By Mike Ozekhome, SAN
LAST week, I took a break from this contemporary issue; ethics and discipline in law, akin to waiting for Godot, which we commenced some weeks ago, to discuss Nigerian Law Firms and Foreign Names: Matters Arising. The reason for these may oftentimes be attributed to fashionability; ease of recognition, spelling, and pronunciation; for international business transactions conducted by these law firms; and perhaps to emphasize the founder’s or partners’ foreign qualifications. Today, we shall continue and conclude our discourse on the above issue. Please, read on.
ETHICS AND DISCIPLINE IN LAW: THE NIGERIAN PERSPECTIVE, A CASE OF WAITING FOR A GODOT? (continues)
In Nigeria the basic national ethics and discipline include self reliance, patriotism, loyalty to the nation, honesty, dedication to duty, obedience to authority, respect of elders and seniors in authority, participation in national service, payment of tax, reporting criminals and members of cults to the police, assistance to the poor and the needy, parental care, participation in an election, protection of government property and contribution to national development.
The observance of these ethics and discipline in national life would instill national consciousness on the people. Once a person examines his conduct in line with its effect on the nation, he is bound to participate in the activities that will bring good name and development of the nation.
Discipline is not only historically determined but also part of man’s social nature. Similarly, indiscipline is socially determined and occurs when there is a violation of defined social order. Hence, indiscipline is not a personality trait that is inherent among some group and absent in others. Prevalent social, economic and political conditions of society can breed discipline or indiscipline.
There are various causes of indiscipline and likewise their solutions. As such any control measure taken for un-disciplinary behaviour must be appropriate to the cause in order to be effective.
Primarily, the major causative factor of indiscipline centres on the issue of equity and social justice in relation to resources allocation. If it is positive discipline would be installed, if negative indiscipline would be installed. No other means, such as Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) or IMF prescriptions can instill discipline in society.
It is the non observance of national ethics and discipline in Nigeria that has given rise to fraud (419), political unrest, embezzlement of public fund, corruption, indiscipline, forgery, armed robbery, cultism in higher schools of learning, bribery, religious bigotry and fanaticism, exam malpractice, vandalism, and smuggling.
Ethics, morality and discipline have been jettisoned in the conduct of national life for financial gains. Much of the Nigerian problems in terms of development are resultant effect of none observance of ethics and the standard of ethical conduct in national affairs.
A nation is said to be developed when the standard of her discipline and social structures are measured in comparison with others in the developed society.
It is lack of discipline or the non observance of it that characterize Nigeria national life. That’s the reason the Nigeria state has failed to catch up with other developed nations of the world.
Since 1960, when Nigeria started to manage its own affairs, the nation has not been fully developed to match up with other civilized countries of the world.
Indiscipline and corruption has eaten deep into the fabrics of the nation. Chinua Achebe in his book pointed out that “knowledgeable observers have estimated that as much as 60% of the nation’s wealth is regularly consumed by corruption.”
In today’s Nigeria, over 60% of the nation wealth is being pocketed by public office holders; this has helped to slow down the developmental growth of Nigeria nation.
In every aspect of national life (social, political, economic, religious and cultural) it is the observance of ethics and discipline that guide the conduct of individuals towards such activities that stimulate national development.
If politicians and business men in Nigeria observe the ethics and discipline of their occupation; rigging, falsification of election results, embezzlement of public fund, fraud, fake product and smuggling that hinder the development of Nigeria would cease to exist.
If Nigeria teachers, religious leaders, civil servants, politicians and traders should imbibe national ethics and discipline and apply it in their daily life, Nigeria will see significant growth in national development.
One of the problems of Nigeria not matching up in development like other western countries is due to lack of ethics and discipline among the people. Once Nigerians start observing these two norms in the conduct of their affairs, every other activity in national life would change to develop the nation.
Nigeria is highly blessed with human and material resources, the utilization, development and consumption of the resources must be conducted with regard to the ethics and discipline of the nation.
It is the avoidance or non observance of the basic national ethics and discipline in the utilization, development and consumption of national resources that bring underdevelopment to Nigeria. Nigeria citizens should learn to observe and apply discipline in the conduct of their activities.
It is only through observance and application of ethics and discipline that Nigeria could develop to an acceptable standard in the global community of nations.
In the paraphrased words of the Nigerian incumbent Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo in an event which featured Prof. Marc Le Menestrel, a professor of Decision Sciences; Chairman of Governing Council, Institute of Directors, Chief Chris Okunowo; and Dele Alimi, DG/CEO, Institute of Directors:
“The collapse of many Nigerian financial institutions from the nineties to the more recent occurrences in 2009 is a pointer to the fact that “on the long run, unethical practices are unsustainable.
The development and sustenance of viable enterprises is no longer dependent on the size of the corporation and related factors but sound ethical practices imbibed by all stakeholders
The theme of the conference is a challenge to conquer in our own interest the new frontier in business ethics, ethical leadership and sustainability.
The frequent clashes between conscience and wrongful behavior will eventually create a toxic work environment and destroy corporate objectives and visions.
There is also enough history of how cutting corners and dishonesty ultimately bring down the whole enterprise.
This we have seen in the facts behind the collapse of many Nigerian financial institutions from the nineties to the more recent occurrences in 2009.
Yes, it took a while for the institutions to unravel but the point is made that on the long run, unethical practices are unsustainable.
Besides for quoted companies, the dangers of unethical behavior are much graver.
Local and international investors have greater access to information and more options than ever before, the slightest whiff of scandal or malfeasance can destroy value built up over the years.
The local and, especially the international examples of the collapse of companies thought to be too big to fail and brand names that had even once been associated with integrity and strong business ethics is a strong reminder of just how brittle edifices built on weak business ethics are.
Today, every company’s stakeholders are far more than investors, management, or employees.
They now include customers, clients, trade partners, suppliers, media, the general public, government and now, the environment.”
Chinua Achebe had the following to say about Nigeria in his book titled There Was a Country had the following to say:
“Nigerians are what they are only because their leaders are not what they should be.” pg. 10
“A true patriot will always demand the highest standards of his country and accept nothing but the best for and from his people. He will be outspoken in condemnation of their short-coming without giving way to superiority, despair or cynicism. That is my idea of a patriot.” pg. 16
“Look at our collapsing public utilities, our inefficient and wasteful parastatals and state-owned companies… If you want electricity, you buy your own generator; if you want water, you sink your own bore-hole; if you want to travel, you set up your own airline. One day soon, said a friend of mine, you will have to build your own post office to send your letters!” pg. 20
“I must now touch, however briefly, on the grace undermining of national discipline which the siren mentality of Nigerian leaders fosters. In all civilized countries the siren is used in grave emergencies by fire engines, ambulances and the police in actual pursuit of crime. Nigeria, with its remarkable genius of travesty, has found a way to turn yet another useful invention by serious-minded people elsewhere into a childish and cacophonous instrument for the celebration of status.” pg. 34
“My frank and honest opinion is that anybody who can say that corruption in Nigeria has not yet become alarming is either a fool, a crook or else does not live in this country.” pg. 37
“Knowledgeable observers have estimated that as much as 60 percent of the wealth of its nation is regularly consumed by corruption. I have no doubt that defenders of our system would retort: Mere rumor! Where is the proof? No one can offer ‘satisfactory’ proof for the simple reason that nobody issues a receipt for a bribe or for money stolen from the public till.” pg. 41
However, in the Nigerian legal profession the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners is well instilling extolling ethics and discipline in law, even though some bad eggs may scramble tirelessly to whittle it down. We do hope that a more coercive and corrosive machinery will be set up or the existing one accorded more vent and pep to ensure the applicability of the rules to all and sundry in the legal profession because a situation where the rules become like a cobweb that entangles the small spiders and make the big one go scot-free, ethics and discipline will be moribund. A fearless, daring and undaunted enforceability of the rules is key to having a profession where ethics and discipline reign supreme. (The End).
Thought for the Week
“Divorced from ethics, leadership is reduced to management and politics to mere technique”. (James MacGregor Burns).