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Community ethics


Kole Omotoso

In a world that celebrates individual achievements it is not a surprise that communitarian ethics should be disappearing.

In a country where the faith of the daughter cannot save the father why would communal salvation matter to the family? In a culture where proverbs abound in praise of the one victor against a multitude of victims community or communitarian ethics are matters for museum keeping. These are some of the thoughts occasioned by comments about the loss of morals and ethical behaviour in our society today.

The level of criminality bugles the mind. Mention any crime, it is being committed as we speak. And why is this so? It is so, we are told by the elders that community ethics no longer bind anyone. The love of money has taken over everything. People would do anything for money today. As if the same did not exist yesterday.


Out traditional fathers, royal and ordinary, bombard us with stories of communal care in ancient times, perhaps when they were young. When precisely were these ancient times when everybody behaved themselves and life was sweet from morning till night and then from night to the following morning?

There are incontrovertible evidence that the past is as full of criminalities as the present. It is in that past that we hear such proverbs as ‘you must return no matter how late into the night, is for other people’s child’, and ‘if you spare the heel of a crazy man whose heel are you going to chop off?’ Where here is the communitarian concern of the ancient times?

Over the years, there is no doubt that the community we speak of has expanded beyond the 200 eyes that constitute fame in our Yoruba word for ‘famous’ ‘GBAJUMỌ’ that is ‘igba oju mọ’ someone who is known to two hundred eyes. And with the expansion of the village ballooning into mega cities village community ethics would no longer bind.

In the little world of the village where these community ethics worked there were secret cults dedicated to keeping everyone on their toes. Such cults were kept secret to ensure that the sword of public justice remained anonymous and communal. People didn’t simply remain on the straight and narrow road because they were living in the ancient times.

Anyway they didn’t see themselves living in the ancient times at that time. Ancient to us today, to them it was their now. Punishment, measured to offences, followed infractions just as night follows day. There were always repercussions and consequences to every act and every action. You knew that the head that sins must carry the consequences.


In spite of a modern world of individual ambitions and successes, some superstitions have developed with the rise of the individual. Did these superstitions exist before the of money? Where do the twin concepts of Owo anabo and agbana come from? Translated into English it means money that ‘disappears’ other money.

The idea is that someone can deliberately pay you a single note of whatever denomination, which if you put among your money will disappear all your money and take them back to the person who gave you the money.

One community activity that shows the erosion of communal ethics in its present practice is ESUSU or AJỌ the ancient traditional form of capital accumulation for specified projects. A group of people pay x amount of money per day or week or month and the membership of the group take turns accessing the money for their use.

So, if 20 people are involved, it means that everyone gets to use 20x amount of money for major projects in their lives.

ESUSU or AJỌ is one of the African traditions that has survived from the post-slavery communities of Africans in the Caribbean and the southern states of the USA. In the English speaking areas of the West Indies it is called Meeting Turn, a direct translation of AJỌ.

In the French speaking areas it is called SOU-SOU, because it involves a small amount of money SOU being “a former French coin of low value”. Could it not be that in the French speaking parts of the Caribbean ESUSU became SOU-SOU?


In those ancient times our elders and royal fathers speak of no one could cheat in the organisation of esusu.

The person who leads the esusu as ALAJỌ could not simply up and take the people’s money and varnish. Or he or she could not come and tell the people involved in the esusu that some anabo or agbana had taken the money and gone away. There would be consequences. It would be the last time that such a person would be allowed to be part of such an organisation. More importantly, the person would be forced to repay those who have been cheated.

Today we do not have an academic publication on fraud in esusu but anecdotal evidence shows that cheating has become so rampant in esusu to the extent that it no longer functions as a means of capital formation. Sometimes the ALAJỌ defaults. He collects the money but does not remit to the person due for it.

He could explain that he has been the victim of anabo or agbana.

Sometimes it is one of those contributing who collect early and runs away, thus avoiding contributing to the other members of the group.

To ensure that the members of the group are protected, the collective ensures that such suspect participant are not due to take their turn until every one has taken. Another precaution is to ensure that every participant has a regular source of earning to thus their ability to continue to contribute to the end.

Ultimately, recourse is made to the defaulting person’s social circle. In the new world of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other social media it is not difficult to circulate news of a defaulting member of AJỌ.

The world has returned to a global village where, through social media hundreds of eyes know you. Furthermore, you don’t need to give cash that could be disappeared by other magical cash. You can make transfers on your smart phone or your i-Pad. Thus technology solves our problem and allows us to continue to be individuals while practising our community ethics.

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