President Jonathan recently constituted a committee to midwife what had been called a national “dialogue”. The pronouncements of the president on this suggests that the dialogue or conference is being called to solve certain political problems.
But the critical question is: while it is given that there is a need to address the political questions in the country, the question is, in the situation we are in, which is prior between the ethical question and the political question?
I believe the ethical question is prior to the political question . This is because the political problem(s) is a result of the violation of the ethical in our lives.
Permit me a brief introduction to a serious issue. African states, governments, political parties and perhaps peoples are not known to take the central location of public ethics in governance as a serious issue.
For us everything is “political”. Even scholars, lawyers, journalists who write on public affairs miss this point. Mention ethics in governance in the ears of African peoples, you cut the image of a Catholic priest or deacon on the pulpit. It is a sickening poverty of ideas in African public affairs and governance.
Yet some of us live in the west-Europe and America- where public ethics are central to state matters. We know this. Our diaspora ministers know this yet they fail to practise this or call attention to this in state matters.
For example, the policies of the Democratic party in America, are obviously defined by liberal ethics, an ethical position which is slightly to the left side of the ideological spectrum, while the policies of Republican party are defined by rightwing ethics, an ethics which most times is hostile to the interests of working peoples. You see this moral divergence in policies on education, health, food, housing, immigration etc.
For example, the Republican party which dominates the American house of representatives has refused to pass a clean budget to keep the American government (run by the Democratic party) running thereby shutting down the government. This sort of disagreement between the two parties is purely moral even when it takes on a “political” representation. The ideological core of the disagreement is the moral disagreement on the OBAMACARE-President Obama’s health policy that makes it morally obligatory for the American society to take care of the health of the poorest sections of the American society who would –otherwise go without health care.
All of us in America know that the shut down of government by the Republican party is a moral disagreement among us all on how best we as a society , as individuals and as a collective should take care of the health of those who -not out of their own making -are economically “poor”.
This is a moral disagreement that has appeared as a “political” disagreement. In other words, the fundamental thing in life, the foundation of things is moral, it is ethical. And what we see in practice that appear to be “political” are in fact by products of the ethical.
So while the West will pay attention to the moral thought of their thinkers-both progressive and right wing- in formulating their state policies, the useful thoughts of African moral philosophers such as Barry Hallen, Olubi Sodipo, Kwame Gyekye, Kwasi Wiredu, Odera Oruka, -(essentially the foundations of contemporary African thought) are ignored out of either basic illiteracy of our politicians and voters, or basic contempt for self or as a result of the fact that African politicians do not think of their legacies . They are only concerned with what hey can loot from public treasury.
It is not as if we are intellectual orphans when it comes to how ethics intersect with public governance in African public affairs.
Africa has produced the moral thought of Julius Nyerere’s concept of “Ujamaa” which is an attempt to grassroot basic welfarist and socialist principles, Obafemi Awolowo’s “Peoples Republic” and his theory of the “cultivation of the moral regime of mental magnitude”, is a Platonic thesis doused in socialist principles, Kwame Nkrummah’s “Consciencism” attempts to localize socialist principles in African states through moral tuning of the human being.
All these and other African founding thoughts proceed from an ethical standpoint even when their open representation appear “political”. Again, with these African minds, it means the foundation of things in life is ethical. It is not political. It is not economic. Let us open our eyes and see. Only the deep can call to the deep.
In thinking about President Jonathan’s “dialogue” , I wish to note that President Jonathan and his presidency fail to see that the beauty and strength of moral disagreements is that you do not need a conference or talk shop or talk show to see an immorality, an un-ethical act or resolve moral disagreements.
Ethics is basic and clear. For example, except one lives outside society it is basic and self evident that we as humans have a covenant and a moral obligation not to allow anyone in society to go to sleep without food, housing, clothing, basic education. And it is a covenant that no single human being should be put in any position to beg for these things because it is a moral crime on a society that morally creates an economic environment that creates begging.
To make us beg for these basic things is to take away our moral agency, our moral autonomy as humans. And that is morally evil for any policy that exits our moral autonomy-our moral capacity to decide for ourselves- violates our agency as moral beings. This is what poverty does, hence poverty and its creation are unacceptable.
Same thing goes for corruption. You do not need a conference or a talk show to see the acute immorality and evil in corruption. The immoral nature of corruption is self evident. It corrodes and morally diminishes all things. With a corrupt regime, things become wretched and die off even when the corrupt politicians’ cheeks appear glittering.
Corruption oozes out the cesspool stench and odor from the foundation of so-called “wealth”. Corruption hastens the implosion of state and society if not stopped. The failure to stop it is a failure of the moral will. And this is the case with President Jonathan’s government, it is the case with the Nigerian situation.
So since President Jonathan’s government is in serious violation of the ethical in our life, and given that conferences do not resolve ethical questions, I think President Jonathan’s conference would be a mere talk show.
To talk about the political outside the ethical is putting the cart before the horse. This is what the president has done with his proposed dialogue. This is what those who are supporting the so-called dialogue –perhaps innocently -are caught in. This is what they are doing-putting the political cart before the moral horse. It will not work.
I maintain this position for the following reasons. To apprehend these reasons, I think it is best to re-present to Mr. President the serious ethical violations he has been involved in and which we do not need a talk show for. Let us start from the moral foundation of things before going to the “complex” “political”-the national conference or is it dialogue!
The 2013 election to Nigeria Governors Forum raises the first moral question. Governor Amaechi won with 19 votes while Governor Jang lost with 16 votes. President Jonathan revealed his hands when he violated the simple moral truth in arithmetic truth by openly supporting the turning of a minority of 16 governors who voted for Governor Jang to majority.
To openly court the loser of an election and turn him to a “winner” is a basic moral violation of the moral truth we teach our children. The question is whether we need a talk show to resolve this simple moral problem President Jonathan is involved in. I do not think so.
President Jonathan and his party PDP’s deliberately induced the lawlessness in Rivers state is our second moral example. Under the law, the governor of a state is the chief security officer of the state. Neither the president nor the police commissioner is the chief security officer of a state.
But in open breach of simple procedure which raises what we may call procedural ethics, President Jonathan openly used his Inspector General of Police to subvert the authority of Governor Amaechi of Rivers state by making him subordinate to a police commissioner-Mr. Mbu. This is elementary legal and ethical question which we do not need a talk show to address.
Also, under the auspices of PDP a party which President Jonathan leads, the Rivers state assembly re-enacted the violation of the moral truth of arithmetic truth. Nudged by President Jonathan’s PDP, 5 members of the Rivers state assembly led by Mr. Bipi were turned into a “majority” in a house of 32 members! With a nod from the PDP and the presidency, Mr. Bipi led 5 members to “sack” the speaker of the Rivers state assembly. Mr. Bipi said on tape that he was sacking the Rivers assembly because Governor Amaechi “insulted” Mrs. Jonathan-the wife of president jonathan!
How the PDP, the Nigerian police, the Presidency, and our judicial system allow 5 members to become a “majority” in a house of 32 members is a serious ethical issue you do not need any talk show to resolve. What we need is a moral will, the moral agency. And it is morally perplexing that a presidency that looked on in Mr. Bipi’s open subversion of law in Rivers state is contemplating organizing a national “dialogue”.
The third example is the moral and physical death of the nation through corruption. It is on record that some ministers are the arrow heads of the unbearable corruption President Jonathan’s government has sunk into.
Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, the oil minister is reported to literally sits on a cesspool of corruption in the oil industry. Since the presidency and Nigerian people are comfortable with this evil, we no longer need to itemize the cases. The documentation has been well done. Nothing more to add as we all grind inexorably to the final resolution of the nation.
But let us take one which raises serious ethical question for which you do not need a road talk show for. President Jonathan knew and still knows that we have a major moral problem in the oil industry. He searched for the moral agent to cleanse the industry. Mr. President asked if Mr. Nuhu Ribadu would do the job. Ribadu agreed to do the job. So we had the Ribadu Task Force on the Oil Industry. The Task Force sat for 90 days to do its job. Mr. Orosanye, the presidency’s proxy in the task force attended the sessions of the 90 day job of the Ribadu panel for one day.
On the day, Mr. Ribadu would submit its report to the presidency, Mr. Orosanye showed up to rubbish the report. President Jonathan collected the report from Mr. Ribadu, thanked Mr. Ribadu and his colleagues, took one long look at the report and shipped the report to the dustbin. Till today, we have heard nothing about the Ribadu report. We have heard nothing from the presidency about the stench in the oil industry. You do not need a conference or talk show to take a moral decision on a major evil in the oil industry. What we need from President Jonathan is called moral will. President Jonathan does not have this, he cannot have it for he is part of the immorality in the industry.
The most recent is the internet monitoring scam-a contract given to the Israeli company –Elbit Security Systems. Against the law, the presidency awarded the contract to Elbit without bidding. Besides this, we have two figures for the contract in the public domain-$40m and $60m as claimed by both presidency and Elbit Security systems at different times. Nigerians have objected to the covert nature of the contract.
Today Nigerians do not know which figure is correct, who brought in Elbit to Nigerian to take a contract which was not bidded for-an obvious illegal act, if the Elbit contract is on or not. It has become a boredom- the intention of any corrupt person or institution is to create boredom and kill the issue-to list the corruption under President Jonathan.
But the question is: do we need a talk show to address corruption? If we are to be specific about the latest one we know –the Elbit Security contract scam-do we need a talk show to see the immorality in having two figures for the same contract in the public domain and yet we do not know why we should have two figures? Do we need a talk show, a so-called dialogue to see that it is illegal and immoral to secretly award an internet security contract to a foreign firm especially given that this internet monitoring will radically transform who we are and the way we do things? Do we need a talk show before President Jonathan tell us whether he has canceled the contract or not? It is funny that some Nigerians are packing their billowing agbada, babanriga, tying their coat and tie, ready for a so-called national dialogue yet they cannot ask the president a simple question to come out clean morally on this.
Finally is the PDP crisis which has become an albatross on the president’s neck. Nigerians have pointed to the statement made by President Jonathan that he will only contest for one term. Such commitment is moral. Some Nigerians believe that he needs to live up to his words as President. It is obvious President Jonathan does not think he needs to live up to his words.
However, I believe he has the right to change his mind as many times as he wants. But the question is: do we need a talk show or a dialogue to see the question of trust on this?
It seems to me therefore that what Nigerians are saying is that the Nigerian presidency exhibit such moral deficit it needs to clear before the nation can act as one in a national dialogue.
We make this claim in view of our own private and quiet moral investment and commitment to the country. President Jonathan’s moral deficits have diminished and reduced the country so badly such that a honest national dialogue is impossible if his presidency does not come clean morally on these issues that have generated serious political crisis.
To fail to see this and move on with a conference which is flawed from the beginning is to again put the political cart before the moral horse which ought to drive and pull the political cart. It is an absurdity. It is self defeating. This “dialogue” is morally problematic hence it is morally dead on arrival..
Adeolu Ademoyo firstname.lastname@example.org is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
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