DR ROSELINE ONAH
Department of public administration
And local government
University of Nigeria
The prevalence of unethical behaviour in the Nigerian public service has become a cause for public concern. Much of the inefficiencies in the Nigerian public service have actually been blamed on poor ethical standards among public administrators. The organisation of human and material resources which is the subject matter of public administration demands high ethical and moral standards for efficiency to be achieved. This article presents three basic moral theories in the field of normative ethics which should guide decision making in public administration. It also highlights ways of instituting ethics in Nigerian public administration using the United States code for workers in government service as a guide. The writer identifies numerous unethical behaviours among Nigerian public administrators and proffers suggestion for tackling the problem
- supplementing Nigeria’s code of conduct for public service with a code of ethics;
- giving the National Judicial Council the sole authority to appoint members of the code of Conduct Tribunal;
- inclusion of the code of ethics in school curricula; and
- stiff penalties for defaulters.
Ethics deals with what is good and bad, and with moral duty and obligation. Morality in turn stands for principles concerning right and wrong or good and bad behaviour. An ethical behaviour must invariably be morally sound, the reverse being the case for an unethical one. There is therefore no compartment between ethics and morality with respect to behaviour.
Ethics is the easiest element of public administration to discuss and yet the most problematic to apply. It is the easiest to discuss because people are naturally drawn to the good. They desire to praise good actions and blame bad ones, to do good actions, to seem to themselves good persons. The problem of application emanates from the fact that man’s nature that draws him to the good also makes him easy prey to wrongdoing; between moral knowledge and moral action, there is a wide chasm.
Ethics and morality though indispensable to efficient public administration have not received due attention from scholars in the discipline. However, there is evidence of the burgeoning of interest in the area. In 1982, the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) published a standard and ethics workbook and study guide which, admirably was meant to sensitize public administrators to ethical issues (Mainzer, 1991:21). The ethics in Public Services Network was also formed in 1987 in the United States and by 1988 had 840 members. ASPA held its annual conference on “Ethics in Government” in November 1987 to foster dialogue among public officials and interested intellectuals (Mainzer: 21). In 1988, the international City Management Association published what it said was the first comprehensive book on ethics in local government. There were also similar developments in Europe.
This growing interest in ethics and morality in public administration is very apt especially in third world countries such as Nigeria, where unethical and immoral behaviours pervade the public service. This also informs this article. Specifically, its objectives are as follows:
- To highlight ways of instituting ethics and morality in the public service;
- To examine the problems of ethics and morality in Nigerian public
- To identify the major causes of unethical behaviour in the Nigerian public
- To proffer suggestion towards improving ethical standards in public
administration in Nigeria.
The Collins Dictionary of English Language defines ethics as “a social, religious or civil code of behaviour considered correct, especially that of a particular group, profession or individual”. The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary in turn defines it as, “moral principles that govern or influence a person’s behaviour”. Outside the realm of academic definitions, ethical behaviours are actions deemed morally good.
In organizations, managers or administrators compete for information, influence and resources. These create potential conflict situations with regard to selecting the appropriate means to those factors as well as the appropriate ends. The question of what criteria should guide ethical behaviour also comes to focus.
Three basic moral theories in the field of normative ethics have been developed in this respect (Weihrich and Koontz, 1994:71). First, the utilitarian theory, which suggests that plans and actions should be evaluated by their consequences. The underlying idea is that plans or actions should produce the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Second, the theory based on rights which holds that all people have basic rights. For instance, fundamental human rights- rights to life, freedom of speech, religious worship, conscience etc, as contained in the Nigerian constitution. Third is the theory of justice. This demands that decision makers should be guided by fairness and equity as well as impartiality. There is no doubt that if public administrators operate on the bases of these theories, their actions will all be ethical. The application of these theories in decision making is diagrammatically presented in figure 1.
Figure 1:- A Decision Tree for Incorporating Ethics unto Organizational Decision
Source: Adapted from Weihrich and Koontz 11994) Management Singapore McGraw Hill incorporated, P. 72.
The figure demonstrates that where the answers to the ethical questions raised are in the affirmative, the decision should be accepted but if in the negative, it should be rejected. However, where overwhelming factors exist for going contrary to the ethical issues raised in the theories, such a decision should be accepted.
Institutionalizing Ethics in Public Administration
It is the responsibility of top managers’ administrators to create an organizational environment that foster ethical decision making by institutionalizing ethics and morals in the organization. This can be achieved primarily by establishing a code of ethics.
A code is a statement of policies, principles or rules that guides behaviour. A code of ethics for public administration should therefore highlight and emphasize those actions by employees that would lead to the optimization of the organizational objectives while at the same time, not compromising other interests inside and outside the organization. The following code for person: in the United States government services drawn from public Law 96-303, 1980 is illustrative (Weihrich and Koontz: 1994 73-75): Any person in government service should:
- Put loyalty to the e highest moral principles and to-country above loyalty to
persons, party or government department.
- Uphold the constitution, laws, and regulations of the United States and of all governments therein and never be a party to their evasion.
- Give a full day’s labour for a full day’s pay; giving earnest effort and best thought to the performance of duties.
- Seek to find and employ more efficient and economical ways of getting tasks accomplished.
- Never discriminate unfairly by the dispensing of special favours or privileges to anyone, whether for remuneration or not; and never accept for himself or herself or for family members, favours of benefits under circumstances which might be constructed by reasonable persons as influencing the performance ofgovernmental duties
- Make no private promises of any kind binding upon the duties of office, since a
government employee has no private word which can be binding on public
- Engage in no business with the government, either directly or indirectly, which
is inconsistent with the conscientious performance of governmental duties.
- Never use any information gained confidentially in the performance of
governmental duties as a means of making private profit.
- Expose corruption wherever discovered.
- Uphold these principles, ever conscious that public office is a public trust.
In the same vein, Nigeria’s operating code of conduct is entrenched in the 1999 constitution (fifth schedule). Part 1 of this schedule contains the provisions of the code and states inter alia:
- Conflict of interest with duty-A public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities.
- Restriction on specified officers: without prejudice to the generality of the
forgoing paragraph, a public officer shall not:
- Receive or be paid the emoluments of any public office at the same time as he receives or is paid the emoluments of any other public office; or
- Except where he is not employed on full time basis, engage or participate in the
management or running of any private business, profession or trade but nothing in
this sub-paragraph shall prevent a public officer from engaging in farming.
- Prohibition of foreign accounts: The President, Vice-President, Governor, Deputy
Governor, ministers of the Government of the Federation and Commissioners of
the Governments of the states, members of the National Assembly and the Houses of Assembly, officers or persons as the National Assembly may by law prescribe, shall not maintain or operate a bank account in any other country outside Nigeria.
- Gifts or benefits in kind:
(I) A public officer shall not ask for or accept property or benefits of any kind for
himself or any other person on account of anything done or omitted to be done by
him in the discharge of his duties.
(II) (ii) For the purpose of sub-paragraph (I) of this paragraph, the receipt by
public officer of any gifts or benefits from commercial firms, business enterprises
or persons who have contracts with the government shall be presumed to have
been received in contravention of the said sub-paragraph unless the contrary is
(iii) A public officer shall only accept personal gifts or benefits from relatives or personal friends to such extent and on such occasions as are recognized by custom. Provided that any gift or donation to a public officer on any public or ceremonial occasion shall be treated as a gift to the appropriate institution represented by the public officer, and accordingly, the mere acceptance or receipt of any such gift shall not be treated as a contravention of this provision.
- Bribery and corruption – No person shall offer a public officer any property, gift or benefit of any kind as an inducement or bribe for the granting of any favour or the discharge in his favour of the public officers duties.
- Abuse of powers:- A public officer shall not do or direct to be done, in abuse of his office, an arbitrary act prejudicial to the rights of any other person knowing that such act is unlawful or contrary to any government policy.
- Membership of societies: – A public officer shall not be a member of, belong to, or take part in any society the membership of which is incompatible with the functions or dignity of his office.
It is pertinent to draw attention to part II of the schedule which enumerates public officers subject to the code of conduct. Information therein shows that virtually every public servant from the elected officials through the judicial officers, the army, the police, the civil service, the diplomatic mission, members and staff of local government councils, all staff of universities, colleges and institutions owned and financed by the various tiers of government, among others, are subject to the code of conduct.
The juxtaposition of the United States’ code and that of Nigeria shows a common objective of moderating the conduct of public officers towards conscientious performance of governmental duties. Codes of conduct are actually products and reflections of environmental conditions. Consequently, although the codes of both countries address similar issues, there are slight variations in emphasis reflecting differing prevailing environments that impact on public service.
There is no gainsaying that instituting a code is not sufficient. There must be follow-up action to ensure that the code is functional. To this end, Weihrich and Koontz propose that this may entail instituting a committee to take charge of both the code and ethical issues in the public service. The committee should hold regular meetings to discuss ethical issues as well as gray areas where there are questions about the ethics of an action. It should ensure that all the relevant persons or groups are well informed about the code. It should also take charge of monitoring violations of the code, punishing the offenders in a meaningful way and rewarding compliance.
In line with this proposition, the 1999 constitution of Nigeria provides for the establishment of a Code of Conduct Tribunal (fifth schedule, section 15). This Tribunal is given the powers to punish public officers found guilty of contravention of any of the provisions of the code of conduct in,accordance with the punishments specified under section 18 (2) of the fifth schedule of the constitution and such other punishments as may be prescribed by the National Assembly. The punishment that the Code of Conduct Tribunal may impose shall include any of the following:
- vacation of office or seat in any legislative house as the case may be;
- disqualification from membership of a legislative house and from the holding of any public office for a period not exceeding ten years; and
- Seizure and forfeiture to the state of any acquired in abuse or corruption of office.
These sanctions mentioned above are without prejudice to the penalties that may be imposed by any law where the conduct is also a criminal offence.
Problems of Ethics and Morality in Nigerian Public Administration
The prevailing view about the Nigerian public service is that the officials are
corrupt, inefficient, insensitive, partial, etc. This is the ethical image of Nigerian public
administration. Specifically, the unethical behaviours prevalent in Nigerian public
- Ethnic, kinship and party loyalty take priority over objectivity and national interest in such public administration exercises as recruitment, promotion and training (Adebayo, 1981:142)
- Government tax assessors collude with taxpayers to avoid tax payment through
wider-assessment or non- assessment (Onah 1995:76)
- Public servants abandon their official duties to embark on commercial driving to
earn personal income. Women in turn leave their duty points to engage in itinerant
- Receipt of gratification and extension of favours in return for services rendered
are common practices in Nigerian public administration. It has become a tradition
in ministries and government establishments for people to give tips (financial
inducements) if they desire prompt service.
- Corruption is an unethical practice which has permeated the Nigerian social system
and threatens to destroy the entire social fabric if not adequately addressed. In the
public service, it has taken numerous forms (Adebayo, 1986: 20-25) such as using
government stationery, labour and vehicles for private purposes; demanding sex
from female applicants for job and as a condition for promotion; misuse of
overseas tours and inflation of contracts.
The above list of various forms of unethical behaviours in the Nigerian public service in no way exhausts the innumerable avenues through which public officers abuse their sacred trusts (See Newswatch Jan 12, 2004 pp 22- 25). In the words of Adebayo (1986:24) a man who is steeped in avarice and greed who always devise all sorts of subtle ways to circumvent the norms of civilized society.
Causes of Unethical Behaviour in Nigeria Public Administration
Why are unethical behaviours prevalent in the Nigerian public service despite the existence of the code of conduct? Why do Nigerians who swear to public service go wrong? One would like to think that the fundamental reason has to do with the societal value system. The country is suffering the problem of misplaced values. Those age-old virtues like honesty, hard work, truthfulness, modesty in words and actions are no longer projected or acclaimed. Rather, what has become the vogue is indiscriminate pursuit of wealth and worship of material success, no matter the means the success is achieved. This explains the conferment of a traditional title on a known advance fee fraudster (419er) because he donates towards community development. This explains w4y a young customs officer whose salary cannot buy him a motorcycle drives two cars and builds a duplex in the village and nobody asks questions. Rather, he is regarded with envy and admiration by the public who see him as fortunate.
The same misplaced sense of Value informs the prebendal attitude of the average public servant. Prebendalism is a theory which, see public office as being synonymous with private interest (Joseph, 1991:56). A public officer guided by this theory uses his position and resources under his control to first solve personal and problems before rendering public service. This theory tends to reinforce corruption in public office and regrettably, it has been imbibed by most Nigerian public servants.
Widespread poverty in Nigeria is also responsible for unethical behaviour of public servants. With the prevailing extended family system, the average public servant is saddled with the financial problems of his poor parents, uncle’s children and his immediate nuclear family. More often than not, his meager salary does not go round; hence, he takes to unethical means to beef-up his financial base in order to meet up with his financial ‘obligations.
Irregular payment of workers’ salaries further aggravates the problems of ethics and morality in Nigerian public service. Public servants in Nigeria generally receive their salaries in arrears. This cuts across the three tiers of government. The situation is most critical at the local government where workers are known to have been owed two years arrears of salary. At the state level, the arrears may be up to three months. Under this circumstance, bribery and private business during official hours become coping strategies.
Another major reason why unethical behaviours persist among Nigeria’s public officials is the inability/failure of the Code of Conduct Tribunal and other law enforcement agencies to enforce the penalty stipulated for defaulters. For instance, there are proven cases of bribery and corruption that should have attracted penalty as spelt out in section 18 (2) of schedule v of the 1999 constitution which have not been prosecuted. ‘The case of group of public officers captioned ‘untouchable looters’ (Newswatch, March 1, 2004), stands out. They are Ismailia Gwarzo former national security adviser to General Abacha; Bashir Dalhatu, former minister of power and steel; Anthony Ani, former finance minister; General Jerry Useni, former minister of federal capital territory, Abuja and Patrick Aziza, former commerce minister. As succinctly put on page 12 of the Newswatch Magazine of March 1, 2004, “They were investigated and found to have corruptly enriched themselves, but they are still walking around free”.
The senate bribe scandal under which Nasir El-Rufai, Minister of Federal Capital Territory, FCT alleged that some senate members demanded bribe of M54 million from him when he was being screened for ministerial job is also a case in point (Newswatch, October 6, 2003 P. 24).
Defaults against the code of conduct are in no way limited to matters of bribery and corruption. Numerous highly placed public officers in Nigeria are known to belong to various secret cults especially the Freemason and Ogboni. Similarly, that public officers in Nigeria operate foreign accounts is an open secret. The Presidents, members of the legislature, ministers and state governors among others, in defiance of the code of conduct have accounts in Switzerland, United States and other countries of the world. Yet, the Code of Conduct Tribunal has not invoked the Code against them. Such acts only come to light when the culprits are involved in some other public scandals or after their death as is the case with late President Sani Abacha.
Towards Improved Ethics and Morality in Nigerian Public Administration
Ethical and moral problems in Nigerian public administration can only be, decisively tackled through the growth and development of a culture that will inculcate the right sense of values into the entire populace. This will then produce a moral climate in which unethical behaviours will find it difficult to survive. The culture has got to grow and develop among the people. This can be achieved through both formal and informal education. The formal process has to do with inclusion of ethics and morals in the school curriculum at all educational levels-primary to tertiary. Informally, the Nigerian society can be educated on proper values and orientation through media talks, and write -ups, adult and youth forums. The National Orientation Agency (NOA) should take charge of this informal process. Legislations cannot solve ethical problems, education can; by encouraging sensitivity to moral style of life and making the people abhor unethical behaviours.
Ethical standards can also be raised in Nigerian pubic administration through the provision of clear guidelines tor ethical behaviour -a code of ethics. This should supplement the code of conduct for public officers as spelt out in the constitution (FGN 1999: Fifth schedule). The ethical code should address such common practices that hinder efficient administrative processes. It should therefore project such practices as commitment to duty, resourcefulness, being proactive, selfless service and punctuality among others. We are not oblivious that most organizations incorporate these in their rules and regulations but if embedded in the school curriculum, children will imbibe them early in life and grow up with those tenets
It must be emphasized that unless the country’s code of conduct is properly enforced, ethics and morality’ in Nigerian public administration will remain at their lowest ebbs. Consequently, to raise ethics and morality, defaulters must be punished in a meaningful way and such punishment made public so as to deter others. A clear case that demands sanction, dismissal, demotion or reprimand must be declared and upheld firmly without fear or favour. As argued by Coventry and Barker (1984:80), such strong action, when taken, has a sober impact on the remaining employees.
Section 15 (1) of the fifth schedule of the 1999 constitution stipulates that the Chairman and members of the code of Conduct Tribunal shall be appointed by the President in accordance with the recommendation of National Judicial Council. This mode of appointment immediately subordinates the Tribunal to the whims and manipulations of the chief Executive. In view of the crucial role of the Tribunal in the upholding of ethics and morality in the country, there is a need to ensure its independence by making the appointment of its members the sole responsibility of the National Judicial council.
Various professional and religious bodies in the country should assist in raising ethical standards in Nigerian public administration. The Nigerian Bar Association, Medical Association and Council, Society of Engineers, Association of Accountants Knighthoods of the churches etc should all ensure that their members who are public servants operate according to their professional ethics. More importantly, the Nigerian civil service has been professionalized. As rightly observed by Mainzer (1991), a public administrator should be morally committed but a neutral professional; challenge ill-used authority but be a cooperative organization member; work towards political consensus but resist the politically strong in order to serve the weak who suffer; and be impartial in administering the law but be humane and caring in excising authority. Bureaucrats have the special obligation to be “a moral exampler”.
The eminent should do everything possible to revamp the economy. This will create employment opportunities; reduce the level of poverty in the country and its attendant ethical problems.
Regular remuneration will reduce the sagging morale of workers which result from irregular payment of salaries and also enhance ethics and morality.
In the course of this paper, we have highlighted ways of instituting ethics and morals in public administration. Particular attention has been paid to the problems of ethics and morality in the Nigerian public service and possible causes of unethical behaviours identified. The paper has also made Suggestions towards improving ethical standard in Nigerian public administration.
We shall conclude by reminding ourselves that discourse with others is valuable to moral reflection, discourse with self is essential. In seminars, and other similar forums work or workshops we talk, but the hidden lesson in overt discourse may be of a silence filled with reflection. It is hoped that our discourse in this paper would sensitize public administrators to ethical issues and thus sink them under an indiscriminately vast array of “self-diagnostic questions”.
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