by Raymond Eyo
“My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.” –Thomas Jefferson
On March 17, news broke that the Jonathan administration is proposing a national ethics and values bill to, inter alia, in the words of President’s Jonathan’s Special Adviser on Ethics, Mrs Sarah Jibril, “positively change the attitude of Nigerians.” Jibril says the proposed bill will help “create a stronger foundation for the good ethics and sound moral values for the people.”
One major component of the bill is that it seeks to create a federal ministry of national ethics and values. According to Jibril, the proposed ministry would positively transform Nigeria’s image. Jibril also said the ministry would enhance the standard of living in communities across the country. She added that the ethics bill would make it unlawful to raise thugs and equally urged state governors and local government chairmen to replicate her Special Adviser on Ethics office at their respective levels.
This national ethics and values bill is brazen grandstanding, at the best, and simply another waste of resources, at the worst! In fact, the bill will instead help to breed more unethical practices in the polity. Just every component of the bill has serious flaws as are pointed out below.
First, the idea of a federal ministry of national ethics and values is consummate rubbish! The Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs has not developed the Niger Delta. The Ministry of Police Affairs did not prevent the Ikeja Police school mess. It has not helped the welfare of our policemen or the quality of policing. Creating a federal ministry for ethics and values will amount to no more than further burgeoning an already oversize bureaucracy with the attendant waste of state resources and a valve through which to provide jobs for the ruling party’s boys!
Secondly, a stronger foundation for lasting moral values in Nigeria will be dependent on the respect for, and the strict implementation of extant criminal laws, especially as they apply to corrupt individuals. When this is done, it will help to deter others from acting likewise.
Sadly, when criminals like Diepreye Alamieyeseigha are pardoned and not duly punished, by the very administration that is now seeking an ethics bill, all they will end up getting is a society where high-level corruption and impunity thrive. Jibril’s boss, Jonathan, must therefore act right, especially in fighting corruption. Unless that is done, any talk of moral values will remain gibberish!
In addition, Jibril’s argument that the bill will enhance living standards in the communities by ensuring that rural dwellers get the best of social services is not only vague but it actually does not fall under the preserve of the federal government to preoccupy itself with community development, especially in the context of popular aspirations for Nigeria to practice a truly federal system where the devolution of powers compels the central government to stay clear of local community issues – as they rightly belong to the state and local governments.
Either way, to enhance living standards in the communities, all tiers of government should allocate more resources for capital spending and use them judiciously and transparently. The status-quo, wherein a whopping 68% of the federal budget for 2013 goes for recurrent spending, is utterly unsustainable. Incidentally, one reason for such a jumbo recurrent allocation is the large federal bureaucracy, beefed up by numerous and unwanted ministries and agencies such as those pointed out above. In that same vein, a ministry of ethics and national values is just very undesirable.
Furthermore, Jibril’s argument that the bill would make it unlawful to hire thugs and assassins is just wishful thinking with no logical bearing. All that suffices to stop thuggery and rampant political assassinations is to end the do-or-die politics so loved by Jibril’s PDP party. Thuggery and political assassinations are violent measures deployed by desperate politicians to win political power and loot the state or national till for themselves and their associates’ selfish benefits. If corruption is vigorously fought against, such greedy politicians will naturally be persuaded to not run for office for fear of being prosecuted when found guilty. Ultimately, this will quell the lure of thuggery and assassinations that props them up in the first place.
Again, in a way that further betrays the ethics bill as instead being poised to foster unethical tendencies in Nigeria’s polity, another of its provisions urges state governors and local government chairmen to replicate Jibril’s Special Adviser on Ethics office at their respective levels. This is embarrassing! Any keen and objective observer of Nigerian politics and governance will agree that Nigeria sorely needs so much less of bureaucratic aides, not more of them. Most governors and local government chairmen already have far more special assistants and advisers than they will ever need. They drain the states’ resources to provide these jobs for their boys and henchmen – jobs that rarely add any value to governance. In fact, Sarah Jibril’s office is actually guilty of this charge. It is clear that the office was created to get her on the federal government’s payroll, perhaps, in a bid to compensate her for running (and losing) in the last two PDP presidential primaries. If Sarah Jibril’s portfolio made even an iota of sense, in value-addition terms, Nigeria would, surely, not be treated to President Jonathan’s endless legion of unethical actions and gaffes. Indeed, this bill alone is yet another proof that no good can come out of bureaucratic portfolios that are not created in the best interest of the country.
There are essentially two ways to entrench lasting moral values in any country. One is via the pragmatic example of a country’s political leadership, especially from the top brass. The other is often through an educational awakening.
In the first instance, prominent international leadership expert, John Maxwell, says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Also, medieval Italian statesman, Niccolo Machiavelli, declared, “[One man’s] good example has such an influence that the good men strive to imitate him [and] that the wicked are ashamed to lead a life so contrary to [it].” Indeed, on March 19, former Nigerian minister of education and World Bank Vice-President for Africa, Dr Mrs Oby Ezekwesili said, “With the top-most credible political leadership leading the way, society is mobilised towards new moral norms and new values.”
In the second case, in Rwanda, for instance, to sustain a renewed national ethical consciousness that has dawned following an intensive anti-corruption campaign by the Paul Kagame government, the head of the Office of the Ombudsman, Justice Cyanzayire Aloysie, recently said, “The anti-corruption campaign also focuses on the youth because they are the leaders of tomorrow. Thus, we train them to develop integrity in what they do… We are also working with the Ministry of Education to include in the school curriculum a course on integrity which incorporates Rwandan values.”
To guarantee lasting moral values and ethics in the conduct of affairs in Nigeria, the above two variables must be consciously championed. Anything short of that will, unfortunately, amount to throwing water on a duck’s back!
In all, policy formulation is serious governance business, not some leisurely walk in the park. This ethics and values bill further demonstrates the puerile policy thought processes of the Jonathan administration. Jonathan and his battalion of inept special assistants, Sarah Jibril inclusive, will do well to stop chasing shadows and start running after the real issues – beginning, of course, with combating corruption!