The ethical imperative in governance and development in Nigeria (1)

(By Omobolade Olutade)

In fact, institutions cannot be fairer than people’s ethical outlook. The ethical contents of an institution are obvious and can be likened to software that drives computer hardware. A well-packaged computer hardware installed with bad software is useless, perhaps only good as a toy for children. Succinctly, the integrity of a people and their institutions is determined by their ethical constitution.

“Nature provides for everybody’s needs, but not for everybody’s greed”- Mahatma Gandhi

ATTAINING development is not automatic. There are prerequisites for economic growth. In whatever perspective it is conceptualized, either as a process or a state of affair, development follows certain criteria. Development is not only inconceivable in an environment of disorder but impossible where ethical rules are trampled even with impunity. Sustainable development is embedded in good governance, which is enamored in good ethical conduct.

  Basically, the two major factors that determine economic growth are good geography and strong institutions. Countries like Canada, USA, Sweden, England and others are prosperous because of their good geographical features such as accessibility to the seas, good climate and arable land for agriculture. However, it is not good geography per se that determines prosperity, but good institutions. For instance, Botswana, a landlocked country, is evidently not much endowed by nature but amongst the most virile nations due to good institutions while Nigeria with abundant resources is struggling with poverty. Thus, Nigeria’s under-development is grounded in bad governance and weak institutions arising from, basically, low ethical practice.  Nigeria’s need to satisfy the ethical criterion, which is a critical condition of development serve as impetus for this short article.

  Ethics, Good Governance and Strong Institutions

  Ethics are sets of rules and conventions that guide people’s conduct in any given environment – which might be an organization, institution or society.

Good governance is the harmonious and transparent working of the processes of decision making. Good governance ensures that corruption is minimized and transparency enthroned in decision-making.

Institutions are structures, which serve as the vehicles for moderating the processes and impacts of governance. Institutions are not only the physical structures such as the parliament buildings or supreme courts, but also embody the laws, habits, conventions and tacit rules in a society. These habits or conventions, otherwise called ethics, to a large extent, determine the virility of institutions. Thus, a strong institution is that in which set down rules are abided by.  Institutions are products of people’s thoughts and world-view refined by their value system. In fact, institutions cannot be fairer than people’s ethical outlook. The ethical contents of an institution are obvious and can be likened to software that drives computer hardware. A well-packaged computer hardware installed with bad software is useless, perhaps only good as a toy for children. Succinctly, the integrity of a people and their institutions is determined by their ethical constitution.

   Ethical principles, being expressions of moral values, are major drivers of institutional change. For instance, recently, the resentments of military rules resulted in certain institutional change and deepening of democratic structures in Africa.  Hence, as values are not morally neutral, the institutional change can only be evaluated in terms of its ethical impact. Good governance and qualitative institutions, as basic attributes of sustainable development, are impossible where ethics are put in abeyance. Invariably, no country can aspire to greatness on a platter of low ethical stance.

   Although some theorists like Adams Smith submit that the economy ought to operate by its own rules and not according to moral considerations. This value-free-economic-agent perspective fails to note that the economy cannot run solely on economic laws but also men who are moral beings. This is why Pope Benedict XVI observed that“…an undisciplined economy would collapse by its own rules”.

   Nigeria’s performance in terms of good governance and development of qualitative institutions vis-à-vis other countries is pathetic.  According to the 2012/2013 World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index report, Nigeria ranks near the bottom half of lower middle-income countries in most dimensions. For instance, compared to 96 other countries ranked in the report, Nigeria’s executive branch is quite weak (ranking74th). The performance of the criminal justice system is appalling (ranked 94th) as the country is contending with crime, civil conflict and political violence.

Comparably, most countries high on the scale of good institutions are also high on Human development index (HDI) and good governance. In Africa, which is the region that is ranked lowest in terms of HDI, Nigeria is ranked 26th, which is below the sub-Sahara regional average.   Compared to Botswana, Nigeria does not fare well. As at 2012, Botswana’s HDI ranked 119th while Nigeria was 153rd out of 187 countries with comparable data.  Botswana, in the Sub-Sahara, ranks first in all aspects of the rule of law except one. It has an effective system of checks and balances, an independent judiciary, a free press and corruption is nominal.  All arms of government run effectively and fundamental rights are normally respected. Conversely, Nigeria is high on corruption. On the global Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2012, Nigeria is ranked 139th in the world while Botswana is 30th. Also on the index of Morality, Conscience and Good life, which is the combination of various developmental indicators, rating countries according to their development impacts in the world, Nigeria stands as number 172nd while Botswana is 111th out of the 190 countries graded.

   The foregoing indicates a positive relationship between ethics, qualitative institutions and economic growth. Attempts at growth without regard for ethics are wasted while development projections are as such reduced to mere quixotic endeavours, beautiful deceptions, pure sophistries and sumptuous nothingness fed to fuel the masses gullibility. Amartya Sen, the welfare economist and novelist, in his book: On Ethics and Economics, rightly claimed that “… economics could be substantially enriched by paying more attention to ethics”. So when the economic environment of a people is navigated with the Machiavellian notion of ‘the ends justifying the means’, then the country has become nothing but a Hobbesian state  of nature, where life is “ solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and, short”. This has been the case in Nigeria, where the people are poor, their lifespan is short (below global average) and they command no respect within and without.

To be concluded

• Olutade.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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