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Conscience, morality and Nigeria’s development

“IT is not the young people that degenerate; they are not spoiled till those of mature age are already sunk into corruption.” Charles de Montesquieu.

The forgoing quote accurately illustrates the perennial danger a country faces when corruption permeates its society. It is therefore widely held that the most dreadful instrument that has the potential of eclipsing any meaningful policies geared toward sustainable economic and social development of a country is corruption. Corruption stunts pertinent variables necessary for socio-economic development, including multiplier effects, by rendering impotent the very structures, institutions, and human resources that are designed to facilitate growth.

Sadly, corruption is negatively impacting every sector of the society, particularly in Nigeria. Its abysmal impact is felt more in the following areas: security, education, health care, infrastructure development, job creation, environment, foreign investment, economy, youth population, and much more.

Similarly, corruption is not only a threat to democracy and an impediment to generational augmentation, but also a danger to economic growth and an accessory to a flagging security and declining standard of living. It is undoubtedly clear that economic development cannot thrive in a corrupt environment. Since Nigeria is globally known for corruption, it is therefore imperative to cleanse the system of vermin called corruption so that meaningful sustainable economic development could abound, especially in the light of lofty ambition of making Nigeria one of the 20 largest economies in the world. In the same vein, meaningful foreign investment and sustainable economic development would be a mirage if anti-corruption contraption is not greatly hoisted.

Again, the impact of graft on the society is enormous. The residual effects of corruption on people could better be imagined than described. Though we can estimate the monetary cost of decades of corruption, including vestiges of sleaze in our country, we may never know the exact human cost of this enigma. To fundamentally reduce the cost of corruption, we have a choice to transform our culture—a culture that would spurn all levels and types of corruption. The alternative would be continuation of hopeless conundrum.

The foregoing makes it urgently important for Nigerians to not only demand the expansion of the scope of investigations of graft among public officials and contractors, but also to rid the country of selfish public servants. This would be a way to change people’s attitude to public service. Public service is not about people enriching themselves; it is about implementing policies and programs effectively and constantly monitoring them to ensure that they are achieving their intended objectives. Public service is about transparency and accountability.

Therefore, those who lack conscience and morality need legal incentive to do what is right for the masses. Conscience and morality work together to produce a balanced individual. The absence of one is tantamount to the absence of both. The individuals who operate without conscience and moral standards tend to have a different perspective of societal expectations and their sense of obligation to the masses seems to deviate from the norm. Consequently, individuals without conscience and morality view justice and other issues in their society differently and in some cases with scorn.

Pope Pius XI (1857-1939) held that, “Justice requires that to lawfully constituted Authority there be given that respect and obedience which is its due; that the laws which are made shall be in wise conformity with the common good; and that, as a matter of conscience all men shall render obedience to these laws.” Also, Bertrand Russell once said, “We have, in fact, two kinds of morality side by side: one which we preach but do not practice, and another which we practice but seldom preach.” As long as two kinds of morality are in play in Nigeria, especially among the ruling elite, the subversion of justice and contempt of the judiciary would continue to abound.

Unless the masses come to grips with the democratic impulse, people who lack conscience and morality would continue to lead states and local government areas, as well as the federal government. Thus, the yoke of tyranny would be unbroken and arrogance of power would persist at various levels of government. Unfortunately, the immunity clause as contained in Section 308 of the Nigerian Constitution tends to perpetuate this arrogance. It’s time the immunity clause is expunged. Thus, the greatest threat to Nigeria’s democracy seems to be putting truth in abeyance while the leaders are enmeshed in treachery and deceits, thus extolling evils of dishonesty juxtaposed in unpatriotic principles and corruption.

It is undemocratic and a crime against humanity to have any political party or party operatives emboldened with privileges to use unlawful and immoral means to attain political ends. Whenever unlawful means are used to attain political ends, we should reject the characterization of those events as intra-party affairs or a veritable machination to  achieve political and economic superiority. Also, whenever unlawful means are used, it is within the realm of the independent judiciary to redress injuries done to the society expeditiously. Oftentimes, the wheel of justice turns slowly. But in the Nigeria, that wheel turns slower than in any other democratic nation.

Well, Polybius, a Greek historian (205 BC – 118 BC) said, “There is no witness so dreadful, no accuser so terrible as the conscience that dwells in the heart of every man.” According to Arthur Schopenhauer, “Compassion is the basis of all morality.” The cursory look at the public servants indicates that one of the virtues they lack most is compassion. This is part as a result of the absence of conscience, which would have been a reference or standard that guides how they perform their job.

In any case, there should be an amendment to the constitution to expunge the immunity clause. Expunging the immunity clause would ameliorate the proclivity for public officials, particularly the governors to—truncate and scuttle the rule of law—loot the treasury while hiding under the cloak of immunity. It is fundamentally wrong to have immunity clause to protect corrupt individuals in public office. Public officials should be accountable from the moment they are entrusted with public interest—the very moment they took the oath of office. Nigerians expect them to discharge their responsibilities with utmost diligence and honesty so that the dividends of democracy could be touched and felt by the masses. While we praise and admire those public servants who serve the country well and without reproach, the public despises those individuals who have staggering contempt for the rule of law; those who lack the conscience and moral underpinnings to what is right for their nation.

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