Nigeria, a country with a rich cultural heritage and abundant natural resources, has grappled with the complex interplay of greed, ethics, and public service throughout its history.
The nexus between these elements has had profound implications for the nation’s development, governance, and the well-being of its citizens.
The interplay of greed, ethics, and public service in Nigeria is a complex and ongoing challenge that requires sustained efforts from the government and the citizens. Addressing these issues is essential for the nation’s progress and fostering a society where public servants are dedicated to serving the common good rather than their personal interests.
Margaret Smith opines, “Public service must be more than doing a job efficiently and honestly. It must be a complete dedication to the people and to the nation.”
The greed of the political elite and civil servants has led to the deepening of low ethical and moral values in government and society. The arithmetic sum of this geometric rise of greed and the catastrophic decline of ethical values is an epidemic of corruption.
I will demonstrate how far we have gone on this cancerous path and why the political leadership, bureaucracy and a docile cum compliant civil society are all responsible.
Greed and excessive desire for wealth, power, or material possessions have been pervasive in Nigerian society, not just in public service. This insatiable appetite for personal gain has prominently manifested in public service corruption. Fuelled by greed, corruption undermines the foundation of public institutions, erodes public trust, and hinders socio-economic progress.
The multiple manifestations of greed and unethical conduct in Nigeria’s public service are so common that they no longer make the news or attract public opprobrium unless they are humongous in nature.
It is a cliché that a budding politician of average means will, in just a short time in office, buy the latest car , ‘choice-houses’ at home and abroad and live a life of luxury greater than his official emoluments can cover. This is so normalized that people expect that of him, and if he fails to live up to this expectation, he is told off by his peers and family members.
Civil servants are not exempted from this cankerworm that has destroyed the fabric of our society. Political appointees rely on civil servants to guide and advise them; however, evidence abounds that they are the first to compromise and bend the rules for personal gain. Almost all spectacular public sector scandals have the seal of civil servant’s compromise or are perpetuated by one.
The establishment of EFCC, ICPC and many rules and regulations has yet to help matters. This unchecked greed by bureaucrats impedes developmental initiatives and perpetuates inequality and poverty. Joe Biden laments that “corruption is cancer: cancer that eats away at a citizen’s faith in democracy diminishes the instinct for innovation and creativity; already-tight national budgets, crowding out important national investments.”
A situation where a director in civil service or MDAs owns billions of Naira worth of choice assets in major cities in Nigeria and abroad when his earnings, both from the service, his businesses, if any, or inheritance cannot cover the value of these assets demonstrates the malady of greed and corruption.
A cursory look within our major cities will show a panoply of these circumstances, and most citizens know this. There is no accountability and no consequences for perpetrating such crass greed and corruption against Nigeria.
To demonstrate the extent of the rot within our system, I will compare two examples of greed, corruption, and response to ethical issues in Nigeria and Australia. A certain Barry O’Farrell was New South Wales Premier in Australia. Under investigation, it was proven that he had received a gift of a bottle of wine from a businessman, which he did not disclose.
The ethical standard of Australian society forced him to resign his exalted office. Compare this to Abdulrasheed Maina, who, at the time, oversaw pension funds, among other infractions, bought a property in Abuja and paid cash of $1.4m. Maina did not resign. It took a tedious court process to convict him of obvious malfeasance for which ethical standards should have made him take an honourable exit.
Without prejudice to the facts of the matter, in the past one or two weeks, we have been inundated with unpalatable stories of public officials who have completely jettisoned ethical and moral standards in public service. It is not just about the law and public service rules but the standard of decency acceptable in any sane society.
We have the infamous cases of the alleged $6 billion electricity contract fraud, Minister Betta Edu, and the alleged diversion of funds into a private account, and Hajia Halima Shehu and the alleged N37b fraud.
These are not isolated cases and represent the preponderance of allegations of fraud and misuse of public funds by public servants. At the sub-national level, things seem worse as the institutions and framework to check unethical behaviour and corruption are weak and, in most cases, non-existent. Here, accountability and transparency belong to the museum. This deserves serious focus.
On the other hand, ethics are the moral principles that govern individuals’ behaviour, emphasizing honesty, integrity, and accountability. In the context of public service, ethical conduct is crucial for maintaining public trust and ensuring that the interests of the citizens are prioritized over personal gains.
Unfortunately, ethical lapses have been a challenge in Nigerian public service, contributing to a culture of corruption and maladministration. When driven by ethical considerations, public servants are more likely to act in the public’s best interest, but when ethics take a backseat to personal gain, the consequences are felt across society.
The real issues are questions of integrity, ethical standards, and greed. Overcoming the challenges of greed and a lack of ethics in Nigerian public service requires a multi-faceted approach. Legislative reforms, institutional strengthening, reorientation and a commitment to fostering a culture of integrity are essential to this process.
At the core of achieving this is proactive leadership, demonstrating a political will to tackle corruption and enthrone an ethical environment strengthened by enforcement of the rule of law, where all forms of maleficence are condemned, and the guilty are held accountable .
Let us examine a few factors that are imperative to consider the issue of greed, corruption, and ethics in public service in Nigeria. First, self-interest among political appointees and politicians is more of a global convention.
Politicians access power, allocate patronage to themselves and often corner the benefits in cash. Apportionment of pork is a feature of politics everywhere. It may be cash, favours, influence, and project siting.
However, politicians’ self-interest should be enlightened and not primitive, and money for politics comes by following the bureaucratic due process of contract procedures and procurement laws, and they must sensibly do this. But the self-interest of these politicians feeds on the “compromise of the bureaucracy”.
If politicians and political appointees try to access resources while bypassing the bureaucracy, it becomes corrupt because it violates due process and extant rules.
Second, the processes of the bureaucracy on matters of resource appropriation constitute the ethics of the public sector. The rules and procedures exist to protect the state, the officials, and resources. If they are violated, it becomes a free-for-all; people help themselves to whatever resources they can lay their hands on.
In Nigeria, there is first a collapse of public service ethics and a lack of capacity to enforce the rules. There is also the self-interest of politicians and political appointees in a manner that needs to be more refined and enlightened. This is the foundation of greed, which feeds corruption.
Third is the issue of consequence management, which must be taken seriously. Where unethical behaviour has no consequences, it becomes an incentive for others to follow suit. Charles Colton argues, “Corruption is like a ball of snow; once it sets rolling, it must increase.” This is the weakest link in our fight against corruption.
Thus far, we have explored the dynamics of greed, ethical considerations, and their impact on public service in Nigeria. This government must fight greed and corruption at all levels to achieve our shared aspirations of a developed Nigeria, a true giant of Africa. As Alice M Rivlin propounds, “If citizens lose faith in the integrity of public officials, democracy is at risk”.