Right now, at a junction in Abuja. Mr A’s car hit Mr B’s car from behind. Mr A comes out of his car yelling at Mr B, at the top of his voice. Mr B, remained calm and did not even protest, despite the crash not being his fault. Mr A persisted on yelling. Mr B made a simple phone call and 10 minutes later, a truck full of army soldiers come. The rest is well… a valuable lesson in pain and humiliation for Mr A.
Last week, at a parking lot in Abuja. A woman (you know women can’t drive) reversed into a man’s car. The man’s car is a Peugeot 406. On coming out she started yelling at the victim of her bad driving. He pointed out that it was actually her fault and that she should be the one apologizing. Being that she comes from a well off middle class family, and her husband is well off enough to buy her a Honda CRV, she felt that was an insult. Infuriated at the man’s lack of concern which made her look like a mad woman, she slapped the man. Then she said: wait until my husband comes. She called her husband, while the slapped man made a phone call too (perhaps to his wife). Her husband arrived at the scene to save the day by further putting that man in his place; the husband started yelling at the man. The man said nothing. Soon enough guess what appeared… yes a truck full of army soldiers came. So the man didn’t call his wife after all! The first thing one of the soldiers did was to “sweep” the husband off his feet, reducing his height as if to put him in place where a civilian ought to be before a general. Then the lessons began. The next day the battered husband leaves the guard-room of a nearby army barrack thinking about what to do to his wife for getting him into this humiliating (and hurtful) experience.
Ohh did you hear about this one…
Last month, at a road-side paid parking space in Abuja. A man parked but could not find the ticket seller around, so he parked without paying. He came back and his car was clamped. He told the parking officials that their actions were unjustified but they refused to listen. He brought out his phone to make a phone call… I’m sure you get how the story goes at this point.
All these stories, true or not, have a pattern. To avoid debating about its authenticity, I refer to them as parables because they are all about lessons and morals. So what is the lesson common to all these parables? It may be tempting to say the lesson is that the army officer is always right, or the army officer is calm and level headed until he (not she) gets pushed. All these are lessons derived from these stories but two other lessons are of interest to this post. The first lessons is that one should treat every other person with respect because you don’t know WHO they are. The second lesson is that it is permissible for the army to behave like gangsters. I hope, like me, you think these lessons if accepted result in a dysfunctional society.
The main worry is that these dysfunctional lessons have been accepted and imbibed by us. In fact, we are purveyors of these lessons over time, like religious traditions passed through generations. This is “scientifically” proven because I designed and conducted an experiment. I created a fictional story with the pattern of the above parables; so it became a parable. My version was more dramatic because someone gets slapped and beaten on the scene before the main “lessons” begin. What follows is my experiment. I created two versions of the same story. In the first version of story, I tell my experiment targets the story where a citizen makes a phone call to his buddies to serve as his muscles in “dealing” with the situation. Then I tell the second version of the story (which changes in inconsequential detail) where it is an army officer calling a truck of soldiers to do his bidding. Then I ask for the legal and moral analysis of the situation, in a casual way of course. The general response from my targets is that what the citizen did is unlawful, gangsterly, and wrong. However in the case of the army officer, they are not unanimous if it is unlawful, certainly not gangsterly, and not wrong. Amazing! We have a different set of morality for military and for other citizens. Is military above the law? Theoretically we say no to this question. In practice, we believe and act like so.