Building a Value-based Society

Originally Posted 29th November 2010 by Ibraheem Sanusi


Ladies and Gentlemen let me begin by appreciating the organizers and the entire membership of Rotaract Club of Ota for their kind invitation extended to me and the honour of delivering the lecture at this induction ceremony. I feel very honoured to be invited to perform this patriotic task.

My liberty to speak is bound within the frame of Rotary’s theme for the year; Building Communities — Bridging Continents. These four words completely epitomize the work of the Rotary International since it was founded by Paul P. Harris. Your core values of service, fellowship, diversity, integrity, and leadership with other people and organizations, the Rotaract Clubs and by extension the Rotary International, has continued to oil the engine of social development around the world through their activities and programs. This is highly commendable in a world where we all require a helping hand from time to time. I join the world in celebrating you and salute your efforts internationally.

The task before me today is not just an academic exercise; it’s an examination of the present decay that pervades the entire landscape of our lives and living and a call to action for everyone of us. My wish and prayer is that we will have the strength and courage to do the needful at the end of this exercise. It must not be a one-off event.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the state of our society calls for sober reflection. We are in a quagmire so to say. We live in a world where the word “humane” has lost all its meanings. It’s sickening that, what were hitherto the standards of our society have been debased. Nothing seems to budge or bother us anymore. We have safely parked at the atrophy of values close!

Before we go in-depth into the core of the crisis situation we are in, let’s examine what the key words that will keep re-occurring during the course of this discourse.

At the 26th Farm House Dialogue of the Africa Leadership Forum in 1993 on Society and Value System[1], it was reasoned that the definition of society must include; in a hierarchical and ascending order; individual citizens, families, clans, villages, towns, wards, local governments and states. I mean those who govern and the governed constitute the society.

At the same meeting, it was posited that “values helps to determine the socialization patterns in the society”. In other words, values forms the foundation on which the entire fabric of a society is built. It is the measure with which questions of “is it right and to what extent” can be answered. It is the standard measurement for what is right or wrong in any society and basis for which punishments are meted out. Value system on the other hand, is the agglomeration of individual accepted preferences and serves as a guide and judge of acceptable and non acceptable behavior in the society.

Values can be purely ethical or moral. It forms standard practices in professions like law, medicine, accounting etc which dovetails into doctrinal and ideological (religious, political) social and ofcourse aesthetic values.

In the context of this paper, we shall dwell more on the Social values which in some literature can be referred to as Social norms. These norms are the behaviors and cues within a society or group. It is regarded as the rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. These rules may be explicit or implicit. Failure to follow the rules can result in severe punishments, including exclusion from the group. So for any value system to evolve, values must become a shared belief of the larger society.

Let me reiterate that no one is born with specific values. We are only born into families, communities and societies which in turn PROMOTE, TEACH and IMPART our values into us. The question therefore arises that, if we are a product of our societal values, what are those values of our society?

I will for the benefit of the number of us, who were born in the last three decades, attempt a recount of the societal values of the days of yore.

The Yoruba people have a long-standing tradition on issues relating to conduct in the society. This is evident in the concept of the word “OMOLUABI”. An omoluwabi is regarded as a good person of integrated personality, who demonstrates fairly well the positive use of the mental, physical and psychological features of the human person, as well as moral uprightness in his/her life in society[2]. Omoluwabi denotes a person who has been nurtured in accordance with societal values. He has deep knowledge and skill in certain areas of life, and develops a sense of responsibility to the society, which is evidently shown in private and public actions. Thus in Yoruba land, an Omoluabi is seen as the end product of Yoruba socialization.

An Omoluabi is expected to live above offences such as theft which is often punishable by imposition of fine, public beating and singing of disgraceful songs to the culprit and restoring the stolen property to the owner. The thief is often ridiculed in the society. Ashes were sprinkled on him. His hands were tied and he was marched round the town with the shouts of Ole! Ole!!. Indeed, the act of theft was considered criminal and as such it leads to the loss of frame in the society.

Again, lets look at the handling of offenses like Debt. The penalty of debt is often the collective responsibility of the debtor’s family. The debtor’s families were usually responsible for the payment of the debt or fulfillment of the judgment of the court. That is why most traditional Yoruba families will rather starve to death than allow their kinsman take a loan they are sure he is incapable of paying[3]. Ofcourse the size of your willingly unpaid debt today is the sign of “bigmanism” in our present society.

Communal farmland, economic interests like the market-place, stream, or shrine are generally surrounded with taboos, including who may or may not enter, and when and under what circumstances people are permitted or not to enter such places. Stealing is abhorred. It is in fact, an abomination to steal things relating to people’s vital life-interests and occupation, like yam crop (Ji) among the sedentary farm cultivating communities of traditional Igboland, or stealing fish held in a trap laid by someone in a stream or river among the fishing communities of Ogoni and Kalabari in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria. There are also special restrictions and norms regulating the behaviour of people towards public functionaries like lineage heads, the king or queen, traditional priests, diviners and medicine-practitioners. Such persons are generally regarded as specially sacred, and representative of the community. Their residence is equally sacred. So, are instruments of their office.

It should be emphasized that the vast majority of norms, taboos and prohibitions were directed towards protecting the community and promoting peace and harmony. Above all, it is to ensure that the dominant values were; respect for parents and elders generally including constituted authorities, dignity of labour and hardwork, integrity, truthfulness and honesty, abhorrence of corruption, sharing and caring with mutual respect for each other, a strong belief in the Supreme, respect for the sanctity of life, hospitality, filial piety etc

Today, things have fallen apart! The centre obviously cannot hold again.

Yes it is true that the days of yore have to make way for the current days of modernity. In the case of our society in particular, the advent of the white man and colonialism as well as formal education in the pattern of western civilization, the consequences of distant travel, various forms of intra-and inter-tribal, ethnic, racial and cultural assimilation, the thoughtless copy-cat trend or emulation of foreign values, attires, cuisine, their mannerisms, their films, drama, literature, etc, all make this change inevitable[4].

We live in a society today, where morality has been thrown into the winds. No one seems to care anymore and “no society can function well with fools, rascals, or non-leaders in leadership positions” (Gardner, 1978, p.133). But is this not the reality of our society today with most of the characters in various leadership positions today.

We have elders who cannot comport themselves with integrity. Authority figures who do not care about the feelings and aspirations of those they govern. Family heads who cannot keep the family chord in harmony. Fathers who cannot live exemplary lives for their wards or how do we explain families who abhor children who flagrantly live on proceeds from cybercrime.

We have become so daring that the religious institution have not been spared in our immodest acts and behaviours. The stench coming out various religious houses is too foul to be inhaled. People stealing “God’s own money” under various disguise! While people in government are looting brazenly, the people in private sector are brainlessly following suite.

I often wonder at the hypocrisy in our society. We all say it is wrong for the president to steal but cool for a relative of ours in government to “chop” what he can before his time is up often hiding under the proverb that “it’s only a mad man who will not plough to his side”. We all complain about the quality of Nigerian graduates, yet we buy question papers and “expos” for our wards under the guise JAMB is “jamming” them.

We cannot continue like this and expect a different result. A philosopher once said, its only a mad man, who will do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. No society will grow in a situation like this. We need to start reconstructing the entire structure of the society on a totally different basis of legitimacy. I am an ardent believer in the collective reconstruction of this society because as we have seen, it was our collective neglect of positive values that has led to the present destructive state that we find ourselves.

I will attempt to proffer some areas of focus that will assist in the rejuvenation of a value-based society.

First and foremost, a Yoruba adage states clearly that a river who forgets its source, will surely dry up. We have to retrace our steps. I know the renaissance men and women amongst us will jump at me for daring to take us back to the so called dark ages. However, the people of those ages have proven to have lived a more dignified life than we do presently. There are positive takeaways from those days.

The family unit must return back to its responsibility as the first socialization contact for the child. Children are wont to mirror the attitudes of parents or authority figures around them. We must show leadership and character. We must interact and get to know our wards. We cannot leave our responsibility of training our wards to the society alone. The best the society can do would be an appendage to what a child was brought up with. The home forms the basis of whatever ideology or beliefs a child will take on in life.

Our religious institution should comport themselves more like a Godly institution rather than a business or an affluence-exhibition centre. Religion and belief in the Supreme is meant to guide the actions and serve as a caution for human in their day to day behaviour. This requires the constant teaching of the essence of life and its vanity. Senseless accumulation of wealth and unnecessary braggadocio by religious leaders will send the wrong signals to their teeming followers.

Traditional rulers should devote themselves to the institutions they are meant to protect. As the custodians of our cultural values and norms, they should be seen to uphold the tenets of our traditional society. A situation where traditional rulers have turned rascally or seen at government secretariats running after some government contracts or the other further debases our traditional institutions. Activities that will further enrich young people to their cultures should be encouraged. I am a strong believer in the ideals, values and norms of our traditional society!

The government is a reflection of the larger society. It is populated by our fathers, mothers, uncles, aunties, brothers, sisters, nephews, cousins, in-laws and the likes. We can only make a change, if we ourselves change our ways. The era of pointing accusing fingers at the government is over. If there is a change needed at that level the ball is in our court.

More instructive is the fact that as a nation, we are preparing for the next general elections. We can only expect that reinforcing mechanisms for the right values and norms will be put in place by individuals who have the credibility and courage to go all the way. These are the individuals who deserve our vote. Until we begin to put the right persons in positions of authority, we will continue to spend hours on roads that should normally take minutes!

Like my boss, Ayodele Aderinwale, MFR will usually say, there are the same kinds of politicians all over the world. The only difference is that, in developed societies, there are restrictive mechanisms that make impunities impossible. If you steal, and you are caught, you go to jail. In more cultural environments like Asia, the shame of being caught or even alleged of wrongdoing has made a number of leaders commit suicide.

For us as Rotractors, we have our values clearly formulated and nurtured over decades through the efforts of early Rotarians and Rotractors alike. The Object of Rotary is meant to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise and to further encourage;

· The development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service;

· High ethical standards in business and professions, the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations, and the dignifying of each Rotarian’s occupation as an opportunity to serve society;

  • The application of the ideal of service in each Rotarian’s personal, business, and community life;
  • The advancement of international understanding, goodwill, and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service.

These are clear values that are expected of us to be exhibited in and around the community. We must subscribe to these values in its entirety and be seen to believe in them. We must say what we mean and mean what we say.

We must always check our acts against the standards we have prescribed for our self in the Four-Way Test. We must always check if the things we think, say or do is the TRUTH; Is FAIR to all concerned; will build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS; and finally be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

In doing all these, we are already making the world a better place. In ensuring that we speak the truth, we would be careful about what we say and do. We will be cautious in our utterances. We will not be seen stirring up tribal or religious strides. Ofcourse, giving consideration to the ego and feelings of the other persons brings fairness and more understanding which ofcourse will be bring about more long lasting friendships built across gender, religion, and ethnic divides. All these, will only bring a more peaceful and harmonious living environment for all people.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my challenge to us today is simple.

The onus is on us to seek for change and commit to it with all our heart. It will not come easy. Hard choices and decisions have to be made. No society grows based on the wishful thinking of the few. We must reflect, intervene and salvage the situation before it gets really worse.

Organisations like the Rotaract Club of Ota should be our oasis in the present desert. Its members must be shining lights in our society and provide the right mentorship for more young people in the society. Its members should epitomize the model youth of today and the future.

I strongly believe that though our society is far from perfect, we still have shining examples of integrity and honesty. We should use platforms like this to showcase them to the world. That is the only way we can prove to the world that our society is one of positive values, though there are deviants, they do not represent us.

In summary, the making of a value-based society must start at the individual level. Positive values must be imbibed individually and exhibited by all at the before it can become a shared societal value. This is when it will begin to impact on our ways of life and affect the yet unborn generation.

It is our responsibility to preserve that unborn generation from the impunities of today.

I thank you all for listening and I wish the inductees a successful regime ahead.


[1] Society and Value System — Report of the 26th Farm House Dialogue which held between 4th and 6th June 1993

[2] A.K. Fayemi and O.C. Macaulay-Adeyelure Traditional Yoruba Notion of Education and the Contemporary African Quest for Development 41

[3] The nature of reprimand in the traditional Yoruba society; Oladiti Abiodun Akeem — Medwell Online 2006

[4] Society and Value System — Report of the 26th Farm House Dialogue which held between 4th and 6th June 1993

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