The volume of unethical practices in high and low places in Nigeria has earned her the status of one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The situation is such that one can hardly negotiate any transaction in good faith. With only a handful of exceptions, transaction and governance issues at all levels and in all sectors are assuming a monstrous status. Unarguably, the threat posed by unethical conduct is real and fiercer than that posed by the combined efforts of book haram and most murderous Fulani herdsmen. What remains worrisome is that there is lack of any serious discourse or action on the vexed issue and the best way to mitigate it. Everyone is in trouble and no one seems to be aware. In this crossroad of a sort, it is no longer a question of how we got into the sordid state but one of how to get out of it without further bruises and injuries.
The problem has been compounded by the situation in which those who occupy positions of responsibility either in the public or private sector serve at the whims of individuals who do not occupy formal offices. This is a framework of patron/clientelism- a case of an individual of higher socio-economic status (the patron) using his/her own influence and wherewithal to provide ‘security and protection’ (real or imagined) for a person of lower status (the client) who, in return appeases his/her patron in whatever way possible (ethical and unethical).The time to explore the possibility of purging the society of clientelistic relations is now. The phenomenon has become so endemic that the governmental and regulatory framework are grossly ineffective and weak, thus making ethical practices a mirage.
Does the situation suggest that the road to ethics in Nigeria is lost and gone? Yes, lost but not gone. A number of organizations have ethical codes of conduct through which they seek to arrest unethical conduct among their members. Unfortunately, the use of codes of ethics to stimulate the desired behaviour is old enough for their impotence to have been noticed. But their continued use in-spite of the obvious ineffectiveness remains baffling and frustrating. There are drawbacks to the use of code in priming behaviour. It is impossible for codes to strike at the heart of individuals as we operate in a world in which there are several forces warring against us; tempting us to prefer the visible to the invisible and the present to the future. It is a world in which most times the heart of man is fickle with the resultant unethical footprints being witnessed in and around us in both personal and professional transactions. It is a world in which economic dimensions of transactions trump the moral dimensions.
We must, therefore, look in some other direction for rays of light to find hope and life. It is a price worth paying, at least for the sake of posterity. The time has come, therefore, to introduce something entirely new within our human spirit, so that when we do what we want to do, we will want to do the right thing. There is but one way we can do that- by elevating the codes of ethics from the rational consciousness level ( the current level) with ‘desire and intellect’ as elements and ‘integrity’ as a main principle, to the level of psycho-spiritual consciousness with the ‘heart’ as a major element and ‘love and sincerity’ as major principles. Then, finally, to the level of divine consciousness in which ‘conscience’ is a major element and ‘divine will’ a major principle. I am convinced that this would lead to practical ethical behaviour on account of uninterrupted and permanent self-surrender. With love, sincerity and divine will, we have the certainty that our common resources will no more be periled and the welfare of the masses no longer be bottomed. The artful clientelistic network will also forever have no more power to alienate our affection from ethical conduct.
However, as a people, we are too optimistic and firmly believe that the prophecy of self-defeat in the context of the clientelistic network will be a reality. No, the prophecy will continue to be false. We also believe that posterity will ‘understand’ why we couldn’t deal with a problem we helped to create. Such understanding will certainly not be. We are truly in a state of funk. It is time to seriously think about it and with speed too. We have the capacity to ‘kill’ the evil of clientelistic network and if we don’t, it could probably kill us. There is no reason to bungle the opportunity. It is presented right before us. All we need do is to receive it with open hands. So, let’s kill it and save posterity the anguish of an undeserved liability. We don’t have to transfer it and it does not have to be inherited. The various professional organizations should commence the process of reworking their codes of professional ethics to take cognizance of the ideals of love, sincerity and divine will. That way, the climate of fear and the on-going state of emergency engendered by clientelism will give way to moral decency and righteous transactions and governance.
Francis .O. Iyoha