Dr. C. C. Okeke
Department of Social Sciences
society is seriously plagued by a lot of ills including corruption, religious intolerance, ethnic chauvinism, crimes of all sorts such as ritual killings, political violence, armed robbery, advance fee fraud, etc. The preponderance of these vices strongly questions the ethical orientations of the Nigerian citizens. But the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999), section 23, aptly provides Nigeria’s national ethics as discipline, integrity, dignity of labour, social justice, religious tolerance, self-reliance and patriotism. It is presupposed that the acquisition of these virtues will improve our ethical practices and standards. These ethics, notwithstanding, many ills still continue to plague the society. This paper, therefore, X-rays these ills, and some attempts at consolidating our national ethics. After appraising the workability of such attempts, recommendations on how best to improve our ethical standards were made. Instituting the virtues of transparency and accountability in our public and private lives, publicity, enlightenment, mobilization, among others, are the recipe for improvement.
Ordinance number 15 was enacted by the British administration in Nigeria on June 1, 1916. The Ordinance established the criminal code for Lagos and the Southern provinces with provisions for ethical standards for public officers. The criminal code has had some modifications and still subsists till date as the country’s criminal code. It is a common knowledge that some public officers in Nigeria turn their offices to private gold mines where series of sordid practices are unleashed. Such practices grossly undermine the integrity of public bureaucracies.
Public bureaucracies in Africa overtime have attracted criticisms for not living up to expectations and such criticisms undermine good governance and engender corruption. It is the quest for efficiency and effectiveness by the public bureaucracies that give rise to series of administrative reforms. The reforms, not withstanding, many concerned stakeholders still strongly feel that public bureaucracies are not effective and transparent in the conduct of public business.
Maintenance of ethical standards at work places is one of the serious problems of the Nigerian public service. There are glaring cases of fraud, embezzlement, looting of treasuries, favoritism, falsification, stealing, etc. in offices. How public officials could demonstrate proper and approved behaviour in the discharge of their functions has constituted a big thorn in the flesh. Mill’s (1957) utilitarianism postulation that an act is moral or not depending on the consequences conies to focus here. The fact that the public officers’ actions have stood to be condemned calls for a sort of reorientation. The enactment of the anti-corruption law to complement other laws and regulations is noteworthy. Equally, the provision of ethical indices in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria further points to the felt need to instill discipline and related virtues in the polity. The cultivation of such ethical standards will, hopefully, institute transparency and accountability in our national life.
This paper therefore, sets out to discuss the import of national ethics, the ethical crises in Nigeria, the concepts of transparency and accountability and the existing measures to consolidate national ethics. Finally, an appraisal of the situation is carried out and appropriate recommendations made. National Ethics: A Conceptual Analysis
Ethics has been defined as a branch of philosophy which seeks to establish and rationally defend a universally valid theory of what is right and wrong, good and bad in general, which can be used as a set of moral principles guiding human action, (Egbeke, 1996: 21). It is believed that ethics attempts to discover why an action is right or wrong. It has to do with a code of conduct or set of principles by which men live or which binds a group of people together. It expects the group so bound together to exhibit uniform and acceptable standards. For instance, ethics of various professions exists – teaching, medical, nursing, engineering, etc professions. Actions by these various professionals are judged by the ethics of their respective professions. In this way, ethics guides and refines the behaviour of a group. Compliance, adherence to or conformity with the ethical standards (or otherwise) gives a profession its public image. Equally, protection of the ethics helps to give a profession its credibility. In other words, where a member infringes or contravenes aspect(s) of the professional ethics, he is visited with the appropriate sanction(s)? In Nigeria, some instances abound. Some judicial officers have at one time or the other been suspended for exhibiting unethical conduct-rash granting of ex-parte orders. Some medical doctors have either been suspended or their licences withdrawn for professional misconduct. Such actions help to foster discipline within those professions that abide by their code of conduct.
Relating the group behaviour to National behaviour, Nigerian citizens are expected to exhibit certain approved behaviours in conformity with the National standards. Section 23 of the Nigerian constitution (1999) provides that Discipline, Integrity, Dignity of Labour, Social Justice, Religion Tolerance, Self-reliance and Patriotism shall be the National ethics for Nigeria. Impliedly, Nigerian citizens are expected to cultivate and exhibit those virtues that promote and sustain national ethics. This will, hopefully make for a disciplined society – society which respects the rights of the citizens, society which upholds the tenets of the rule of law, and society which provides security to its citizens. The observance of the national ethics will help, in no small measure, the citizens to demonstrate openness in whatever they are called upon to do. But the reverse appears to be the case. For instance, corruption has been identified as a national malaise. Equally, had governance characterizes our national life. These are, of course, common to the developing countries, according to the United Nations, (reported in Ehwarieme, 2003:145). He states that “since 1916, efforts had been geared towards maintaining ethical standards for public officers in Nigeria, through the enactment of Ordinance No. 15. 1979, 1989 and 1999 constitution made provisions for ethical standards”. Ehwarieme, (2003:146) identified corruption, inefficiency and ineffectiveness as the bane of public administration in Nigeria. In his words:
Because of the various manifestations of these maladies, it seems to be readily suggested that there are no ethical standards in Nigeria, that public administration is conducted in an ethical void.
Ethical Crises in Nigeria
An examination of some of the components of the national ethics will make some revelations. As was mentioned earlier, corruption is the bane of public life in Nigeria. Besides, the top ranking of Nigeria among the most corrupt countries by the Transparency International is revealing enough. President Olusegun Obasanjo, on assumption of office in 1999, introduced a Bill on anti-corruption to the National Assembly. The ensuring law on anti-corruption listed the offences that constitute corruption. Some of them include: giving or accepting gratification, concealing offences relating to corruption, fraudulent acquisition or receipt of property, use of one’s offices for pecuniary advantage, offences through the postal system. The law provides punishment for those found guilty of corruption. In furtherance of this law, a body-the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission-was established to enforce its provisions. The law and its provisions notwithstanding, a broad-sided fight against corruption is very necessary because corrupt public officers or citizens cannot initiate, maintain or sustain ethical standards.
On religious tolerance, it is a paradox that Nigeria is riddled with religious intolerance. Predominantly, Christianity and Muslim constitute seemingly rival groups. Rival in the sense that series of crises have often erupted between the two as a result of intolerance. A plethora of such crises abound. Without tracing the origin of the crises, it suffices to make some recent exposures. In the 1980s, it was Mohammed Marwa Maitatsine religions riots in Kano, Kaduna, Gombe, Jimeta, etc. In 1991, it was Muslim attack on the Christians in Bauchi which culminated in the wanton destruction of lives and property. That disturbance also disrupted the 9th National Sports Festival being hosted by Bauchi State. The Bauchi crisis was seen to be so unwarranted, provocative and a calculated attempt to annihilate the Christians that Archbishop Okogie of Lagos fiercely remarked:
No body is a third rate citizen in this country; it is either we wipe ourselves out for good or God saves whoever survives because it is going to be a religious war, (Okogie, 1992: 5).
Crises upon crises have characterized our National life, Lives, property, churches and Mosques have been destroyed at one time or the other. Higher institutions of learning have equally been affected- Othman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto; College of Education, Kafanchan, University of Ibadan, among others, have, at one time or the other been the theatres of religious war in Nigeria. In addition to physical crises, some writers publish insinuating and inciting articles that smack of intolerance. The writings of Sheik Abubakar Guni (a Muslim Scholar) and Safi Jiniba (Muslim lawyer) are good examples. Gumi was reported to have said that the progress and unity of human race mean converting Christiansand non-Muslims to Islam, (Okwueze, 1995: 174). Jimba bluffed that “It is either we have the Sharia or there shall never be a constitution or even peace in this country”, (Abu, 1985: 15). The irony of all these happenings is that our national leaders do little or nothing to stem the tide. The apparent irreversibility of the ugly trend of carnage consolidates the posture of intolerance and reinforces, encourages and even exacerbates future perpetrations. ‘Even though some Christian and Muslim leaders have been suing for peace and dialogue, some fanatics are always on the war path. Yet, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) guarantees ‘freedom of worship’ under the citizens’ fundamental rights. The ethics of discipline, patriotism, integrity are further jeopardized where there is preponderance of corruption, intolerance and the like.
On social justice as a component of our national ethics, we may ask the questions: what is social justice? How could the citizens experience social justice? Social justice implies enhancing the citizens’ well-being based on equity. This enhancement involves the citizens realizing their social political, religious and economic rights. Nigerians are known to suffer some deprivations and denials – unemployment, religious intolerance, poverty, unequal access to amenities, etc. Social justice in practice implies sovereignty of the people, security and welfare of the people, popular participation in government, internal and external economic relations, independence of the judiciary and equality of educational opportunity. Though copious provisions are made in the constitution on these areas, an impact assessment may not be quite credible. Prevalence of poverty, hyper-inflation and the purchasing power of the Naira, unemployment, delayed dispensation of justice are a common place. What ethical standards are those placed at the helm of affairs in those areas maintaining?
Having examined some of the components, the question that readily comes to mind is: How transparent and accountable are those who are expected to set the pace? It is our thesis that it is only the leader who understands, keeps and practices objectivity that can subject his prejudices and biases to an impartial evaluation. This is how to set the pace for emulation:
Transparency and Accountability
It has been posited that transparency and accountability are rooted in the basic ethical foundation for good governance which is a process of using power to manage the nation’s economic and social resources for development, (Osisioma, 2000: 22). Transparency implies openness. As stated by Akpa (1997):
Transparency is a term that connotes the state of being open to the
people… It is the capacity to trust people including subordinates in order
to carry people along. It refers to a condition of complete and free flow
of information. A transparent person is one with clean hands with a tract
record of honesty and probity. In the world of transparent persons, the
people and the nation come first, and self is last… People are treated‘fairly and justly, because the rulers are upright and not easily swayed by ethnic, religious and nepotic sentiments.
It is a precept requiring that government’s action be reported, explained and, justified to the people from time to time on a consistent basis under the understanding that governance is a contract between the ruler and the ruled… An accountable government is one that carries the people along and therefore can effectively see its policies and programmes implemented.
In an institutional setting Asugha (1997) has suggested three conditions for ensuring accountability, and they include:
- There must be an agency to which resources and duties have been allocated or
- There must be individuals within the agency who must be held responsible and
answerable for proper use of the resources or discharge of duties of government.
- There must be adequate control environment within the organization which should
guarantee honest and accurate use of resources entrusted to the official and that the
resources are used for public good.
Definitions of accountability by Robertson (1993: 3), Mclean (1996: 1) and Etzioni (reported in Adakai, 1998: 113) have common denominators. First, the representatives of the people, whether elected or appointed, have the responsibility of exercising their powers and show both responsiveness and commitment to value and higher standard of morality.
From variegated definitions of transparency and accountability; their intimate nexus with ethical standards stands incontrovertible. If a public officer maintains the ethics of integrity, he is exhibiting transparency which invariably reinforces his accountability posture. The deduction from the above is that the realization of national ethics requires that transparency and accountability be property installed in our national life so as to achieve the tenets of our national ethics.
Existing Measures/Attempts to Consolidate our National Ethics
Some measures, old and recent, have been evolved to promote our national ethics.
- Significant among the measures include:
The Criminal Code Act, Cap 77.
- Code of Conduct for Public Officers
- The Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences, 2000
- Various Institutional Rules and Regulations.
The Criminal Code Act, section 98 provides that a public officer found guilty of corruption shall be liable to imprisonment for a period of seven years. Official corruption involves receiving or obtaining any property or benefit of any kind for himself or any person or attempts to receive or obtain any property or benefit of any kind for himself or any person. Section 99 provides that extortion by public officers attracts an imprisonment for three years. Section 101 prevents public officers from acquiring or holding directly or indirectly any private interest in any contract or agreement made on account of the public service. Furthermore, acquisition or holding of interest directly or indirectly in any property, manufacture, trade or business which fall(s) within the official responsibilities of a public officer is regarded as a misdemeanour punishable by one year imprisonment (section 102). Abuse of office (section 104), false certificate (section 105) by a public officer attracts imprisonment for two years and three years respectively.
The code of conduct for public officers, as contained in the Fifth Schedule of the 1999constitution provides inter alia that:
- No public officer should put himself in a position where his personal interest would conflict with his duties and responsibilities.
- Demand or receipt of property or benefit, interest in contracts, abuse of office, engagement in business or trade, etc. are prohibited for public officers.
- Operation of bank accounts by the President, Vice President Governors, Ministers, Commissioners, and the Legislators outside Nigeria in proscribed,
- A pensionable retired public officer shall not accept more than one remunerative position as Chairman, Director or employee of a company owned or controlled by the government, or any public authority, The President, vice President, chief Justice of Nigeria, Governor and Deputy Governor of a state shall not engage in service or employment in foreign enterprises after leaving office. In all intents and purposes the Code of Conduct embodies the Criminal code provisions and more. Under the Corrupt Practices and other related offences (2000), the following offences constitute corruption:
- Giving or accepting gratification
- Concealing offences relating to corruption
- Fraudulent acquisition or receipt of property
- Use of one’s office for pecuniary advantage
- Making false or misleading statements
- Bribery of public officers in relation to auction, and for giving assistance in regard
- Influence peddling
- Insincerity in advice with the aim of gaining advantage
- Less than a full day’s pay
- Tardiness and slovenliness
- Offences through the postal system.
The Anti-Corruption Law prescribes various forms of punishment for the offenders.
Further measures in place include the Oath of Allegiance and Service Rules. The Oath of Allegiance taken by public officers particularly those either elected or appointed is aimed at making the officer enter into contract with the state by promising to bear true allegiance and discharge their duties in accordance with the constitution. The Seventh schedule of the constitution (1999) provides the details.
In addition to the above, there are various service rules and regulations. For instance, there are the Civil Rules that guide the conduct of Civil Servants, there are various departmental rules and regulations – all aimed at instilling sound ethical conduct in the public officers.
Considering the various measures put in place to evolve national ethics and sustain same, they appear more similar than different and this appears to stifle motivation to abide by them. Rather, people device new-strategies to circumvent them. This appears to be the cause of poor state of affairs ethically. In an assessment of the Anti-Corruption Law and state of affairs in Nigeria, Okeke (2003: 260) said inter alia, “since the enactment of the anti-corruption law, there appears to be an astronomical crescendo in the spate and tempo of corruption in the country”. Habib (2000: 29) had earlier remarked that “the public office holders have consistently parted company with their oath of office with regard to public funds… driven by greed, they made deep treasure excavations from the public purse”.
If our society is still inundated with corruption it implies that demonstration of transparency and accountability by our public officers seems quite preposterous. However, the encouragement of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Judiciary and various institutional and departmental operatives will go a long way to improving our way of life. The way some of the elected officers squander public fund leaves much to be desired. How do they spend constituency votes? How are the projects provided for monitored and executed?
The present approach by President Olusegun Obasanjo via his Media chat and periodic reports by Ministers on the activities of their respective Ministries are informative enough but they do not necessarily represent transparency and accountability. They show what the respective ministries have done or are doing but do not necessarily show how transparent the execution has been. However, departing from the usual order of doing things is difficult but with persistence, determination, the will and purposeful leadership, the qualities of transparency and accountability will be cultivated. It is when this begins to happen that the culture of ethical standards will become entrenched in our national life.
In order to ensure that Nigeria’s national ethics are realized, the following are considered necessary:
- There is the dire need for continuous public enlightenment on the importance of
public morality, the expectations of the government and the people, the need for
modesty, and condemnation of too much demands on the public office holders by
their people. Perhaps, it is the desire to meet some of such outrageous demands
that accentuates corruption.
- A body – governmental or non-governmental-should be encouraged to monitor
the activities of different public institutions. This body should have legal backing.
Violation of the national ethics should be visited with sanctions.
- Eradication of poverty in Nigeria is imperative. Poverty could lead to some unwholesome acts including negative tendencies towards accountability. The
present poverty eradication of the government is most inadequate to create
conditions of self-reliance, integrity and dignity of labour.
- Government should restructure such bodies as the Code of Conduct Bureau, the
National Orientation Agency (NOA) to make them more functional Their
existence and activities are rarely known.
- The police and the law courts enforce breach of criminal laws. The police should
be encouraged to do its work and the courts should be made to dispense justice as
quickly as possible. This will deter most of the offenders who toy with the laws of
- Immunity of some public officers should be revisited, where, for instance, a state
governor is openly known to be performing against the oath of his office, nothing
happens because nobody can take him to court nor could he be arrested. But if we
tackle unethical conduct, root and branch, we should start with those in high places. If our Judiciary is committed and truly responsive, the situation will not open a flood gate of litigation.
- Appointments to public offices are embedded in subjectivity.
- Transparency of such appointees is hardly guaranteed. This seems to buttress the dictum that “there is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face”. Politics of connection holds away and not necessarily of merit.
- The fight against advance fee fraud smuggling, piracy, drug trafficking, child
trafficking, should be intensified because indulging in them impact negatively on
the nation’s integrity.
This paper identified Nigeria’s national ethics as provided in the 1999 constitution and examined how the citizens have been keeping faith with the ethical standards. A preponderance of violation of the ethical standards is a common place, hence the institutional mechanisms set up by the government to fight the malaise. Some of the mechanisms include the Criminal Code, the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Anti-Corruption Law, the Oath of Allegiance, various institutional rules and regulations. The mechanisms notwithstanding, the situation has not improved. It is recommended that the situation be improved through publicity, enlightenment, mobilization, practice of equality before the law, determination and political will, dispassionate appointments, among others.
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