Home Columns Ethics And Nation Building In Nigeria, By Prof. Umaru A. Pate

Ethics And Nation Building In Nigeria, By Prof. Umaru A. Pate



Professor Umaru A. Pate (Kaigamma of Adamawa)
Department of Mass Communication
University of Maiduguri

Being text of a paper delivered at the National Conference and Annual General Meeting of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, NIPR, in Abuja, December 15-18, 2013 at the Shehu Musa Yar’adua Centre, Abuja

It is a great delight to be invited to address this august gathering on the very serious subject of ethics and nation building in Nigeria. I thank the organizers for inviting me to deliver the paper. Let me especially thank the President of the NIPR, Dr Mohammed Ahmed and the executive council for finding me worthy for this responsibility. I congratulate the council on concluding its term successfully and preparing for a smooth succession. Let me also thank the entire membership and congratulate the new inductees and wish all an exciting AGM. I must specifically commend the Institute on its successes and organizational excellence. Similarly, I wish to commend the choice of theme for this convention which focuses on the nation’s centennial celebrations with special reference to the subject of strengthening national integration and upgrading the national image. The topic is apt at this moment for us to re-examine our efforts at nation building and the extent to which our image has affected our development as individuals and nation over time. I am confident that with the caliber of persons here, the subject will be appropriately addressed.
Specifically, I have been asked to speak on ethics and nation building. In the social sciences and particularly Mass Communication and Public Relations, ethics is central to what we do in our academic as well as practical engagements because ethics is critical to credibility in the gathering, processing and delivery of information for believability. For an individual or a people to internalise, accept, believe and actualise the content of information, such an individual or people must adjudge the source and content of the information as sufficiently credible on the basis of truthfulness, competence, dynamism and relevance. When an individual is sufficiently and ethically informed, he/she becomes knowledgeable on a particular subject and the mind is freed from uncertainty, liberated from ignorance and empowered to effectively participate in the process of nation building. Therefore, we can easily see the linkage between ethics and nation building in a context like our own.
Since independence, Nigeria and its people have been struggling with different approaches to build the country and set it on the path of political, economic, environmental, social, technological, educational and cultural greatness. As a process, nation building is about national development. In the case of Nigeria, national development connotes unity, qualitative and quantitative improvement in the living standard of the people as well as a remarkable progression on the human development index. Over time, we have tried different political systems, implemented numerous economic measures, adopted various educational policies and evolved a variety of social transformation efforts to facilitate the process of nation building. Yet, Nigeria has remained a nation seized by the drawbacks of development in the form of poverty, conflict, corruption, poor governance, materialism, weak institutions, political misbehaviour, general indiscipline, and infrastructural weaknesses, among others. Standards are alarmingly declining in many facets of our private and public behaviours.
The growth and development level of the nation have continuously failed to correlate with the quantum of resources allegedly expended over time. Contradictions of abundance of oil money and widespread poverty as well as an affluent few and the majority poor stare us at every turn on the landscape. We are a country endowed with much potential or rather wasting potential but rated among the poorest countries in the world irrespective of all the hype about our abundant natural resources. More disturbingly, not only are we rated a poor country, but one of increasing poverty, in which much resources are allocated to the process of development, may be misallocated with diminutive results.
Arguably, the very slow progress being experienced in our nation building process can be related to factors like poor governance, indiscipline, disregard for ethics, and negative attitudes which are manifested in widespread corruption, examination malpractices, disorderly conduct, lawlessness, impunity, impatience, cutting of corners, lies, intolerance, cognate social evils, disrespect for agreements, bureaucratic dishonesty, self centred attitudes, etc. Such anti ethical behaviours and negative values have exerted serious consequences on our individual and corporate images and reputations as Nigerians, at home and abroad. Perhaps, unable to understand why things do not appear straight, many of the times in Nigeria, a foreign journalist once remarked that: “Nigeria is just like an unfortunate sick man. He has refused to respond to treatment. But he also refused to die”!
At several times, efforts have been made to attack negative values and institutionalize ethics in our individual and national lives. There was, for example, the ethical regeneration initiative of President Shehu Shagari through the Ethical Revolution in 1981, General Buhari’s War Against Indiscipline, General Babangida’s MAMSER, General Abacha’s WAI-C (C-for Corruption which has transformed to the National Orientation Agency); President Obasanjo’s multi-pronged war on corruption; and President Jonathan has even gone further to appoint a Special Adviser on National Ethics and Values with plans to possibly transform the office into a full Ministry of National Ethics (Vanguard, March 17, 2013). Above all, the 1999 Nigerian Constitution has recognised the place and role of ethics in our national life. Section II, sub section 23 provides that: “The national ethics shall be Discipline, Integrity, Dignity of Labour, Social Justice, Religious Tolerance, Self-reliance and Patriotism”. That provision is well captured in the spirit and functions of the National Orientation Agency. Equally, most of our institutions and professional regulatory bodies have very strict ethical codes that are supposedly being enforced to ensure that things are done appropriately and transparently. After all, it is the upholding of such globally acknowledged ethical values that will earn us recognition, respect and integration in the globalised world.
However, we do not seem to have substantially succeeded in upholding the constitutional provision on national ethics in a great deal of our individual and corporate lives. A high level of indiscipline characterise our personal and official conducts. Indiscipline simply means exhibition of inappropriate and unethical conducts that are intentionally aimed at subverting, undercutting and undermining proper and correct behaviour. Indiscipline is widespread; it is vertically and horizontally prevalent and runs from the bottom to the top. Indiscipline is visible at our homes, schools, roads, offices, markets, business practices, politics; mention any sector of our national life and you can easily point out aspects of unethical and indiscipline behaviour common to it. Indiscipline breeds immorality, impatience, deception, shamelessness, criminal tendencies, corruption, cutting of corners and institutionalization of mediocrity and degradation of values and bastardization of credibility, integrity and quality in personal and official affairs. Let us cite the example of the current practice of democracy in the country. It is evident that while we have accepted to adopt and practice the democratic option of governance, we have, unfortunately, demonstrated increasing inability to imbibe and strictly subject ourselves individually and collectively to the rules and tenets of democracy. Many of us exhibit anti-democratic tendencies and engage in selective interpretation and application of democracy and its pillars.
Fifty years after independence, we are still far from the point where trust and confidence amongst and between us define and drive relationships and interactions at all levels in the country. Every sector of our national life is afflicted by one form of unethical behaviour or another. Some of the negative attitudes are institution or zone specific, and a lot more are commonly and federally distributed; not restricted to any defined boundaries like gender, religion, location or even social status. In fact, many of such negative values seemed to have developed into attitudes that many of us no longer regard them as obnoxious.

Ethics refer to the forms of behaviour and conduct that are socially correct based on core values cherished and upheld by the society. Strictly speaking, ethics is:
the science and art of proper behaviour. It is the branch of philosophy that studies human actions in terms of being right or wrong, licit or illicit. In other words, it is the science of good and evil. The good is what is to be done and the evil is what is to be avoided. It is also the science of what is permitted and may be done or, what is forbidden and may not be done. In this perspective, ethics has to do with obligations and rightfulness in actions and indeed in decisions as well (Iroegbu, P. 2005)
Ethics is not a foreign concept for us. It is deeply enshrined in our constitution and the various regulatory codes in the country. In fact, the national ethics is derived from our religions, individual cultures and social etiquettes. For instance, the two major religions have very strict provisions and prescribed codes of behaviour that are ethically based. Similarly, our individual cultures and traditions have prescriptive codes on personal and social values as well as standard rules of engagement in our relationships. Thus, our deficient and negative anti ethical behaviours may not be due to the absence of a foundation or background. Each one of us comes from a specific background where the influence of religion and culture is enormous; yet, our society is highly afflicted with cases of indiscipline, corruption, intolerance, dependence, immorality, etc. So, why do we wallow in unethical conduct despite the obvious implications on our individual and collective development as a nation? What gratification do we obtain in holding on to unethical behaviours?
One can easily cite a number of reasons responsible for a lot of the unethical behaviours that are manifested in our society. The first one is derailed leadership and poor governance as manifested at all levels. Without doubt, the quality of leadership and governance in the country has been on the decline over time. It seems that from the 1990s, the deregulation and liberalization witnessed in our economy have also affected our characters and standards of behavior, individually and collectively. There are numerous evidences of the failure of leadership and its deficits at all levels in the family, corporate and public domains. Leaders and followers openly and brazenly engage in unethical and lawless behaviours that contradict the constitutional provisional on national ethics.
Oddity is increasingly becoming normality in our governance process. Many things are wrong; yet, things appear to be all correct. Any leadership that is self centred, corrupt, sectional and insensitive would lack the moral courage and the spine to be able to insist on ethics, demand transparent behavior and enforce laws. In such a situation, the followers would simply copy the behaviour of the leadership and perpetrate incorrect acts knowing that the sanctioning regime is no better. For instance, somebody once raised a doubt on our national resolve to defeat examination malpractices by asking the simple question, thus: “How can students shun malpractice when they can see criminals being set free through legalisms and court room gymnastics or, worse, through wretched and criminal influence peddling?”(Aminu, 2006).
Secondly, widespread and demeaning poverty compounded by the spirit of excessive materialism in our society has fueled failure to uphold globally acknowledged standards of behaviour and the core values of equity, freedom, care and compassion, participation, sharing, sustainability and responsibility (Globethics, 2013). Poverty can compel individuals to break rules and resort to negative actions that may appear rewarding in the short term. Poverty can make individuals to dodge their responsibilities. Poverty can also lead to desperation. Thus, in desperation to escape from poverty, individuals break rules, worry less about integrity, disregard other persons’ convenience and abandon social etiquettes; more so, that unethical behaviours are sustained by an increasing level of reward and the temptation of “if you cannot beat them, join them”.
The third reason may relate to the quality of our institutions. I have a feeling that we are breeding too many powerful individuals at the expense of our institutions. When institutions for monitoring, detecting, and preventing wrong behaviours and for apprehending and prosecuting perpetrators are weak, such acts are sustained. Existing regulatory societal institutions progressively appear defective to fight malpractices and lawlessness effectively at the cultural or national level, whether one is talking of the family, educational establishments or the law. It means that ethics are not being upheld. It means that justice is not being done. While all of us and particularly, the police and the judiciary need to get their act together over these matters, one is always discomforted by the widespread and endemic practice of very highly placed people using whatever influence they have to shield or free wrong doers.
Another major cause of the devaluation in our ethical standard is the impact of globalization. Globalization and infiltration of external cultures have impacted negatively on our values and positive attitudes. We have copied a lot of negative influences that left many of us hugely confused, if not sick. While we are good in copying the easily damaging values, I am not sure if we have really been able to indigenise the discipline, hard work and accountability that we see elsewhere when we travel. Characteristically, we go for the easier options that often prove unsafe for us and our nation.
Unethical conduct, immorality or negative values are devoid of ethical benchmarks. They are dangerous social evils. They can be damaging to the society, to the extent of leading to a failed state. And, like all forms of things that are wrong, the dangers are multifaceted and some of them concrete enough.
Inappropriate behaviour has very serious economic implications. In this country, the cost of corruption is incalculable. Huge sums are stolen, diverted or wasted as a consequence of not doing things in the right way. Each day billions of Naira is lost through time wastage, squabbles, naked stealing and many other acts of indiscipline. The system is robbed of trust. Good governance is undermined and democracy weakened. The perception and reputation of the country get spoiled as we see in several international reports like the ones from Transparency International and others.
Apart from direct wastage of money, there is also wasting in the form of opportunity costs to the nation and society. Indiscipline is recognized as one of the main causes of poverty and underdevelopment in a community. Governments of developing nations embark on reform measures principally to attack poverty. It can be seen that the war against poverty cannot be won with endemic corruption and indiscipline. An evil like the disregard for correctness can destroy the system, make it impossible to fight poverty and hinder efficient use of economic resources for nation building.
Equally, unethical behaviours result in widespread societal intolerance, disdain for alternative opinions and hatred for individuals and cultures different from our own. For instance, ethno-religious killings and the intolerance exhibited by different groups is an indication of failure to abide by correct religious teachings, deficient sense of social justice and contempt for one another. Even frightening is the fact that the political elite is not robustly tolerant. The intolerant attitude of some of our politicians to alternative views or options in the present dispensation is frightening and threatening to democratic values. In fact, one can argue that while we have happily embraced democracy, our politicians have shown that they are unwilling or incapable of imbibing the tenets of democratization, two of which are tolerance and allowance of freedom to dissent. Increasingly, we are seeing the crude emasculation and physical strangulation of the alternative voice in the public domain. There are hardly any exceptions. Elsewhere, I had observed that:
The unwritten rule nowadays is that the Oga and his team members are always right, their achievements, no matter how mean, unsurpassable and the state will collapse without them. Any view outside this framework is abominable, condemnable, and punishable. Woe betides whoever that holds or dares to express contrary opinion. Such a fellow is berated, political hustlers are sponsored to reply him in the most uncouth of languages, and media managers are rattled and in worst cases, dethroned. Thus, in such a climate, members of the general public maintain sealed lips and government media houses become exceptionally selective on whom to feature on their airwaves. Sycophantic elements rule the airwaves, honest citizens’ recoil into their shells and democratic ebullience takes flight. A culture of resignation, despondency and fear predominates. Democratic values decline and society degenerates (Pate, 2007).
It is also important we realize that if our young people are brought up on indiscipline, intolerance, sycophancy, lack of integrity, cutting of corners, disrespect for rules and regulations, laziness and anti-intellectualism and other forms of negative values, especially where it is done in collusion with their elders, leaders and teachers, then, we are doomed. We may be destined to a life of laziness, crime, fraud, conflict and corrupt practices. Unethical behaviours can breed laziness, anti intellectualism, irresponsibility and disdain for logic and deep thinking in our personal, business and official activities. We cannot afford all of that in the process of trying to build our nation.
Today, the consequences are evident in our impatient and shallow handling of issues; we celebrate much and deliver too little; our love for jamborees is unlimited; we like sycophancy and hate deep thinking and scientific approach to issues. Because of mental laziness, there is poor knowledge of the country as demonstrated in the huge deficit in the understanding of our heterogeneity by a large section of the population particularly the young (Pate, 2010). And, where they do, regrettably, many have a poor picture of the complexities of our composition. The understanding of the Nigerian nation and its citizens in terms of geography, history, sociological and anthropological set ups and other basic information that can foster the spirit of togetherness are grossly deficient. This is why today even basic arguments on general issues of governance are easily and arrogantly localized into ethnic or religious provincialism. Matters are simplistically ethnicised or religionised instead of subjecting same to deep analysis, objective assessment and scientific conclusions based on knowledge and circumstantial evidence.
Unethical conduct leads to loss of credibility. Elsewhere, an ethically indicted person is very unlikely to rise to a position of trust and leadership. It dogs the perpetrator through life like an albatross round the neck. However, in Nigeria, the story is not similar. And, this is not good for our individual and collective reputation as members of the global community. Where a country becomes notorious for indiscipline, crookedness, corruption and everything negative, nothing will ever be believed from that country. Such a country loses international credibility. Its documents, including certificates and receipts, will not be believed. Where certificates awarded by a country’s educational institutions are disbelieved, documents from its financial institutions disrespected, agreements with its governments suspected; then, it is real trouble. Business becomes risky and costly. International partners keep us at a distance. Under the circumstances, those who can afford to avoid us will always choose to do so. Hardly will anyone from outside care to come to invest in the country or even come for tourism. Locally, leaderships at several levels in the society stand the risks of losing credibility among the followers. Thus, in a society where leadership is perceived to be deficient in honesty, lacking in transparency and verily disbelieved, one cannot expect development and national consensus.

It has been argued repeatedly that the value system, attitudinal orientation and behavioral pattern of the people in a place have very profound impact on the economic, political and social development of their environment. Thus, where widespread social malady appears to have lasting personal rewards to successful violators, then, it may become very difficult to defeat such and sustain. So, it has to be confronted in a sustained fashion in order to restore the pride and credibility of our people for national development.
The first requirement is to ease those pressures that increase the temptation to engage in negative acts that are unethical. That means, within available resources, to improve the quality of life of the people. Serious and transparent governance together with adequate attention will increase the confidence of the people and reduce the tendency to cheat in order to make it.
Character training of children and the youth is probably the most difficult and the most effective approach. Parents should not only ensure that the children receive adequate character training, they must be very firm against their children engaged in dubious and negative acts like examination malpractices. They must never fail to condemn and reject any sign of or tendency to cheat on the part of their wards. No matter how excellent the performance looks, it should be rejected and condemned if the results appear to have been obtained fraudulently. What applies to the parents, should apply to the Federal, State and Local Governments and the corporate world. Where officials are involved in shady behaviours, the punishment must be severe and predictable to discourage others.
One can also advocate for a more critical approach in our leadership recruitment pattern in the society. The current system allows many defective leaders to emerge in very strategic positions thereby failing to provide the necessary guidance based on character, knowledge and sacrifice. The society is always the worst off when incompetent leaders emerge be it at the family, community, organizational or state level.
In a summarized form, Ogundele and others (2010) had suggested a three pronged approach in addressing the ethical challenges confronting us in the nation. The stage approaches are:
a. Strict Sanctions: This process calls for the imposition of severe and appropriate sanctions on individuals and organisations that breach, official business and societal ethics. These sanctions must be prompt and sufficiently strong to act as deterrent to other prospective offenders. If people are not punished for offences committed, it tends to encourage other people to emulate perpetrators of unethical conducts. Our institutions, law enforcement agencies and legal system have major responsibilities in this aspect.
b. Moral Suasion: This approach calls for the launching of massive campaigns for disciplined behaviour and practices of sound moral values. This should be championed by individual families, communities, religious institutions, business organisations, governments and its agencies. This calls for serious moral revitalisation on a higher scale than what is presently in place.
c. Reward of Excellence or Outstanding Ethical Behaviour: The spciety should encourage and honour outstanding acts of disciplined behaviour he/she should be rewarded in status and in kind. Such gesture on the part of appropriate authorities, institutions or individuals will motivate others to be ethically correct in their behaviour. It will also prove that it pays to be correct in conduct.

PR professionals wherever they may be in Nigeria need to have a clearly defined framework that can guide them on approaching and handling issues of corporate as well as national ethics and development. Ethics must be fully understood at the various levels starting from individual organizations through the local government up to the federal stage. This means that PROs must be well educated about their organisations, communities, issues and challenges in the country for them to be able to advocate and discuss convincingly on ethics at the various levels. In other words, apart from knowing their organisations, they need to have sufficient understanding of the Nigerian nation, the attitudes of its citizens, their geography, history, sociological and anthropological set ups and other basic information that can foster the spirit of empathy and inclusion in the process of nation building.
Deficiency of such knowledge basically explains why even arguments on general issues of governance are easily and arrogantly localized into ethnic or religious dimensions with the attendant consequence of dividing the people and causing confusion. It is therefore imperative for individual PROs to have improved knowledge of the country to support the initiative. Based on correct knowledge and conviction, one can easily provide a strong sense of direction and real determination to lead their organizations, communities and country to greatness based on ethical reasoning and behavior.
To this end, each one of us can encourage our organizations to operate on strict ethical standards and invest in programmes and policies that advance cohesion and development like the supporting of community /town halls, field visits/ excursions, diversity in employment, investing in other parts of the country, etc. Frequent interactions between our diverse people will contribute significantly in reducing the misconceptions about our identity and existence as a people. The more people interact with each other, the more educated they become about themselves and the better for the nation in terms of mobility, peace and progress.

In this paper, we have tried to indicate that there is a strong correlation between positive values, correct attitudinal disposition and sustained ethical standards with nation building and development. Evidently, Nigeria’s progress is hugely challenged by the devaluation of our ethical values beginning from the family up to the highest level of governance. These negative values are manifested in widespread corruption, malpractices, dishonesty, provincialism, etc. The consequences are, of course, poor governance, injustice, conflict, poverty and underdevelopment with a very doubtful reputation in the global community.
But, we are hopeful that with a conscious effort to address the issue of ethical reasoning and orientation, Nigeria can overcome its challenges and attain its rightful position in history and earn respect as a country of honest citizens and transparent leaders. I am optimistic our Public Relations professionals have a strategic role to play in this huge task of helping Nigeria to build itself based on globally acknowledged ethical values.
Finally, permit me, once again to express my sincere appreciation to the Institute, the President and council as well as the membership for this rare opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts on the theme of the conference. Above all, I thank each one of you here for your kind attention.

1. Aminu, Jibril (2006). “Examination Malpractice in Nigeria: Roots, Sustenance, Endemicity, Dangers and Assailance”. Keynote Address Delivered at a Two-Day Seminar on Examination Malpractice In Nigeria organized by the House of Representatives Committee On Education held at The Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja, on August 15-16, 2006.
2. Globethics (2013). Ethics in the Information Society: The Nine ‘P’s. Globethics. net

3. Iroegbu, P and Echekwube, A. (2005). Kpim of Morality Ethics: General,Special &Professional. Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books

4. Ogundele, JK and others(2010). “Challenges of Ethics in Nigeria within the Context of Global Ethical Practice.” Paper delivered at the conference of The Academy of Management, Nigeria.

5. Pate, U. A (2010). “Public Relations and National Cohesion in Nigeria”. Paper delivered on the Occasion of the Annual General Meeting of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Abuja Branch, November 23, 2011 at Chelsea Hotel, Abuja.

6. Pate, U. A, (2007). “The Broadcast Media and Sustainable Democracy in Nigeria: Issues and Challenges”. In Journal of Development Communication. Vol 18, No1, AIDCOMM, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


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