By Dakuku Peterside
Touching down at the bustling Beijing Capital International Airport, you cannot miss that China has again opened to the world after COVID-19 shut down, nor will you miss the pervasive positive spirit and a sense of endless possibilities in the atmosphere. If you have any doubt, a 30-minute drive from the airport to Changping District, North of Beijing, tells the story of a country’s metamorphosis, ancient roots, and what pragmatic leadership can do. I am a guest of the Chinese government from the 20th of August till the 2nd of September. It has proven to be a unique opportunity to understand Chinese leadership thinking and the nation’s development trajectory. It has allowed me to do contrastive leadership and political models between China and Nigeria to see if there are vital lessons to be learnt and applied in Nigeria to accelerate our socioeconomic development.
Although different in many ways, China and Nigeria represent giants in their respective continents (Asia and Africa}. They symbolise the hopes and aspirations of their people in a highly competitive and polarised world dominated for over 500 years by the West. The story of how China got it right and has become the quintessential alternative economic and political power, whilst Nigeria has, at best, remained stagnant over the past decades, is fascinating. No doubt, a multiplicity of factors contributed to this dichotomous and contrasting outcome, which will merit elaborate analysis at an appropriate forum.
We must delve into their past to understand China’s and Nigeria’s present. First, let us look at China. Chinese civilisation dates to the first Chinese dynasty, Xia, founded in 2070 BC. From the period of this dynasty, through the Middle Han dynasty in the 3rd century to the North Song dynasty of the 10th to 13th century, ancient China was credited with four great inventions: gunpowder, paper making, compass, and moveable-type printing. Ancient China also grew in economic power, constituting 26% of the world GDP in 206 BC, 58% in the 7-9th century, and 60% of the global GDP in the 10-13th century. Like all ancient civilisations, ancient China declined in power and influence and was invaded by Western forces and Japan in the 18th century, which influenced the Chinese psyche for generations. This history of past economic development, though not a predictor of future economic status, mirrors hope, possibilities and what could be achieved with visionary leadership and excellent governance structures for China. Although almost on its knees by the middle of the 20th century, China came up with a way of working out of the dungeons of lack of productivity and economic quagmire.
The founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, led by Mao Zedong, opened a new chapter in Chinese history. From the ashes of the Korean War, the PR of China effectively began economic reconstruction with the first five-year development plan as the foundation. Within 1953-1957, the visionary Chinese leaders established a solid foundation for its industrial renaissance. The scheme delivered over 10,000 large-scale industrial projects covering the construction of 250,000 km of railways, aviation, power generation, automobile production, precision equipment, steel pipes, and radio.
1978 marked a turning point in the development of China. Deng Xiaoping opened China to the outside world, introduced foreign direct investment, and legalised private investment. The private sector-led economy led to the establishment of a socialist market economy system and the development of capital markets and stock exchanges. The government privatised almost all small and medium-sized state-owned enterprises and lifted price control over most products. But this pragmatic approach is only the beginning of a phenomenal development. This unprecedented and rapid economic development reflects the quality of Chinese practical and visionary leadership.
The leaders of China centred the emancipation of China on economic growth. They pursued a vision of a new China using the instrumentality of economic growth as a strategy to power a great nation. A study of three of China’s most consequential leaders revealed a remarkable pattern contributing to their phenomenal prosperity. The three leaders are Mao Zedong, popularly called Chairman Mao, who is the architect of a unified China and the People’s Republic of China. The second is Deng Xiaoping, the champion of reform, which opened China to the world in 1978. Lastly, Xi Jinping is the father of modernisation and the current leader of China. He is leading the digital China: digital industrialisation, industrial digitisation, digital governance, and data ‘valurisation’. All three leaders share five common traits: their subscription to the power of ideas, strategic thinking, pragmatism, discipline, and resilience in sticking to a clear vision. Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward and Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms transformed China’s economy, and subsequent leaders have prioritised economic growth and development to maintain social stability. Xi Jinping also follows a similar path of economic prosperity as a pathway to social peace.
China is unarguably the world’s manufacturing hub. It is a product of vision, strong leadership, discipline, meticulous planning, hard work, and resilience. Powered by visionary leadership, China is focused on modernisation and digital civilisation today. They achieved zero poverty society in 2021, number 2 in research and development globally in the past five years and above USD 3 trillion in reserves since 2011. The power of visionary leadership does not submit to excuses.
In contrast, historically, Nigeria was a product of colonisation and cannot lay serious claim to historic economic progress of any significance in Africa. It is a fact that Nigeria suffered the double whammy of slavery and colonialism and was just a property for subjugation by Britain. Its fight in the pre-colonial period was a fight for survival and statehood. Having been conquered culturally, religiously, and economically, Nigeria was gasping for air to breathe when Britain gave independence. The independence, by all ramifications, was just a paper victory, and the fight for freedom and prosperity started in 1960 when our leaders were clamouring for the dignity of the black man.
Post-1960s, much remained the same concerning leadership outcomes. Our leadership quality has even worsened and has since plummeted. Except for a handful, each subsequent leader plunges Nigeria more into the abyss. And Nigeria is in dire need of visionary leaders that will transform it like the Chinese leaders did to China. Who are our innovative and visionary leaders in the mould of Chairman Mao, Deng Xiaoping, and Xi Jinping? Who among our leaders has created a vision of economic growth based on productivity and put in place the structures and systems that will make it work? Unlike most Nigerian leaders, most Chinese leaders are long-term thinkers. Developing strategic thinking involves thinking about more significant macro issues, unlike the micro focus many tend to take in Nigeria. Strategic thinking means seeing how the world, the country and the broader economy will evolve and function. It also includes thinking long-term in contrast to near-term, our trademark in Nigeria.
Notably, in 1978, when China laid the foundations of economic emancipation, Nigeria’s per capita income was better than the Chinese. China’s per capita income was around $155 to $175. Nigeria’s per capita income was around $350 to $400. Nigeria’s per capita income was double that of China. In 2022, China’s per capita was $12,814, while Nigeria’s was $2184. This is over 10,000 USD more than Nigeria’s. It beggars belief! Since 1978, China’s per capita has increased by over 50 times by 2022, whilst Nigeria’s has increased marginally by five times. We don’t need to look further to identify the cause of this. What is our shared or common vision? China, from 1978, focused on Better Life and Prosperity for all. Leaders and strategy have changed, but every leader has yet to abandon this vision. We had Development plans at various times: Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution, Vision 2010, Vision 2035, and Vision 2050. What happened to all our long- and medium-term plans? Why did they fail, and did the Chinese succeed?
China’s economic growth is a multifaceted force reshaping the world order in complex ways. It challenges existing norms and global power structures, creates new opportunities in business, supply chain, technology and innovation. China’s growing influence has forced countries, especially in Africa, to navigate a changing geopolitical and resource control landscape. How these implications unfold will depend on the strategies and policies adopted by China and other countries in response to this evolving global dynamic. China’s hard and soft power is evident, and the world has taken notice. Besides, China is vying for global economic pre-eminence with the US but has no economic comparative advantage yet. However, the leadership factor puts it at a strategic advantage because of its unique one-party authoritarian model that aggressively pushes for growth and defies the hitherto philosophy that economic advancement is impossible outside the Western democratic and capitalist model.
Nigeria needs more focused economic planning, a clear and achievable vision and goals, and a clear understanding of its position in the emerging New World Order. In this Order, capital and economic development is premium. The core lesson from the China experiment is that pragmatic and visionary leadership makes a tremendous difference in economic growth. Nigeria needs such now more than ever. Our new president has a date with history to map a course that makes him such a leader. History beckons.
Dark chapter for the Judiciary
By Dakuku Peterside
In 1961, the Prime Minister of Nigeria, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, enjoined Justice Adetokunbo Ademola to “never waiver from the truth” and charged him that if he committed a crime and was brought before the justice, he should send him to jail. Balewa understands the importance of judicial independence and the integrity of the judges in fostering an enduring democracy. He understands that the Judiciary in our democracy is the third estate of the realm, the interpreter of the law, the common man’s last hope and the society’s conscience. It serves as checks and balances of the executive and the legislature while adjudicating criminal and civil matters within the society, punishing offenders, and protecting citizens . The judges who preside in Courts and the lawyers who prosecute or defend their clients ought to be impartial, upright, diligent, consistent, and open in whatever they do because their character is public property. The judges are the cynosure of the adjudication system and are expected to live above board. This is the ideal. However, this is too far from our current reality.
Recently, there has been a substantial amount of debate, discussion and concerns about the health and reputation of Nigeria’s Judiciary. A cursory review and quasi-research of commentaries on the actions and inactions of Nigerian Judiciary in 5 Nigerian newspapers between September 2023 and September 2023 reveals that 67% were negative, 10% were classified as neutral, and a paltry 23% were positive. The inference to draw is that the Judiciary in Nigeria has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Why, then, do the commentariat and public view the Nigerian Judiciary mainly in the negative?
Our Judiciary has dug itself into a deep hole of credibility crisis for three key reasons. The first reason is the preponderance of questionable judgements. This is worse with political cum election cases. Some judgements are inconceivable, and it is difficult for right-thinking persons to wrap their heads around them. From politicians not participating in primaries but becoming substantive candidates to court injunctions against the arrest of politicians or politically exposed people on criminal allegations to unimaginable errors in electoral judgment and judicial procedures, one wonders why we are facing such an epidemic of judicial impunity.
In election-related cases, could the waning quality of judgments be blamed on the unmanageable caseload and the punishing timeline for hearing and delivering judgments in election petition cases ? Are the judges sitting on Electoral Tribunal or Appeal in a panel of at least three members able to have valuable conferences to deliberate on the cases argued before them to enable them to make informed decisions? Or is it just a routine ritual where one member cavalierly decides, and the rest chorus their agreement with the lead judgment that they never had the prior privilege to read the draft in advance? Whatever the answers might be to these posers, the Judiciary is fast losing the trust and reverence it used to enjoy from the public.
The second reason is the plethora of embarrassing corruption stories about the Judiciary constantly in the public domain. The public has lost trust in the incorruptible Judiciary, and now the general perception is that the Judiciary is prone to corrupt practices . Although this may be a hasty generalisation because we still have honest and incorruptible judges doing a great job, they hardly get mentioned in the media. Instead, the public is bombarded with news about corruption in the Judiciary.
Besides, the lifestyle of some judges belies the fact that they must be corrupt. We all know that the remuneration of judges and justices (between N450,000 to N750,000) is poor considering their excellent work; some live billionaires’ lifestyles, making people wonder how they come about the money they are spending. It is public knowledge that judges clamour for jobs in the election petition seasons, and evidence abounds that some of the judges’ lives change overnight after the election petition assignment period. We have proof of some judges being indicted and punished for corruption in the electoral judicial cases saga, but that has not deterred others from engaging in such dastardly art.
The third reason is the panoply of unethical conduct among judicial officers and the slow conduct of cases, especially during electoral adjudication periods. Judicial accountability is far-fetched. Justice delayed is tantamount to justice denied. Most Nigerians will shy away from our court system because of the delay in the court process and the recklessness of ending cases mostly on technical issues rather than substantive ones. This has been made worse by the politicisation of the Judiciary to the extent that some stakeholders call it the “capture of the Judiciary “ by politics. Judges are supposed to be politically neutral and objective, contributing to maintaining a democratic state without bias. However, we notice the involvement of some judges in politics, or their close family members are politicians or politically exposed, and therefore put undue pressure on them and the judicial system. Conflict of interest issues are seen, and politicians use all means necessary to maintain a firm hold on these judges.
The most recent example of how low our judicial system has gone, which is very embarrassing, is the Kano State Governorship Contest Appeal Court judgement. Court of Appeal Kano on November 17 delivered judgement on this case, and parties applied and obtained the certified true copies of the judgement. Two days later, after Mr Femi Falana raised an alarm that there were significant inconsistencies in the judgement and that what was delivered in court was at variance with copies of the judgement given to parties, the Deputy Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal on November 22, wrote to lawyers in the case to return the judgement for what he called “Typographical errors.”
Meanwhile, the appellant had already filed its appeal before the Supreme Court. We must interrogate a lot of pertinent issues concerning this issue. First, the Kano Appeal Court judgment was unanimous, and the other two members of the panel of judges agreed with the lead judgment and stated in their contribution that they had read the lead judgement and agreed with it, including consequential orders. So how come there were such blatant “clerical errors, “as stated by the Chief Registrar of the court in his subsequent publicised letter to the lawyers inviting them to apply to correct the errors? Second, why will this clerical error be made at the most essential part of the judgement declaration? Does this smell, taste and feel like human error rather than a deliberate attempt at mismanaging the judicial process? This raises concerns about the industry, quality of judgement, and integrity of the judiciary and men on the Bench.
It is time we explore an alternative forum (Specialist Court) for resolving election disputes or narrow down the grounds on which elections are disputed. In the 2023 general elections, there were gubernatorial elections in 29 states, Houses of Assembly elections in 36 states, and NASS in all constituencies. Disputes arose from almost all these elections. In some cases, multiple parties filed petitions. Given the timelines prescribed in Section 285 CFRN, all these cases arrived at the Court of Appeal at about the same time and are to be determined within the same time frame – a point of thousands of court cases to be determined by a Court consisting of 81 judges (not all 81 would participate) in approximately 60 days. This timeframe covers the period for filing briefs and hearings; in most cases, they are left with barely a week after the hearing of the appeal. With this workload, should we expect justice from the Court of Appeal? Are the mistakes not inevitable? No one advocates for the injustice inflicted on hundreds of thousands of citizen litigants, whose matters have been abeyance until all political matters have been resolved.
Second, this ‘error’ has created a potential constitutional quagmire. The supposed error is contained in the dispositive part of the judgment. Regardless of the content of the judgment, it is the court’s final disposition that is enforceable. What happens if the NNPP and Governor decide not to appeal and insist that the final disposition favours them? This is an opportunity to fight against judicial misconduct, negligence and sloppiness . The police and the anti-graft agencies should investigate this.
Regrettably, the erosion of the independence, integrity and reputation of the Judiciary is a critical aspect of the collapse of our democracy and the rise of impunity and authoritarianism. These signs are ominous because the failure of the Judiciary is the end of law and order and the genesis of anarchy. Unless the Judiciary is reformed and maintains its integrity, and independence, democracy dies. Members of the Legal profession, especially the Bench, must reflect on the consequences of their actions on society, especially the health of our democracy. All stakeholders must urgently interrogate how the Judiciary , which is supposed to protect and give us justice, became so vulnerable.
George Weah’s ways
By Dakuku Peterside
In his famous drama, Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare penned one of the most recognisable descriptions of greatness: “Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” George Oppong Weah of Liberia is one who has achieved greatness in all ramifications. Neither born with a silver spoon nor had greatness entrusted to him by his Godfathers, George worked his way to the zenith of his chosen careers in football and politics. His greatness is epitomised in how he handled his exit from sporting fame and power rather than by his many laudable achievements before and during his era of greatness. This is the excellent story of a son of Africa that merits our consideration, and I have set out to tell this story and highlight some takeaways from President George Weah’s exemplary conduct.
George Weah made history in 1995 when he was named African, European, and FIFA World Player of the Year, thus becoming the first and only African footballer to win the prestigious FIFA Player of the Year award. Before that time, precisely in 1989, he was named African Footballer of the Year. In 1996, he was named African Footballer of the Century in what seems like a crowning glory. But George Weah had a date with Destiny. He transposed his success in the football field to the political field when he was elected in 2017 the president of Liberia, defeating the then-incumbent Vice President Joseph Boakai and succeeding Mama Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Thus, he became the first African footballer to transition to an elected president successfully. Weah’s journey to the Liberian state house was no walk in the park.
Between 2005 and 2017, George Weah contested for president, vice president, senator, and president, again demonstrating a passion for service and resilience. What is even more intriguing is the background of Weah’s rise to power. He won the presidency in 2017 at a time when most Liberians were still recovering from a fratricidal civil war, facing economic hardship, poverty, and a high rate of unemployment under Johnson-Sirleaf, who was the first elected president after the Liberian civil war. Twelve years of Mama Ellen Johnson Sirleaf did not witness infrastructure revolution and economic revival at a pace Liberians expected and they believed a younger George Weah would do a better job.
Four things worked in favour of George Weah in 2017. The first is a reasonable level of electoral transparency and public trust in the electoral process. Second, is Mama Johnson Sirleaf’s perceived failure to rebuild the country and deliver on her promises. The third is a political class ready to obey the rules and not jettison the regulations, with a high culture of patriotism and tolerance. The fourth is the constitutional requirement, which requires a candidate to score 50% plus one vote before you can be declared a winner. That constitutional requirement compelled candidates to build broad-based national alliances and secure the support of most of the voting population.
Two institutions deserve special mention: the Liberian Judiciary and the National Electoral Commission. The Liberian judiciary has been described as weak in handling criminal matters but has shown unusual firmness, fairness, and sensitivity in political issues. The average Liberian politician respects and accepts court verdicts on electoral matters. Confidence in the judiciary has strengthened the resolution of many contentious political issues. On the other hand, the electoral body in the past 20 years enjoyed a reasonable degree of public trust and independence.
As the constitution demands, at the end of that democratic tenor, a general election for the president’s office must be conducted to elect a new president. President Weah was the incumbent and enjoyed all the advantages that gives. Five key issues – handling of post-war reconciliation, widespread corruption, high inflation rate, cost of living crisis, increased incidence of narcotics abuse and a weak economy – were the front burners in the 2023 elections. All eyes were on President George Weah and ex-VP Joseph Boakai, easily a rematch of the 2017 elections. Just as in 2017, the election went into a runoff. By the time the result was announced following the runoff, the opposition candidate, with 50.89 percent of votes cast, emerged the winner ahead of Weah with 49.11 percent.
This is the sharp edge where African democracy has often fallen – the incumbent accepting defeat and handing over power without rancour. What will President Weah do? He seems to understand the great words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A great man is always willing to be little.” And he knows that a historic moment has arisen where he must make a decision that will shape his life and that of his people. He stood at that crossroad where some African leaders have taken the almost familiar route of unpatriotic stance and despair. But his action echoes the sentiments shared by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who posits, “No matter your political interest, you must place your country first. You must show some kind of patriotism.”
Undoubtedly, Weah’s humility and patriotism pushed him to accept defeat, and he made a national broadcast where he described his opponent’s victory as a victory for Liberia and Liberians. In doing this, he has followed in the footsteps of great African leaders who accepted defeat and allowed democracy to deepen – President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria (2015), President John Mahama of Ghana (2016), President Aden Abdullah Daar in Somalia (1967), Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia (1991), Mathieu Kerekou in Benin Republic (1991), Denis Sassou-Nguesso of Republic of Congo (1992), Kamuzu Banda of Malawi (1994), Abdou Diouf of Senegal (2000), Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal (2011), President Joyce Banda of Malawi (2014) amongst others.
‘A great man knows when to set aside the important things to accomplish the vital ones.’ These leaders relinquished their desire and hold on power for the greater good of deepening democracy in their countries. Weah is the latest African leader to do that. This is significant and leaves us with great takeaways that we must all reflect on.
All is not bleak in African democracy. There is still some fundamental and essential sportsmanship left in African politics. This contrasts with the singularity of doom and despondency in African democracy, as seen in many local and international media. In her famous speech on the danger of a single story, Chimamanda Adichie posits that if you show “a people as one thing, only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” People like Weah have given us the narrative to challenge the dominant belief in the dearth of democracy in Africa. This is even more significant for West Africa, where coups disrupted democracy. Unelected leaders have recently toppled democratically elected leaders. Political leaders clinging on to power. To have a rancour-free democratic transition is a credit. This is a strong signal of a peaceful change of power.
Weah’s example of conceding defeat in many ways promotes peace, unification, and reconciliation after divisive politics. It is a worthy example of submission to constitutional sovereignty and placement of national interest above self and party interest. For Liberia, the Weah example is vital in a country that has been traumatised by a history of violence and lawlessness. We hope other African leaders are learning from him and will be willing to emulate him when the time comes. On a personal level, Weah has just added political statesmanship to his celebrated status as a world-class footballer. Weah’s graciousness in defeat confirms that, in many ways, he is a man of destiny, and history would be kind to him. The people of Liberia now have another opportunity to rebuild the nation and restore its dignity.
Mario Puzo, in the famous Godfather movie, posits, “Great men are not born great, they grow great . . .” George Oppong Weah has grown great. Like any political figure, opinions on his achievements can vary, and diverse perspectives might influence the assessment of his presidency. However, just as the award-winning George Weah is known for his mercurial football dribbling skills, dexterity in scoring goals, and sublime football artistry, history will remember him for scoring this most ‘historic goal’ in Liberia of conceding defeat in the presidential election and congratulating the winner. Weah’s ability to transcend mediocrity to greatness in his football career and politics and quitting at the loudest ovation is remarkable. So much power lies in doing the simple and right things – this is where greatness is born.
Dearth of integrity in public life
By Dakuku Peterside
The integrity issue in Nigerian politics and public life has been a topic of discussion and concern for many years. Like many other countries, Nigeria has faced challenges related to corruption, lack of transparency, and ethical issues in its political landscape. It lacks integrity in its politics and tolerates acts of impunity, as proven by the prevalence of vote-buying and other dishonest practices in its elections. This has severe implications for Nigeria’s democracy and deserves our attention. Integrity is not just about breaking the law. It also means living by high moral standards, consistency, fairness to all and setting good examples. Integrity overlaps with ethics, morality, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, honesty, courage, and justice. There is no denying the importance of integrity in generating trust and confidence in leaders and the people, and this lays the foundation for transparency and accountability.
The collapse of good governance in Nigeria can be linked to a dearth of integrity in public life. Integrity and public trust are intertwined—one links to the other. A causal relationship exists between integrity and public trust, especially with people in public offices. Nigerians expect public servants to serve the public interest fairly and properly manage public resources, but this is a mountain in our country. But what do we mean by integrity in public office? Do we mean playing by laid-down rules? Or does it mean bringing elements of personal discipline to bear on public office irrespective of official regulations or exigencies?
The answer to the questions above is that integrity connotes playing by the rules and bringing high personal discipline to the office. Although we expect public office holders to be lawful, maintaining high personal discipline ensures they retain the high moral and ethical standards required by the office. Not all things that are not lawful are good, and not all things good are lawful. This is where ethics and morality come in. Unfortunately but factual , morality occupies the lowest possible rung on a virtues ladder in our public life. When leaders debase ethical and moral standards, it becomes an open gate for unleashing hell on the people. High principles often trump the law and should be the base or foundation of leadership and public service. The three cardinal tests all leaders and public servants must put through their actions, inactions, and decisions in the public interest are: Are these actions, inactions, or decisions lawful? Are they ethical? Are they morally proper? They must rethink their approach if any of the answers are negative. Some incidents in recent times show that integrity is quickly deteriorating in public life. The behaviour of some members of National Assembly and high-ranking government officials can raise legitimate questions as to whether these public officials have any sense of integrity. Nigerians now see corruption, abuse of office, dishonesty, favouritism, nepotism, and opaqueness as normal. This is most worrisome.
It is absurd that unless a leader is convicted in a court of law, he is free to continue to lead and continue any acts that he is pursuing that may be detrimental to society. This is even worse because most cases of impropriety and criminality that went to Nigerian courts are dismissed based on technicalities and not substance, thereby allowing leaders who may be culpable to go scot-free and continue unleashing mayhem on the public. What happens to the Court of Morality, the Court of Conscience, or the Court of public opinion? Does it not matter that a leader must be exonerated in these courts, too? Integrity dictates that this must be the case. I will use two recent examples of what happened to two leaders in Western Europe to show the importance attached to integrity and public morality in leadership.
In December 2019, Boris Johnson secured a landslide victory for his Conservative Party. He won an 80-seat parliamentary majority, the party’s most significant for 40 years. Yet less than three years later, he was brutally defenestrated by Members of Parliament, MPs, from his party. Members of his party deposed him because they accused him of lying and defending his friends and cronies who committed some wrong and holding party during the COVID-19 lockdown when the law was against public meetings. Although a great politician, the parliament, made up of both opposition party and ruling party members, values integrity in the political space more than other outstanding leadership qualities Johnson may have. They, irrespective of their political orientation or party affiliations, strive to maintain integrity in the political process and are happy to forgo any temporary advantage they or the party may gain by keeping someone in power whom the public knows has not kept the integrity and public trust.
A few days ago, the Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, announced his resignation following his alleged involvement in corruption. The Prime Minister resigned after meeting with the country’s President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. The public prosecutor alleged “misuse of funds, active and passive corruption by political figures, and influence peddling” as the basis of prosecution. It is instructive that he resigned from his office to allow for proper prosecution without interference and protect the integrity of the process. In these two examples, the integrity of the process and public trust were prized so high that political actors involved willingly gave up their precious high offices to maintain the integrity of the political system and political space, thereby strengthening public trust in the political space. The supremacy of the leader’s integrity, the political process and systems over personal ambition and position are not in doubt.
Would this have been the case in Nigeria?
The dearth of integrity in our public life results from many issues. The first is a complete breakdown of public morality, not just within politics but in society. In the recent past, every parent extols the value and importance of a good name over all other achievements to their children. Family and community question your source of wealth and may either ostracize you or not partake of it if you cannot explain convincingly the origin. Today, the reverse is the case. The family and community push you to bring back a large chunk of the proverbial national cake, and when you do, you are celebrated. So, even when the government wants to punish corrupt people when it can prove it, their villages will make them chiefs when they return home with their share of the national loot.
The second is structural deficiencies such as weakness of institutions of public office integrity like ICPC, EFCC, Office of the Auditor General and Police ; fault in institutions for holding people accountable or punishing deviance; weakness in leadership selection process and criteria in politics and public service; and a morally bankrupt elite class that has turned itself into a parasite on the Nigerian state.
Despite the challenges, Nigeria has made some progress in addressing integrity issues in politics. There have been high-profile anti-corruption trials and an increasing awareness of the need for ethical governance. However, sustained efforts are required to bring about lasting change. Over the years, there have been various efforts to reform the political system in Nigeria. Anti-corruption agencies, such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC), have been established to investigate and prosecute corrupt practices. However, the effectiveness of these agencies has been a subject of debate. There is a need for a complete national re-orientation that focuses on teaching the successor generation values, ethics, and morality with the hope that even if this generation fails to input integrity and honesty in our public space, the next generation will have a chance to right the wrong.
The public, civil societies and the media must strive to hold public officers accountable and demand transparency. One primary reason public officers in Western democracies resign when they have committed known moral and legal infractions is that they know the public demands accountability and transparency and must comply. Even when government institutions fail to hold officers accountable, the public will- through the power of their votes. Morality and ethics matter. This calls our attention to the importance of our electoral integrity. News coming from the off-season election in 3 states in Nigeria shows that much has stayed the same. How can the public hold public officers accountable without free and fair elections? We need solid and ethical leadership that shows example. We must strengthen institutions of public accountability- internal audits, whistle-blowers, better public accounting with triggers and red alerts, better law enforcement, and a cleaner judiciary. We must subscribe to renowned preacher Billy Graham’s mantra that ‘integrity can be restored to a society one person at a time’. The choice belongs to each of us.
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