to public yearnings and aspirations.
African leaders fail in the practice of democracy not because those from whom we copied the system are better than them but because the system that the Africans are running with is not running with them, being alien to their traditional, cultural, and religious beliefs. It is time for Africans to reconsider their political ideologies with a view to fashioning out a system of government that suits the African environment.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the worst democracy is better than the best autocracy, but zeal without knowledge is a run-away horse.
amuel ‘Tunji Adeyanju