By Odeh Friday
A worrying lack of integrity and accountability within society has led to many being left behind in governance and decision-making processes. We’ve all seen some of the symptoms, too – a shattered public trust that often leaves citizens hopeless.
Many would say that Nigerians have misplaced their moral compass, drifting away from the principles we associate with excellence – professionalism, responsibility, accountability and self-realization. But while we struggle to find those role models among us who truly promote integrity in their words and deeds, at home and at work, at Accountability Lab – and I’m sure in many other organizations as well – we found that they do exist.
The beauty of some of this grim news is that it presents us with incredible opportunities for change. We know that if we give the right people the right opportunities, we can easily present real models of public service that can help drive a reform agenda around the values and ethics that we need in the Nigerian public service.
However, it is useful to know what we are dealing with. Unethical practices and the cost of corruption in procurement/contracting processes and service delivery have resulted in the loss of billions of dollars. RAbout NGN675 billion was paid in cash bribes to public officials in Nigeria in 2019: Nigerians who pay bribes spend an average of ₦28,200 per year on bribes.
The 2019 audit report, meanwhile, shows the extent of unchecked abuse of Nigerian authority in financial processes, with around 9 MDAs spending around N49 billion without an appropriation from the National Assembly.
Embezzlement, bribery and electoral fraud remain huge forms of corrupt practices in Nigeria on a daily basis. Vote buying, which is not fundamentally new in Nigerian electoral politics, has become commonplace. One of the most essential ingredients of Nigerian democracy is now a challenge to democratic governance.
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In April 2020, Nigeria received $3.4 billion in emergency financial assistance from the IMF to support its response to COVID-19. The findings of the Public Procurement Office show that the federal ministry health had spent $96,000 (over 40 million naira) on 1,808 regular face masks.
Even young people who are offered to advance fee fraud (like Yahoo Yahoo) and get rich quick take up far too much media space as lifestyle role models in our society.
At different levels and with different administrations, the Nigerian government has tried to run programs to change behaviors and improve negative social norms – but the track record has been disappointing; 19 month old aggressive War on Indiscipline organized by the former military government with the aim of correcting social maladjustment; the “Good People Great Nation” legacy to rename Nigeria, which was considered inconclusive due to irresponsible leaders; to the faceless”Change starts with mecampaign that many leaders have mocked. Overall, none of them have worked to build a Nigeria where the citizens are faithful, loyal and honest.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC) has developed the National Ethics and Integrity Policy which aims to address the many adverse effects of corruption in the public and private sectors while reinforcing moral values and integrity, but did not go beyond the intention as citizens are still unaware of the policy.
The discoveries of the Chatham House Africa Program Social Standards and Responsible Governance Project, show that a significant number of Nigerians – in many cases, 8 out of 10 Nigerians – believe that corruption is morally unacceptable, but that many Nigerians are unaware or mistaken about this moral rejection of corruption by their fellow citizens. This means that Nigeria is stuck in a social trap and collective action crisis where most citizens would like to live in a more honest society but fundamentally do not believe that their fellow citizens and leaders share this aspiration.
Today, we are here collectively to call on the government to put in place sustainable programs that encourage active citizen participation, support accountable leadership, and strengthen accountable institutions to integrate behavioral insights into anti-corruption strategies and using a social norms approach to tackling corruption as a means of reconstructing the Nigerian value system.
We have with us men and women who, through their lifestyle and their professional commitment, have proven that defending the virtues of integrity and responsibility is not an impossible task. They did and still do! We call them “Integrity Icons“. With the Integrity Conference (part of the Integrity Innovation Lab and the Integrity Icon campaign to name and celebrate honest government officials), we are having candid conversations to collectively create a course of action that will take us from personal integrity to building enduring institutional integrity.
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Strengthening institutional integrity will reduce systemic corruption in Nigeria, but this requires cross-sectoral cooperation and collaboration. The private sector and the public sector must cooperate with the common goal of strengthening accountability mechanisms, rewarding integrity and ensuring that governance systems are based on shared fundamental ethical values.
This is why we are committed to supporting private sector initiatives such as Ethics 1st, a unique initiative designed to advance corporate and business integrity among businesses in Nigeria. We encourage the public sector to leverage the benefits of technology and innovation in initiatives such as these to improve procurement transparency and foster integrity in the business environment.
In conclusion, we call on all Nigerians, including our political leaders, to rethink our value system. Our value system needs the collective efforts of government, the private sector, religious leaders, the media and other invested parties. to rebuild it. What we also need are creative efforts that experiment with original ideas and ensure a diverse range of voices around the table. We risk hampering our own development efforts if we do not work together to ensure that integrity is the norm in our society. We must change the narrative and come together to build a society with good values that prioritize the public good over personal interests.
Written by Odeh Friday, Accountability Lab Nigeria; with contributions from Leena Hoffmann, Chatham House and Lola Adekanye, Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE).