By Valentine Achum
“We must start to place the interest and plight of our suffering people high on top of our action agenda.”
– J. J Rawlings
In chapter four of his book, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation written in 1789, Jeremy Bentham proposed a method of working out the sum total of pleasure and pain produced by an act, and thus the total value of its consequence. He proposed that when determining what action is right in a given situation, we should consider the pleasures and pains resulting from it in respect of their intensity, duration, certainty, propinquity, fecundity, purity and extent. This idea is a utilitarian principle which stresses the fact that it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people that is the measure of right and wrong, and that the best moral action is the one that maximizes the well-being of sentient entities. This principle is called the hedonistic or felicific calculus.
Exactly two hundred and twenty-two years since Jeremy Bentham propounded this idea, the United Nations General Assembly in 2011 passed a resolution, inviting member countries to measure the happiness of their citizens to help guide their public policies in responding to what makes their citizens happy. Although, the 2016 world happiness report places Denmark as the happiest country in the world, Bhutan- a country in Southern Asia, however, became the first country to officially adopt gross national happiness (GNH), instead of gross domestic product (GDP) as their main development indicator.
The variables, however, used in ranking countries according to how happy its citizens are include: GDP per capita, social support, health, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and trust. With Denmark taking the lead in this ranking, Switzerland and Iceland are the 2nd and 3rd happiest country in the world, while Norway, Finland, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand, Austria and Sweden follow suit as fourth to tenth position respectively, with the United States of America maintaining 131st position.
Out of the 157 countries being ranked, Nigeria occupies 131st position. This means that we are happier than only 12 countries out of the remaining 156 countries. Indeed! Not a type of score sheet to be happy about. We are suffering, but certainly not smiling as widely portrayed.
For when one is being beaten by excruciating sun, his frown unveils his teeth such that it looks like he is actually smiling. However, the least our government could do to put smiles on the faces of the generality of Nigerians has already been prescribed in section 14 (2) (b) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which states that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government’’. Perversely, when a set of people described as cattle herdsmen can wake up one morning and decide who to kill speaks volume about how ‘secured’ the life of the average Nigerian really is.
When prices of basic commodities such as tomato, yam, garri, kerosene, amongst others seem to be hugging and romancing the sky without any corresponding increase in worker’s salary says a whole lot about how ‘guaranteed’ our welfare truly is. Our Naira which used to be N1 to $1 under Mohammadu Buhari as military Head of State, is now at its weakest and volatile state under Mohammadu Buhari as civilian President. Now, one could stay a whole week without power.
Sincerely, the average Nigerian cares less about who is being investigated for corruption charges or how much is being recovered from the fight against corruption. What he really cares about is his security and welfare. Can he get access to the best medical attention within this country without having to pay through his nose? Can he get access to good education for his kids, or scholarship for his kids without knowing one oga-at-the-top somewhere? Can he comfortably move around for business on good roads? Can he get access to an appreciable degree of electric power without hiding from IKEDC officials when they come to cut his light due to exorbitant bills? Can he easily get access to loans to do business and fulfil his dream of being a successful entrepreneur? Can his child who just graduated from College be at the same level with children of elites when they apply for a job in the public service? Can his income cater for his family needs?
I am sure there are many other pertinent questions on your mind, but the basic fact remains that not much has been done by government to make Nigerians happy. Nigerians only manage to try and make themselves happy, and until the earlier government starts to realise that an unhappy people cannot be properly united and cannot produce good result, the better. The reason why former USSR got dissolved was that they were producing more guns than fun. They were producing more guns than food. They were paying more attention to their enemies much more than the welfare of their people. And as late Professor Claude Ake once instructed, man must eat before he does any other thing. Although, man cannot live by bread alone, it is a profound truth that man cannot live without ‘bread’. As CNN’s Richard Quest once warned, let us ‘’never count dollars before bodies’’. No matter how much is being recovered from PMB’s fight against corruption, his success in that area would not be taken more seriously than a pinch of salt if the spate of suffering currently staring us in the face continues unabated. It is not the fight against corrupt people that matters.
It is about what measure is being put in place to restrict people from engaging in corrupt practices. It is about strengthening and making corruption busters such as EFCC, ICPC and the Judiciary more independent and impenetrable, and leave them to do their job- not doing their job for them. This is what President Barack Obama meant when he recommended strong institutions and not strong men. If any single individual can control the EFCC according to his whims and caprices, it means that the fight against corruption is only a waste of time.
What government must focus on is how to put smiles on our suffering faces. This, on its own, will boost the morale of the people and help in bringing about the growth and development we need in our private and national lives, because a happy man produces better result. It does not require a HR expert to understand this. It does not require a sociologist to explain this, neither does it need a rocket scientist to be able to solve this equation.
* Achum writes from University of