Monday, 22 April 2013

The Place Of Ethics In Governance

The place of ethics in governance

That German friend has spoken again. This time, he argues that because Nigerians exhibit a high degree of religious fervour (even if it is just skin deep) the best way to relocate Nigeria from a mere geographical expression to a well-fused, functional, prosperous nation, is via a faith or religion-based vehicle. Though an atheist, he nonetheless believes (an atheist believes?) that a people must have a set of beliefs common and acceptable to all. From this, they could draw both moral strength and motivation to build their society. You may recall that Nigeria had explored platforms like MAMSER, the Rebranding Project of Prof. Dora Akunyuli and the National Orientation Movement. All have proved abortive in making Nigeria a Great Society. Well, except the sloganeering War Against Indiscipline, enforced by the jack boot horsewhip. There is no doubt that Nigerians still have fond memories of the queue culture of the WAI era, even if it was a reign of fright and terror. But it did demonstrate that Nigerians can take the astonishing leap of faith, if they could believe either the efficacy of the horsewhip or the promise of an orderly society.
Psychologists say that an individual demonstrates belief by holding a proposition or premise to be true. A testimony by Albert Einstein says that beliefs are internalised. So, political and economic beliefs must be internalised before they can become operative in people. And where people show disbelief, it means that some contradictions are extant, and there could be chaos. That doesn’t sound too difficult to agree to. Belief comes from faith. Ordinarily, faith rests on absolute, total belief, trust and reliance. In a more everyday sense, it is often discussed in terms of believing God’s promises, trusting in His faithfulness, and relying on His character. That would explain why those who have faith must trust and act in self-abandonment– no longer relying on their own strengths, but submitting totally to the power and guidance of the unseen God or ideals.
This atheist German insists that he has observed that when Nigerians have faith in something, that something usually works for them. A people’s faith or belief leads them to some form of worship or religious observance to a higher form or for a higher purpose. Religion provides a set of ideas that helps the people handle anxieties, overcome misfortunes and dominate their space. You may need a myth to operationalise your faith, belief or religion. There is a story of a golden coffin, somewhere in Saint Peter’s Basilica, falsely claimed to contain the bones of Apostle Peter, even though some even dispute that his bones are actually buried anywhere in the soil below the Cathedral. However, the Vatican, thinking that people benefit from an imagined contact with Divinity, does not dispel the (wrong?) belief. You know—the placebo effect? People got cured of cancer while taking ordinary aspirin that they thought was a miracle drug. At some point, the animals of George Orwell’s Animal Farm began to accept that though four legs were still good, two legs were better! The myth that all animals were equal was superseded by the one that said that some animals were better than the others.
Now, to an excursion of Marxism and capitalism, the two major politico-economic ideologies and their sundry in-betweens. By the way, an ideology is a comprehensive vision proposed by the dominant class to all members of the society. Ideologies are abstract thoughts applied to public matters, and therefore are usually political in nature. Ideologies must always come with the two dimensions of the goals to be achieved, and the methods by which to achieve them. While the corpus of Marxism and its variants are more compact and coherent, those of capitalism are mere postulations. The Wealth of Nations, written by Adam Smith, discourages government interventions or restrictions to industry. In fact, Smith forcefully attacked government interference in the economy. He thought that tariffs led to inefficiency and high prices and adversely affected the fortunes of industry. Smith advocated a government that was active in sectors other than the economy. He advocated public education for poor adults, a judiciary, the police, and a standing army—institutions that are not profitable for private industries. He thought that by widening the spread of the market, and adopting the principles of division of labour, industry could be more productive, and the economy more prosperous. He also thought that it was important to deemphasise production of final consumer goods, in favour of capital goods, like plants and machineries — necessary inputs for the next economic reproduction cycle.
On the other hand, Karl Marx, with the collaboration of Fredrick Engels, wrote the Communist Manifesto which insists that the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle. And just as the Bible speaks of the glories of a heavenly place, the Communist Manifesto claims that the capitalist society would eventually be replaced by socialism, which would in turn be replaced by communism. Engels was even elected into the Communist League to draw up the treatise that was referred to as the catechism for communism. It was he who suggested the abandonment of the term, and recommended it be called, “The Communist Manifest.” The preamble of the treatise states that, out of fear, the powers of the Old World were uniting in a holy (sic) alliance to exorcise the spectre of communism. Communism advocates abolition of private property in land and inheritance, centralisation of industry, banks, communication and transport. And like capitalism, it advocates free education. And, just the same way Moses, the tame raven, of Animal Farm, describes the Sugar Candy Mountain, communism should ultimately bring about a classless society, without the need for a government. Interesting. For this audacity or heresy, if not threatened insurrection, Marx’s daily newspaper was suppressed and both he and his wife were chased off to exile in London.
Now, some do not like any talk of ideology or even religion. They have concluded that Nigeria’s problems derive, not so much from a lack of ideology or a regeneration of the soul, but of deficiency of character. But they can at least settle for ethics. This has to do with the concepts of right and wrong. It recommends how one should act: resolve the issues of right and wrong, good and evil, virtue and vice. At a recent public lecture of the Solid Life Seminar, Mrs. Sola David-Borha, Managing Director of Stanbic IBTC Bank PLC, suggested an interesting idea. She says those who operate in the field of commerce must bring God into their operations. She gave some checklist: People must pay their tax; obey relevant laws and regulations; avoid cheating; be diligent; and adopt the time-worn habit of saving.
If you are one of those who love labels, you could describe this idea as theocracy-in-commerce. And this should not be discounted because it embodies the principles of integrity, persistence, hard work and honesty, all hallmarks of the new buzzword — good corporate governance. Now, if these themes were preached from credible altars, taught in schools, and rewarded by government, it may become the Nigerian ethos. And its efficacy may just make true believers, and honest workers, out of Nigerians. Wanna try?

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