BY YAHAYA ETILA
“In just about every area of society, there is nothing more important than ethics”- Henry Paulson.
I recall my surprise when I learned of a bill for the establishment of a National Agency for Ethics and Values Compliance. I must also add that I struggled to come to terms with what value such agency would bring to the polity in this critical period of our existence. Consequently, I researched and consulted some vital stakeholders all with the aim of getting a proper understanding of what an Agency for Ethics and Values Compliance meant. Mind you; this is not an entirely new introduction; as there is a committee in the Presidency that deals with matters of ethics and values.
As a first, I needed to understand what ethics and values were. Ethics are moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity. Ethics investigate the questions “what is the best way for people to live,” and what actions are right or wrong in particular circumstances.” In my opinion, there is no better time than now to initiate and encourage the development of a new value system for the country; because the value is the foundation upon which other values and measures of integrity are based. Values reflect a person’s sense of right and wrong or what “ought” to be. Values affect character and behavior as well as personality types.
Moral values based on the concept of right and wrong should supplant rivalries, envy and other detrimental competitions with an emphasis on the “permanent struggle between good and evil.” Hence, a well-designed doctrine of ethics and moral values for a new Nigeria; mainly the youths have become inevitable.
Having said this, I will begin with the current state of the Nigerian nation, and the pertinent question that comes to mind is whether or not, the contemporary Nigerian society is in need of an agency such as this. While I must admit that the passage of the bill by the National Assembly is a welcome development, a lot still has to be done. And the ball starts from the table of Mr. President. The legislative arm of government has seen the merit of the bill and consequently passed it unanimously and waiting for the president to give consent. While I do not doubt as regards the commitment of this present administration towards rebuilding Nigeria, it must be stated that if indeed charity begins from home, the president should and never be in doubt as to the necessity of an Agency for Ethics and Values Compliance in Nigeria.
Yes, there would be reservations from some quarters as regards the core mandate of the agency. Some will also argue that it would amount to a duplication of what the National Orientation Agency (NOA) presently does. But I disagree. The areas of responsibilities of both agencies are not the same. The Agency for Ethics and Values Compliance sought to provide legal framework for individuals and organizations to observe specific ethical standards, to develop and promote best practices in integrity, develop codes of ethics, receive complaints on breach of trust and code of ethics, conduct investigations on acts of breach or violation of public trust and recommend to the Director of Public Prosecutions appropriate action to be taken against public and private officers alleged to have engaged in unethical behaviors, and to institute and conduct proceedings in court for the purposes of recovery or protection of public property.
This is not the mandate of the NOA which is the body tasked with communicating government policy, staying abreast of public opinion, and promoting patriotism, national unity, and development of Nigerian society.
This much was corroborated by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Information and National Orientation, Senator Suleiman Adokwe. He said “With this bill, the breach of ethical standards will incur specific punitive measures, which is a significant departure from the mandate of the National Orientation Agency.”
There is a critical aspect of the Agency that should give the majority of Nigerians a reason to celebrate. It is the fact that millions of jobs will be created as a result of this. I say this because as mentioned earlier, a part of the mandate of the bill is that of compliance. Compliance in the sense that both the public and private sectors must adhere to specific organizational ethics and for that to work, there ought to be a compliance officer in the organization, who would be mandated to from time to time ensure that his or her organization is ethics and values compliant.
Such individuals must have been trained extensively to serve as the watchdog. Now, this is the catch, let us assume that Nigeria has 200,000 private organizations and each of these organization employs ethics and values compliant officer. What that translates to are 200,000 new jobs. Mind you this is also outside the public sector. Isn’t this an avenue for job creation? I stand to be corrected.
Ethics and values are very essential for the fight against corruption to succeed in Nigeria. In the present globalizing world, the issue of integrity, whether in the public or private sector or personal affairs is increasingly in demand. Qualities such as honesty, fairness, dedication, commitment, and transparency are vital demands on individuals, institutions, government professionals and students for genuine development. The need to urgently address integrity deficit and personal values amongst Nigerians is an ingredient that is required to combat corruption. The issue of integrity comes to the fore if society is to be saved from annihilation on account of corrupt practices and a regime of widespread impunity.
Integrity deficits inspire organizations/individuals to sabotage their competitors, engage in unethical growth strategies and avoid taxes. Regulatory agencies create difficulties for doing business on account of the unethical behavior of officials. And the list is endless. However, with the coming of that Agency for Ethics and Values Compliance, we might be on the path to greatness. The National Assembly is not wrong on this. And the presidency must shun every form of politics on this critical issue of national importance as the world is watching how Nigeria can get it right with this golden opportunity.