By FEMI ADESINA
Nine unbroken days of work and travel came to a slight pause on Tuesday with a final hurray at Jigawa State, where President Muhammadu Buhari and his team commissioned legacy projects at Hadejia, Birnin Kudu, and Dutse, the State capital.
The peregrination had started in Bauchi, to Lagos, Dakar in Senegal, to Daura, then to a two days official visit in Katsina, to Kano, and finally, Jigawa State.
Anarchists and liars from the pit of hell thought they could throw a spanner in the works of what was a resounding reception for the President all round, when they concocted a story that the delegation was attacked in Kano, and the convoy pelted with stones. Really? Must have happened in their addled and befuddled imagination.
They even said the windshield of one of the choppers we used was broken. Really? And we that were onboard didn’t know. It amazed me to no end to see the fake news leading rag sheets posturing as newspapers, and becoming major talking point on television and radio stations. So we were this idle to waste precious time and space on something that didn’t happen. A major political party even issued a statement on that falsity and fickleness. O ma se o.
Well, the point of focus in this piece are some revelations that came from Governor Abubakar Badaru of Jigawa State during a State Banquet to honour the President and his team. He spoke frankly, honestly, of how President Buhari has helped all States in the country, irrespective of political party affiliation.
The country was in dire straits when President Buhari came in 2015. Federal Government was already borrowing monthly to pay salaries, while at least 27 States couldn’t pay at all. And that was at a time when oil prices had crossed 100 dollars per barrel in the international market. At a time the country should be swimming in petrodollars, it was wallowing in lack and penury. What happened? Grand larceny. Plunder. Unmitigated looting.
Let’s hear from from Governor Badaru Abubakar, of how President Buhari came to the rescue, and dazed all the State Governors:
“I want to use this opportunity to congratulate my father Mr. President on the various success stories he recorded, laying a solid foundation for the socio-economic development of our beloved country, and the continued enhancement of democracy.
“In particular, I appreciate the President for his achievements in so many areas for the development of this country despite the collapsing economy he inherited when oil prices dropped to less than $30 per barrel, production dropped to 500,000 barrels per day, as against 2.3 million barrels per day.
“Baba has achieved what the PDP 16 years cannot achieve. On road infrastructure, you are aware of what he inherited, more than 300 road projects were abandoned at the time President Buhari took over.
“Today, most of them are completed and very few are in their last stages of completion. And in addition to that, he has awarded a lot of contracts for road construction. Examples we have in our State, so that you can understand what I am talking about. Kano-Maiduguri dual carriageway was awarded some 12 years before President Muhammad Buhari and virtually nothing was happening on the site when we came in, and today the first and second phases of that road have been commissioned, and the last phase will soon be commissioned.
”This is a gigantic project that you have seen for yourself. Again, the Shuwarin-Kwanar-Huguma road that was awarded almost 7 or 8 years before the coming of President Muhammad Buhari. When he came in, there was nobody on site, he paid and re-mobilised and today the road is completed.
“So, we have many examples on what he has done in road infrastructure across the country. Close by, you have seen the Abuja – Kaduna- Kano Expressway, the Kano-Katsina Road project, the Kano-Gwarzo-Dayi Road project, and this is happening in almost all parts of the country-the 2nd Niger Bridge, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, across the whole country.
“So, when oil was $100 per barrel; they abandoned the projects, but President Buhari continued with the projects, with one third of the money they were getting.
“In education, we have seen tremendous development, so many around the country and if we come local, we see the new University of Science and Technology, Babura; they have started construction, the two Colleges of Technology and that of Agriculture in Kirikasamma and the one in Birnin Kudu, as well as the Hadejia Science and Technical school
“In addition to that, we complained and asked for support for the Kafin Hausa University and the President graciously approved the sum N3bn for that university.
“All these are across board in the country. But I am giving the example in Jigawa State. That is the nature of the development that Baba has brought to the table in this country.
“In health care, we have seen a lot of support. The President took over the resuscitated Jigawa State Specialist Hospital, and converted it to a Teaching Hospital with massive investment, constructed the General Hospital in Taura, that is one masterpiece, and supported us heavily during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We got a lot of support again through the Federal Medical Centre in Birnin-Kudu.
“And again, I say these are all projects that cut across the whole country. If I start talking about Jigawa; the same way Kano Governor will start talking about projects in Kano, the same way even Nyesom Wike will stand up and start talking about projects Baba did in his State.
“You have seen the tremendous development in the rail sector. The Kaduna-Abuja, Lagos-Ibadan, the Itakpe-Warri, and on-going projects that have been awarded including Dutse-Kano, Kano-Danbatta-Kazaure-Gwiwa-Daura-Katsina to Niger Republic.
“Compensation has been paid, and contractors have mobilized to the site. The rehabilitation of the Nguru-Gagarawa to Kano rail line has commenced. And again, this is done across the country
“On Social Investments, in Jigawa alone, 164,000 families received your N5000 monthly support, and again this is across the whole country.
“Baba is feeding 1 million of our students, creating 9200 food vendors to supply food to those students. Not to talk of the N-power, the Trader Moni, and the GEEP, these are unprecedented social investment we have witnessed at this time, I can go on and on and on.
“In power, in 20 years, Maigatari power station has been commissioned during Baba’s time. And that is providing steady power, 24 hours power to our industrial areas in Gagarawa, Gumel, Maigatari, Babura to Taura and Ringim areas. That particular power doesn’t blink.
In addition to that, he has just awarded the contract for another four substations in Jigawa State, one in Kazaure, one in Babura, one in Birnin Kudu, and one in Gwaram. Sites have been taken over already by the contractors. In addition to numerous transmission lines and support that has been granted to Jigawa State.
“On food security, we cannot thank you enough. Your Anchor Borrowers, your Fertilizer Initiative, and the delight for us to go back to the farm has received tremendous support for our people. Today, in Jigawa, we see farming as a business. And the farmers are the richest group in our economic life today.
“On security, we know what you met, the journey that could take us from Dutse to Kano that we do now in one hour 10 minutes, before you came, it’s normally a journey of two to three and a half hours because of so much checkpoints and control.
“Today, we can move freely at whatever time in Jigawa State and most parts of North Eastern states.
“The level of investment that you have put in security is unprecedented across the country and is yielding positive results.
“When we were at Emir’s palace in Hadejia, he mentioned some, I reminded him some and I still forgot some because they are too numerous. I just remember Konadimawa-Kanya Baba-Babura-Babamutum road that is being constructed now. We have been begging for that road for over 20 years. Isn’t it? The Gaya to Jahun road I mentioned in the palace, there are so numerous achievements that time will not permit
“So, for us in Jigawa, Baba, we are very very grateful. We have never seen it better in the entire life of Jigawa State. We can only pray for you. We can only wish you long life, good health and prosperity.
”You remember Baba, we came against all odds. When we came in, the economy collapsed and I inherited N114 billion on liabilities and contractual obligations. But I had only N16 million. So, that was bad from the beginning. Then, oil prices collapsed.
“Our grant dropped to less than one third and we were faced with the problem of paying salaries. I remember myself and some businessmen discussing, ‘what brought us into this mess?’ We nearly ran away.
But with your intervention Sir, we were able to do well.
We were able to do all the projects that we promised people to do. If you look, within the first few months, you approved for all the governors salary bailout, all the governors in Nigeria were given money to pay salary arrears, in some states up to eight, 10 months.
“Without that support, it could have been difficult for states at that time to even consider running without these funds. After that, the governors came back to you, ‘Baba, we have paid salary arrears, but we need some support for infrastructure’, you graciously approved N10 billion for each state to start infrastructure.
“We came back to you, ‘okay, we have paid salary, we are doing infrastructure, but the money we are receiving will not be enough to continue to pay salaries’, you approved budget support for us, giving every state N1 billion in the first four, six or seven months. It gradually dropped when oil prices started improving then, it dropped to N800 million per State and N500 million until such a time oil price and the internally generated revenues had improved. Without it, we couldn’t have been able to pay salaries at that time.
“Then, we came back to you again and said ‘Sir, there is this Paris Club issue, our deductions that were not paid to us’. You said: ‘How much?’ We said: ‘ It depends on each State,’ and you approved the payment. Jigawa got close to N43 billion.
“Time will not permit me to continue, but Daddy, you know all the support you have given us. All these monies are what is keeping us in government and we can beat our chests and say we have delivered adequately well for our people.
“Whatever we do in Jigawa State, we owe it to your magnanimity and your support and this support is across all the States and party lines. There is no time enough for me to go over what I have done in the last seven and a half years, but Baba, my pride today is that I can walk on any street in Jigawa State comfortably and people are rejoicing. That means I have done what people expect us to do.”
Hmmmmm. Deep. Factual. Shooting straight from the hips, and hitting bull’s eyes. Yet some people will overfeed, pat their corpulent tummies, and exclaim, ‘Buhari has done nothing for this country.’ Indolent, ungrateful souls.
President Buhari responded by appreciating the warm reception accorded him and members of his entourage from the Emir’s Palace in Hadejia, to the various commissioning locations in Auyo, Birnin Kudu and Dutse.
He recalled that he came to Jigawa in 2018 to perform the flag-off of the Hadejia Valley Irrigation Scheme in Auyo Local Government. “Today, I am delighted to perform the commissioning of the project after the successful completion of its rehabilitation and expansion.
“The project, which covers over 5,700 hectares of irrigable land would significantly contribute to our quest for food security, job creation, economic diversification and the attainment of our objective of non-oil dependent economy.”
The President said he was truly amazed by the extent of projects and programmes executed across all sectors. “I was amazed because of the limited fiscal space that we have faced over the years across all the tiers of Government – but then I recall the financial prudence Governor Badaru has been known for, which earned him the nick-name ‘Mai Calculator.’ “
The President concluded by sincerely thanking “everybody here with us today and for the warm receptions accorded us everywhere we go.”
Yes, the reception was warm everywhere, and President Buhari remains a darling of the people, despite attempts by caterwauling minority to twist and obfuscate matters. Why do the heathens rage, and the people imagine vain things?
Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity
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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