The state of our nation has made the issue of good governance a public topic in all serious gatherings of men and women. All conversations in recent times now centre on good governance, particularly in view of the general election of the country that is fast approaching. The threats we have faced in recent times, ranging from terrorism to banditry, kidnapping, economic devastation, recession, ethnic agitations and youth restiveness, culminating in the #EndSARS protests and its concomitant violence, vandalism and looting, are pointing to no other conclusion than that governance, to say the least, is challenged in Nigeria and we either get it right or face collective damnation. Local and international assessments are concurring on the point that Nigeria has been a long-time victim of bad governance. The attitude and performances of our leaders in this regard have not justified a contrary conclusion. No young man of 30 years of age can boast of having tasted what could be described as good governance as the era of the Western Nigeria miracle had long gone before he was born. A colleague, by name Udombana, once said, and I concur: “‘Nigerians may not agree on such high-sounding philosophical and political theories as existentialism, metaphysics, idealism, rationalism, nationalism, or pragmatism, but Nigerians everywhere agree on, and desire, good governance, peace, stability, prosperity, freedom, justice and equity. There could be wide disagreements about truths and about telos–the ends of society–but Nigerians desire a country where everyone has an opportunity to aspire and perspire for prosperity without inhibitions based on sex, place of birth, language, or other meaningless considerations. They desire a country where merit prevails over mediocrity and nepotism, and where its leaders work for the common good, irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliations. Thus, even in the current atmosphere of mistrust and intolerance, Nigerians could proceed on these fundamental issues.”
This, in my view, is the minimum demand of an average Nigerian. As remarked by a philosopher, the language of hunger is universal. However, in delving into the substance of this discourse, it is imperative that I examine certain terminologies, the analysis of which will form the basis of our conclusion as regards the expectations from our people in the forthcoming elections. In that regard, I am taking an excursion into what is meant by “ethical leadership” on one hand and “good governance” on the other. This is crucial as I have observed, over time, that Nigerians seem not to know the import of these terms.
While it is rare to find a universally acceptable definition for any concept, I will attempt a descriptive meaning of the terms. The challenge always lies in the fact that definitions often reflect the definer’s idiosyncrasies. The term “ethical leadership” is a combination of two different words, namely, “ethics” and “leadership.”
Ethical leadership, according to Paez Gabriunas I, in his works on Ethical Leadership published in Prof. D. Michalos Encyclopedia of Business and Professional Ethics is: “A leadership style that highlights the ethical dimension of leadership in management. It refers to the leader’s values, ethical traits and ethical behaviour in organizational settings, and the way they relate to employees, organizations, and society.”
The implication of the above is that a responsible leadership is one that takes ethical consideration as primary. In other words, he is a leader that understands the need to comply with some unspoken norms, notwithstanding that such are not compelled by law. The place of ethics in leadership is all-encompassing and a leadership without ethical consideration is a liability to governance and the society on which it presides. On the other hand, good governance, as a concept, does not yield to easy definition as observed by Rachel Gisselquist in a 2012 article titled “What Does Good Governance Mean?” (published on the website of the United Nations University).
However, by certain characteristics, we can determine what amounts to good governance. In World Bank’s perspective, it includes efficient public service, reliable judicial system, accountability, freedom of the press, etc. It is not my intention to deliver a treatise on good governance, hence, I shall content myself simply with the above. It is certain that there is a strong and inseparable link between ethical leadership as an art and good governance as practised in sane societies. The link is so strong that we shall see that there cannot be good governance where the leadership style is devoid of ethical consideration for what is good and what is bad. In this regard, while our definition and consideration of good governance shall be based on certain characteristics that constitute what amounts to good governance, it is submitted, from the beginning, that our examination of some of the essentials of ethical shall illuminate what amounts to ethical leadership, with reference to what is expected of the electorate.
The implication of this is that, beyond other routine or standard criteria to be used in determining our leaders in the next election, we must settle the question of ethics as another threshold. To determine this, the capabilities of an aspirant need to be measured against the set criteria of ethical leadership. Thus, as we undertake the screening or vetting of the aspirants/candidates in the forthcoming elections, we need to probe into the background and pedigree of such people in terms of transparency. The simple question is, in his past, has he been opaque? How transparent has he been in transactions in the past. This is very crucial. Should the discovery be negative, we must distance ourselves from such candidates, in our collective interest. Again, does such a candidate have a sense of accountability, starting with his own private transactions? If the finding is ‘no’, then, again, such a candidate must be avoided like a plague. Is the candidate a team player that promotes consensus building? If our revelation is that he is an autocrat, we must, immediately, be wary of indulging such a candidate with a public office. How responsive is such a candidate? If he is responsive, then we must promote him, otherwise, he is not fit to be elected. Is the candidate a person that leads from the front in respect of his personal transactions? Does he lead by example? If the answers are not in the affirmative, then we do not need such a hypocrite in our public space. How beneficial is his knowledge? If injurious in private dealings, we do not need such people as our leaders, as their knowledge will harm the system.
I can continue to replicate these questions but suffice to say that these are some of the values expected of our ‘Man Friday’. I have indicated a few of the above to highlight some concerns necessary to be settled in terms of ethics as we embark on the change of leadership shortly.
There are many codes of ethics that need to be developed to account for the gap in ethical leadership in Nigeria. However, the starting point must be the development of national ethics. This is because ethics in our nation still appears to be a relative concept. Criminality and other vices have been reduced to tribal, ethnic, political, religious and other parochial biases. It is not infrequent to hear in instances of such criminalities, questions such as: why our tribe man, why our religious follower, why our political associate, etc? As such, criminality assumes parochial colouration. This is how far our values, virtues and morals have collapsed, and humanity debased in the process.
Undoubtedly, values and virtues have collapsed in our system. This, to my mind, is a contributory factor to the state of our nation today. Little wonder why we celebrate iniquities in one form or another. It is when this feat is achieved through settlement of minimum ethical standards that we can start developing and electing ethical leaders who will deliver good governance for us. Thus, there is the need for the members of the political class to search themselves and develop these codes so that the coming generations too will not end up being wasted generations like the previous ones as described by the erudite Professor Wole Soyinka. It is certain that a society that neglects its future would permanently be haunted forever by its present iniquities. Let us think very well and right the wrongs. The elders of today are the alumni of yesterday’s inequities, let us not turn our children into alumni of today’s inequalities. The point must still be made that the political class is part of the larger society devoid of ethical standards. No people or class originates from space as our evolution as a people is what bequeaths to us what we call subsequent generations. Our failures of the past have confronted us with certain challenges that we are battling to survive under. The boko haram terrorism, bandit terrorism, kidnapping for ransom, fraudulent practices otherwise referred to as yahoo-yahoo, ritual killing, armed robbery, etc., all of which have taken centre stages, are symptoms of our past iniquities. Failure to educate a people is the most productive workshop for manufacturing ignorant and superstitious youths whose mentality can never be helped by benevolence religiousity. Consequently, purification of the larger society along the line of minimum ethical standard is sine qua non for the emergence of ethical leaders in whose hands alone the future of a nation can be guaranteed into prosperity and continued existence. Where ethics are lost, all manner of vicissitudes shall plague the society and the masses shall be the ultimate losers whose struggle to live shall visit untold losses on the ruling class in return. Let us take interest in the children of the poor so that they don’t become an albatross on the children of the rich and the children trained with millions of currencies would not be devoured by those neglected via mis-governance. The number of unnecessary deaths wrought on a daily basis on innocent Nigerians is a testimony to how degenerated our society has become. No nation prays itself into safety, security, prosperity or advancement where ethics have taken a permanent flight. Our people must work assiduously to ensure that we get it right in 2023 otherwise what remains of the country shall have been exhausted by the time we destroy all electoral credibility in the next dispensation. This is just my admonition as we advance towards the next general elections. Pragmatic aspects of this proposition will be demonstrated in my next letter to the electorate.