The Mess Beneath Our Shoes

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
― Socrates

Never underestimate the power of an intelligent conversation. It’s ability to stir your thoughts, blending knowledge with humor and at the same time equipping you with the ability to link the past, present, and a predictable future.  I have had my fair share of such conversations, however, no conversation beats that between Cephalus, Polemarchus, Thrasymachus, Glaucon, Adeimantus, and Socrates.

At about 380 BC, Plato records one of the world’s greatest conversations in his book “The Republic”. If you haven’t read this book, you most probably must have come across the name somewhere sometime and wondered what it’s all about. Now, I won’t go about explaining this book but a brief (really brief) summary will be needed for me to go ahead with today’s topic. In simple but minced words, I can describe ‘The Republic’ as a book about Justice and why a man must be just. It goes ahead to prove that justice is something good and desirable, that it is more than convention, that it is connected to objective standards of morality, and that it is in our interest to adhere to it.

For over two and a half millennia, scholars have differed on the aptness of the city-soul analogy Socrates uses to find justice. The Republic is a dramatic dialogue, not a treatise. Socrates constantly refers the definition of justice back to the conditions of the city for which it is created. He builds a series of myths, or noble lies, to make the cities appear just, and these conditions moderate life within the communities. The “earth-born” myth makes all men believe that they are born from the earth and have predestined natures within their veins. Accordingly, Socrates defines justice as “working at that which he is naturally best suited,” and “to do one’s own business and not to be a busybody”  and goes on to say that justice sustains and perfects the other three cardinal virtues: Temperance, Wisdom, and Courage, and that justice is the cause and condition of their existence. Socrates does not include justice as a virtue within the city, suggesting that justice does not exist within the human soul either, rather it is the result of a “well ordered” soul. A result of this conception of justice separates people into three types; that of the soldier, that of the producer, and that of a ruler. If a ruler can create just laws, and if the warriors can carry out the orders of the rulers, and if the producers can obey this authority, then a society will be just.

This led Plato, to divide man’s parts into three; the Nous (mind), thomous (chest) and epitumia (stomach). These three classes of men he interpreted in the society as the Kings (rulers or nous), the soldiers (thomous) and the peasants (epitumia). As such, it is unwise for a Soldier or a Peasant to rule since he is not a thinker. Also, it is unwise for a Peasant or a King to go to war as a Soldier since he was not made for that role.

A lot of people have countered this by saying that it seems Plato had subjected the peasants to where they are and as such, they are not allowed to progress to soldiers. Fast forward from 380BC to this present times and you will agree with me that to an extent, Plato was right in his placements.

Our Present World 

The root of corruption in Nigeria is quite difficult to trace. However, Jide Olanrewaju in his documentary “A History of Nigeria” attributed this to Festus Okotie Eboh a one time minister of finance and the founder of Central Bank.

Today, corruption is so deep rooted in our society. Petty corruption is reportedly widespread and surveys indicate that it is very hard to do business in Nigeria without having to pay facilitation payments to public officials. Tax administration lacks transparency that has led to high levels of tax evasion and tax officials demanding bribes in return for lower tax rates. The police are perceived to be one of the most corrupt institutions in Nigeria, and X-Squad, the disciplinary body responsible for investigating corruption inside the police is reportedly corrupt themselves as well. However, contrary to all this, our president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan says there is no corruption in Nigeria but theft cases. In his words, ”What many Nigerians refer to as corruption is actually stealing.  Stealing is not the same thing as corruption.” Our president is supported by The Chairman of the ICPC (Independent Corrupt Practices Commission), Ekpo Nta.  He likened the Nigerian penchant to regard theft as corruption to be as erroneous as calling a roadside mechanic an engineer.

Now back to Plato’s thoughts on the society’s division, I have linked the problem of corruption and stealing in Nigeria to having the wrong people in wrong positions. It is common in this country for a man at the top to fix his ‘people’ at top positions. This has displaced the society Plato explained because these people most times do not belong to the class of Rulers and as such, they have little or no idea as to what ruling should really about. They are more engrossed in the benefits rather than the sacrifice and duties of a Ruler. There is, therefore, no way the society will progress as it should.

Now, I am not saying a child born to a peasant cannot aspire to be a ruler. Instead, for such a child to be a ruler he/she must first be able to free his mind from the life of a peasant. That is, stop thinking with his stomach but allow his mind to do the thinking. Poverty must be eradicated from his life first. It is only by doing this that such a peasant will become a good ruler because he is no longer driven by the benefits of Ruling but by what he can do to the society as a Ruler. A selfless being.

In our country today, a lot of leaders are wrongly chosen and all this is because of the erroneous principles of “who knows who” or “turn by turn democracy”  that Nigerians have adopted. Look at what’s happening concerning Presidential elections, the president is no longer chosen based on merits but based on what political zone he comes from. 2 tenures for each zone. Therefore, if it is the turn of the Southern zone but there is a reasonable and competent candidate from the West, he cannot be president because it is not yet his zone’s turn. Ridiculous right? but that’s the world we live, eat, sleep and walk in. A messy world.

After having a conversation with a friend, we concluded that indeed Nigerians have prayed enough and though we continue to pray, an effective source of relief to this messy world is to start acting. Don’t expect a miraculous change, let the change begin with you. Whosoever said “charity begins at home” wasn’t kidding. Reflect on the roles and positions you play; be you the head of your family, the first born child, the leader of that small club or Cds meeting, a course rep,  etc be sure to handle such a position with care. Always try to clean as much mess as you can wherever you find yourself. By so doing, when our generation gets to the top someday, we will live in a different and better world and finally be able to breathe in that ‘Fresh Air’ GEJ promised us years back.

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Do have a pleasant weekend ahead and remember to grab a plate of Amala with gbegiri soup, ewedu and goat meat. I had my first this week and it is a meal I will love to have again :D.

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