THE FALLACY OF REDUCTIONISM IN CONTEMPORARY NIGERIA

15th Nov. 2015

I will start off today’s piece by presenting my easy-to-understand definitions.

Reductionism: What is reductionism? It is the theory and practice of solving problems by placing attention on its simpler constituent parts or components. In other words, solving problems of the whole—which can be quite complex—can be realized by attention to the most important constituent—the one cause or the one outcome—of the whole.*

Holism: Simply the belief that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It is thought in this school that the nature of a thing or a complex system cannot be understood by breaking it apart but only by looking at it in its totality.

President Buhari has the onerous and thankless duty of transforming the Nigerian State from whatever it was to a nation on pedestals of economic prosperity, national safety, moral regeneration and renewed nationalism. He stands on the throes of history as probably Africa’s best candidate for most redefining presidential personality that Africa of the last 3 decades offers the world. He is indeed a man of history. There are however only two ways that he can go. He can, on the one hand sincerely restore Nigeria’s glory or on the other hand become the greatest anti climax of our political evolution. President Buhari in simpler terms can have his name written in gold in the greater interest of Nigeria or remain a flop till he moves on to other dimensions of existence.

For the records, we are better off with a performing Buhari not one that flops.

President Buhari’s leadership style so far has however shown him reducing Nigeria’s problems to one single factor – corruption. This is typical reductionism at work but it is, as far as I know a very ineffective perspective because the frames with which he views Nigeria’s problems determines the mindset that he adopts towards solving them. In India recently, he stated that the one singular thing he wants to be remembered for is that he “fought corruption to a standstill”. We are in trouble with such a predisposition and not necessarily because corruption is not a problem in Nigeria but the duty and job of a president is far and beyond that. Reducing our problem to corruption is simply being lazy about our historical and social dynamics. Corruption is with us, it always will be because humanity defies law and order by default. Do you doubt me? Read about Maddoff and the Ponzi Scheme he pulled in the United States just a few years back. Read about Obasanjo and his onslaught against corrupt public office holders. Read about the late Yaradua and his efforts. Drug barons are still among us, they will always be. Murdered and Armed Robbers are daily killed by the police but they have existed before Jesus and Prophet Mohammed and will continue till the rapture or death – whichever comes first. The concept of fighting corruption to a standstill is at best grandstanding and while it has value in the leadership by example model which I assume that he seeks, it is broadly only a short term razz matazz. The president creates a broader based environment of principles and support to agencies, individuals and families. The president needn’t be involved directly or personally or else other pressing matters of state like the economy, health, infrastructure suffer.

The president has a golden opportunity to look long term and act long term. Nigeria has been fixated on short, quick wins and so we fail to appreciate the enormity of our historical faults. The problem with reductionism is that it creates more problems. Let me cite an example. Harassing the former NSA Col. Sambo Dasuki creates more problems for not just Dasuki but the government itself. Are we surprised that the government is already backing out of an open trial and seeking a secret trial? Does prosecuting Dasuki and all the ministers of Jonathan and Jonathan himself stop the clerks in federal ministries from stealing stationery? Does prosecution of Diezani wipe out the penchant for theft that is common with public office holders? Does Mr President even think that within 2 years from now his ministers would not have devised their plots for self help? The fight against corruption must be activated within a continuum and built into the fabric of society with a long term scope in mind. If every president decided to treat one matter at a time per tenure, we will get to the promised land but probably after 3 centuries.

The job of Mr. President is “to preside”. In other words, to coordinate Nigeria through the various channels of governance under his control. He is not the police. He is not the courts. If he prosecutes and the courts throw cases out, would his battle against corruption and his ideals be said to have been served? Reductionism is old school and dated. It is why the Nigeria Police has had a difficult time tackling crime. Killing armed Robbers on highways while eliminating immediate risks creates new leadership opportunities in the underworld. A new leader always emerges – it is humanity. When you sack, you create new opportunities and are only lucky if the next guy aligns with you or else he devises new strategies. Reductionism does not look at the long term overall implications of actions. With all the traffic regulations and lights on American streets, people still get fined on the regular – meanwhile with all due respect, today’s America is Nigeria’s anticipated future. Can we take a cue? Can we step back and learn without necessarily going the same route of errors?

Can Mr. President adopt creative holism to advance his leadership interests rather than the limited reductionist approach he is taking to tackle one-by-one, the broader and bigger issues of national development? Can we attempt to understand the interdependence and loops of our deviant behaviours with a view to fundamentally shifting the issues to ones that provide a longer lasting platform for growth? Can we assess how one behaviour gets reinforced or balanced by another behaviour thereby sustaining or eliminating that behaviour? When a Nigerian steals money, he does not do so because he has a sick son or because his family sleeps in the rain. He does not do so because he does not have a car to drive. He does not do so vecause he does not have good clothe. We live in a society that pursues the “better”, the “higher”, the “grander” as the minimum standard. We got it all wrong. We love the material and hedonistic – it is our culture. We believe in bigger is better. We believe that the folks in Lekki are better than the folks in Ajegunle without empirical reasoning attached to it. We are that messed up.

Can the military quash a socio-cultural problem? Can the new Customs boss tackle problems of deficient mentalities? Can Buhari cure mental laziness in the populace with the Army? If the problems of Nigeria are seen beyond the surface/touch point type to careful re-appraisal of values that we have tied to our socialization, then I may assume that indeed we have commenced the journey to self discovery. Holism requires that you do not only treat physical/known malaise but seek to contextualise it within a bigger picture.

Why does the police not effectively tackle corruption for instance? Let me create a long chain of possibilities. A child grows up liking the beach and realises that to get to the beach, they have to drive a long distance across a long bridge to get to the area where there is a beach. He realises that when they go for school competitions the children that cross the bridge down to their area always seem to enjoy preferential treatment from the judges. He finishes from a state polytechnic and realises huge discrimination in his orientation camp and with employers. He gets into a job and realises that he has limitations and is often disregarded in decision making. He gets to own a small house somewhere before the bridge but has vowed that his children would not go through same delisting “dishonour”. He however has a son that seems to have a knack for investigations and does well in his Sociology class in the university. He wants to get a job and the father bars him from joining the police since majority of them live before the bridge and after.
Society in Nigeria makes it look like it is an anomaly to have police constables and recruits live in Lekki. Can you comprehend that the civil defence corps has its junior quarters located on Adeola Hopewell in Victoria Island? Is it possible to have low earners live in high brow areas in Nigeria? This joke is why you will always have people want to steal to comform to their own definitions of success. So Buhari can fight all he can but as long as the reinforcement loops instituted by society (not him now) and operated by society remains, fighting its many manifestations will be almost impossible. Government leadership is required to paint a bigger picture to us.

Government may want to identify and name our channels of corruption and communicate same, clearly articulated and shared with Nigerians. How is it done sef??? The “how” and “when” should be demystified. We do not need actual names. Citizen re-orientation through social institutions – educational, religious, hip hop, popular culture, social media, the media, etc would go a long way in saving us huge expedition on trials in the future. Family Exchanges where government encourages families to meet and discuss issues of national orientation and the new direction of government may become necessary. Government must be involved in a structured and formal way to assist the nucleus of society on pursuing a mindset reset. Buhari cannot remain the only one that is honest. He should lead other fathers to his status. He should lead all men to become like him.

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