As a Nigerian, and one who is part of a generation who saw, believed and still believe in the potentials of the greatness of our dear country as one united country, one is always looking for that X factor that explains our now lethal inability to break into greatness –a greatness that is always within our reach at great moments, but which we often manage to undermine and bungle. It is a kind of collective self-immolation that passeth my understanding.
Many commentators point to the failure to resolve the “national question” as the cause of our problems. While the “national question” is an issue, I strongly disagree with this as the fundamental factor, for prior to everything in life is the ethical factor. Our failure is the failure of the ethical in the public domain. Societies often use the result of the resolution of the ethical to resolve other problems.
Readers should permit me a flash back to a moral source. My brother and I –Toyin Ademoyo – served in the 70s as the first set of court clerks in the first Federal Court of Appeal in the city of Ibadan, western Nigeria. Then, our office was in the old Western House in the secretariat. It was the same House of Assembly that was used by the old political gladiators of the Action Group period. Far behind our building, but in the same secretariat, was Dr. Tai Solarin’s office as Nigeria’s first Public Complaints Commissioner—the Ombudsman whose job was to breathe ethics into our public lives.
Pronto, 7:30 a.m. every smiling morning, Monday through Friday, as the sun rose lazily to begin its sluggish peep into the world, my brother and I as court clerks used to have an early morning office routine before work started. We would pat the window blind in our office as the person who first saw HIM would whisper to the other “Àwọn nì yẹn, wá wò wọ́n , wọ́n tún ti kọjá.” This means “eh that is him, come and look at him, he has passed again” This “HIM” was Tai Solarin. The time? Exactly 7:45a.m. every Monday through Friday. Tai Solarin became the symbol with which my brother and I would set and reset our wristwatches for HE has just passed.
In his famous khaki knicker, and short sleeve shirt, a brown old-fashioned office bag and a bowler hat on, when Tai Solarin on his way to work passed by the window of our office at western House in the city of Ibadan, Nigeria –Monday through Friday— we knew it was 7:45a.m. Not once did he fail to pass. And that Spartan ethics was unobtrusive and eternally inscribed in the subconscious of my brother and I. In other words, unknown to Tai Solarin, he was teaching us youths by example. DO YOUR WORK DILIGENTLY AND HONESTLY, and leave the rest. In him we have a hero who lives eternally. So when I heard that one time Nigerian No.1 public servant, Mr. Orosanye, worked for one day in a 90-day Ribadu Panel work, it must jar a moral chord in me while I recall Dr. Tai Solarin and the work ethics he taught us youths then. I wonder what Tai Solarin would say to our president especially when our President, President Jonathan by implication passed a vote of confidence on Mr. Orosanye’ work ethics on the Ribadu Panel.
Flashback to the town of Konigsberg in the Southeast shore of the Baltic Sea in Germany. Immanuel Kant the German thinker was like Tai Solarin the Nigerian thinker and ethicist. Kant was another ethicist like Tai Solarin. Like Tai Solarin, it was said that people set their watches by Kant’s daily walks in the town of Konigsberg. It was about work ethics.
Thus it is not surprising that Kant argued from a moral standpoint that the correct moral act is that act which you can universalize. He wanted to illustrate and practice the ethics he theorized. In other words, a moral act will work practically morally if you can apply it to yourself. That what is morally correct is what one can universalize is a test of moral objectivity both in private and public affairs such as governing a people.
For example, on this view of private and public ethics, the evil of rape will be morally okay if we accept that our siblings or even mothers should be raped. The African Yoruba thought has it as “fi ọ̀rọ̀ lọra ẹ.” In other words in a moral situation put yourself in the position of the other person. The Bible has it as the Moral Golden Rule.
Thus in view of Solarin and Kant, my question to President Jonathan is: In the Ribadu Oil Panel case-when you my President defended the work ethics of Mr. Orosanye, when you said there was nothing wrong in Mr. Orosanye being given and accepting a job from the NNPC during his service as the deputy chair of a panel that was to look into the workings of an Industry NNPC is part of—do you my president have a Moral Golden Rule? If you have one, what is that Moral Golden Rule? Is my president aware of the works of ethicists like Tai Solarin, (Ikenne and Ibadan, Nigeria) and Immanuel Kant (Konigsberg, Germany)? Mr. President, I will just like to know.
These questions are relevant because the intense lack of the ethical in the presidency was visibly seen when the presidency deployed Messers Reuben Abati and Doyin Okupe to go after Nigerians who object to the immorality displayed by Mr. Orosanye as the moral fault line of the presidency in the Ribadu Oil Panel. Those who object to this explanation should tell Nigerians why a government agency – NNPC-which is being examined by a panel will during the life span of the body examining it give a job to the deputy chair of that panel?
So when Reuben Abati asserts as follows : “it is so unfortunate that there has been so much ignorant carping and malicious tittle-tattling about the report of the Petroleum Revenue Task Force chaired by Malam Nuhu Ribadu, both failings arising from a deliberate attempt to individualize what was actually group work, a mischievous attempt to politicize one report out of three, and to smuggle into an emergent grand web of conspiracy, elements of blackmail, mischief and outright opportunism…” the point is that Reuben Abati and the presidency lost the ethical in our public lives completely and perhaps irreversibly at that point.
We will ignore Mr. Reuben Abati’s uncivil language on Nigerian taxpayers. We will also ignore the attack as the defense style of Mr. Abati—a style which by act of conscious omission ignore the visible moral burden the Presidency has inflicted on itself with his tacit defense of Mr. Orosanye’s public ethics. This is because the presidency, by implication, validated Mr. Orosanye’s work ethics on the Ribadu Panel in Mr. Abati’s uncalled-for attack on Nigerians who feel morally assaulted by Mr. Orosanye’s work ethics while in the same vein Mr. Abati was deliberately blinded (as if it does not exist) to this work ethics in his attack. That such language will ooze out of my country’s presidency, which ought to have a halo around and be respectful of Nigerians, is instructive. Here, I am talking about the presidency and not Mr. Abati, Mr. Okupe or Mr. Jonathan as persons.
So my questions to President Jonathan as he engages Nigerians today in a TV Chat are as follow: Do you have a Moral Golden Rule? If you have, what is your Moral Golden Rule? For example if and when you leave office and suppose you set up a private company, will you allow the Managing Director of your company to also work for a rival company or a company whose account your company is looking into? Mr. President, will you allow your Managing Director to work for a third of a day in a month work period and one day in a 90-day work period?
Mr. President, as an external auditor, if you are asked to review an academic department, will you also take a job from that department which you are supposed to objectively look into? Mr. president, will you allow a rapist to be a judge in his case? If yes, why? If no why did you say there is nothing wrong in Mr. Orosanye being given and taking an NNPC job during the life of his service as the Deputy Chair of the Ribadu Panel that was examining the NNPC operations? Why did you by that act ignore or vicariously legitimize Mr. Orosanye’s work ethics on the Ribadu Panel?
Finally, Mr. President, I am aware that the wives of Nigerian presidents and Nigerian presidents themselves often do quick ones to Germany for medical attention, so you know Germany, but you do not need to go to Germany to seek for Kant the ethicist for help to answer these questions about public ethics. Why? Nigeria has his Tai Solarins who can turn Nigeria to the greatest nation on earth. Look within Nigeria our dear country. Let the work ethics of Tai Solarin breathe life to your public service to we Nigerians. Tai Solarin’s public work ethics is accessible, it is not costly, it is here right before you. Do not dump the moral work of the Ribadu Panel. Do not “white paper it.” Rather, access it. Use it. That is the moral and ethical path that comes before the so-called “national question”. That is the honourable path.
Adeolu Ademoyo (email@example.com) is Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, USA.