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ETHICAL RESPONSIBILITY AND THE NIGERIAN PUBLIC SERVANT
BY: OLAEWE EWEGBEMI  
 Published  June 26th, 2012

“No agreement today, no agreement tomorrow…My mama talk, my papa talk…”

 - Late Fela Anikulapo Kuti

Democracy functions at its best when people know and exercise their rights get involved and when the servant is not placed over the served. Here below is how the Founding Fathers of American democracy perceived the relationship between the ruler and the ruled on July 4, 1776:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation….

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”

Governments are “instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it” Well put!

The Right of the people therefore to be able to judge every action of their public officials IS a scared and inviolate Right. When this right is taken away by default of the people or when this right is not exercised by the constituents, public servants do as they please. No one tells them what they can or cannot do. They invariably become overlords and treat their constituents as subjects to be exploited at will and abused as they please.

In active and virile democracy, public servants (elected representatives and those who hold public office) are held responsible and accountable for their real or perceived actions and/or inactions. Appearances or perceptions of wrong –doing alone become ethically important in judging the public servant. Much of the people are right reside in their ability to insist on the ethical significance of appearances or their perceptions of wrong- doing by their public servants.

LACK OR ABSENCE OF POLITICAL EDUCATION:

In Nigeria, so far, for some obvious reasons such as level of literacy. political awareness and participation, poverty and ignorance etc. the ability of the served to exercise control over the public servant has been almost non-existent. Hence, there is “suffering and smiling “when there is no electricity, sky-high unemployment, unpaid pensions, deadly roads, deprivations of basic rights etc. Nigerians are so used to suffering that collective powerlessness has replaced collective action and organized revolt against their domestic oppressors .In essence they have surrendered to tyranny and sought refuge in the churches and mosques...waiting for life hereafter .

Nor have the churches or mosques, which boast of their expanding population of followers, been of any help in educating their followers on the need to be politically conscious by demanding their rights to be served by their public servants. Instead, the religious leaders are busy preaching and preparing their flock for the hereafter (Heaven)! Some of them are, unfortunately, as corrupt and unethical as the public servants

Were the late Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. to divorce himself and his flock from political activism and participation, African Americans would probably still be living today a separate but unequal life from that of their racist white oppressors.

Nigerian educational system is also yet to do any appreciable work of educating for critical consciousness. What we have by and large from primary to tertiary education is a savings bank approach. The teacher deposits the facts and theories to the students and expects them to withdraw same and give them back to him...nothing added or subtracted. Nor are students, especially in our tertiary institutions subjected to any rigorous debate or curriculum about Nigerian Government and Politics! Of course, academia is not immune from the problem since they too have long ago become civil or public servants whose silent clientele consists of the students who want their diplomas by any means necessary. Gone are the days of active and virile student unionism and activism.

PUBLIC’S RIGHT TO JUDGE:

In active and virile democracy like the United States, public servants know that their constituents would judge their actions or inactions , either real or perceived(appearances) . Those who cannot stand the heat, so to speak, must therefore avoid the kitchen. Those who cannot stand the heat of the public’s right to judge do not go into public service.

The Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard M. Nixon in 1974 is a typical example of how the people’s right to judge cannot be under-estimated by any public servant. In a passive democracy, Nixon would have gotten away with his attempt to turn the American democracy into an imperial presidency or into a monarchy where the King can do no wrong. The American people, through a very virile and aggressive press said No emphatically to Nixon and he had no choice but to resign with ignominy to avoid impeachment shortly after winning a second term with a landslide.

VICARIOUS LIABILITY/RESPONSIBILITY:

Even when a puBlic servant is not directly involved in any violation of the rule , if those close to him /her are involved in an act of impropriety or appearance of, the public servant in charge is still vicariously liable or responsible for the actions of those he /or she is supposed to manage or supervise. The presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo is one example that comes to mind.

While the allegations were being made that President Olusegun Obasanjo was surrounded by wheelers and dealers; even though he might not have been directly involved in the alleged wheeling and dealing, he would still be responsible for the actions of those wheelers wheeling and dealers dealing in his cabinet or administration . Even the appearance that a member of his family(his wife) was involved in an oil deal or in the purchase of Ikoyi government landed property , should be and was sufficient ground for the public to judge him (even if the judging was arbitrary) of ethical responsibility.

There were so many scandals under President Obasanjo’s watch that even the absence of a virile public judgment or condemnation ought not to have deterred the president from bowing out if ethical responsibility were taken seriously by Nigerian public servants.

Firing or dismissing his Ministers (Education and Housing) the Inspector General of Police was not enough to absolve the President of ethical responsibility for the actions of those close to him (his cabinet men and women).

“What does the President know and when did he know it?’’ That famous Watergate question was as relevant to President Olusegun Obasanjo as it was very relevant to late President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate proceedings in Washington D.C. over 40 years ago.

The absence of ethical responsibility in Nigerian public service, due primarily to the failure of the people to exercise their right to demand accountability from their servants explains why Olusegun Obasanjo and others are able to get away with egregious ethical violations and naked abuse of their power.

Remember the Minister under the late President Shehu Shagari who said that Nigerians were not poor because they had not yet started to pick from garbage bins? An ethically irresponsible statement? You bet. What happened to him for making that statement? Nothing!

The situation is not any different under current President Goodluck Jonathan. “The beautiful ones are not yet born “!

In Nigeria, the servant is placed over the served. No one tells him or her what he/she can or can’t do! In the eyes of the Nigerian public servants, Nigerians do not exist. To call them public servants is therefore a misnomer. They are public tyrants, pure and simple. The Nigerian State is theirs and they do as they please with it. Those who don’t like it can shut up or be silenced if they dared to speak up!

MR. OLAEWE EWEGBEMI

MARYLAND, USA

June 16, 2012


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