In my office, pens go missing all the time. I’m not sure if people simply appropriate them for use, or if it’s just a bad habit. So, I stopped bringing nice pens to the office and started buying cheap biros instead.

Sometimes, people get irritated and shout about their pens going missing. This has a dual effect. Firstly, it’s preventive. When everyone is aware that people are mad about their pens going missing, they are less likely to steal them. Or at the very least, they are more careful about whom they steal from. Secondly, shouting is therapeutic as it helps the person who has been wronged to air their grievances and to seek justice. However, this does not stop stealing.

One could put laws and surveillance measures in place and even lay out dire consequences for stealing. But this seems like a joke to some people. “Is it not just pens?!” They forget that a pen is still another person’s property and a pen thief today, will become a sandwich thief tomorrow.

Another tack may be to organise orientation programmes on integrity, and to explain why the senior staff should live by example by buying their own pens. One could argue the sociological effects of escalation and how little foxes spoil the vine. Some staff will repent, having understood the error of their ways. Others will simply become politically correct while others are looking, but won’t fundamentally change. They really don’t see anything wrong with “borrowing” a pen or two.

Management can simultaneously address senior staff while putting in place plans to acculture new ones. New staff will come in tabula rasa without a pen stealing habit. They have idealistic hopes and youthful energy. They are trainable and moldable. Whatever culture you present to them is what they will adopt. If they are inculcated with a strict no-stealing policy and are tasked as missionaries to rid the workplace of stealing, they will champion it.

This story is an analogy of social change in Nigeria. We have a culture of social injustice that is so ingrained, that people still argue over what injustice is. The victims shout in pain and society sluggishly tries to put in place legal protections. We focus on the acts, but rarely orient the minds that produce them. Thus, there is little change and generations are born into the same retrogressive belief systems. Like Americans, who in one breath voted for a blackish President then in another, voted for an allegedly racist one, sustainable social change is difficult if society never gets to the root of social problems.

Nigeria has a chance to draw a line in the sand by targeting the younger generation and by re-examining generally accepted belief systems. The probability of reorienting older minds is slim. We can begin to develop new narratives that shape culture from the bottom up. I’m not sure how this will work in practical terms, but I think it’s the only chance we’ve got for sustainable social change.

Nigeria has an ingrained culture of social injustice. Click To Tweet Nigeria must re-examine generally accepted belief systems. Click To Tweet