Diezani Alison-Madueke, our country’s oil minister, crosses the lines of ethics if she does not resign as the petroleum minister to allow a transparent investigation of the serial immorality that has characterized the oil industry under her watch. Second, if she refuses to resign voluntarily, President Goodluck Jonathan will compound the ethical problem if he does not fire her.
The basis of my position is the African ethical theory otherwise called Perceptual Ethics. In clearing a common misconceptions about perceptual ethics, the first challenge is to demonstrate that it is not what many call situational ethics, whereby moral judgments change based on the situation. In our moral judgments, perceptual ethics returns us, always, to acts that are tangible, in real world, and that are independent of our private or personal perceptions.
Part of the sub text of the current protest of Nigerians against the “withdrawal” of the so-called oil “subsidy” is the grand unethical and sharp practices in the oil industry under the watch of Mrs. Alison-Madueke. The immorality in the oil industry has produced total inefficiency, which in turn produced economic difficulties for Nigerians in the unending debate about fixing pump prices for petrol. This is the connection between the ethical failure of the oil industry under Mrs. Madueke’s watch and the pauperization of average Nigerians. Thus, while the industry is now under probe, Mrs. Alison-Madueke has refused to honorably step aside to allow for a transparent investigation of the immorality in the industry.
The first question is: why should Mrs. Alison-Madueke resign since she has a fundamental right not to resign? The answer is that we directly perceive her oily deals and acts. The circumstances under which Mr. Christopher Aire, a Nigerian jeweler, who is personally linked to Mrs. Alison-Madueke became a crude oil exporter is an example. Mrs. Alison-Madueke cannot appeal to fundamental right as a form of defense because fundamental right is not formal. It is substantive. It has content. An appeal to a formal fundamental right outside an ethical content is arbitrary; it is an abuse and an ethical violation of our common perceptual space. It is the ethical content of a human right that stops the infinite regress in a debate. Ethical content gives right a substantive meaning.
The second question is what is wrong in the Christopher Aire story: What is wrong is that Siseno Oil formed by Mr. Christopher Aire, who is linked personally to Mrs. Alison-Madueke did not meet the criteria to lift oil. But he was licensed under Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s watch to do so. The ethical failure being that it privatizes a common estate of Nigerians.
The third question is: if other ministers engage in unethical practices and they are not asked to resign, why is Mrs. Alison-Madueke being charged with immorality and being asked to resign? The answer is simple. This question does not dispute the fact that if true, her act is unethical. The question is only suggesting that other Nigerian ministers are corrupt and that they are yet to be caught. Thus, to say Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s cabinet colleagues are equally immoral but are yet to be caught does not absolve her. It only shows that we have more work to do, and we take them on as they come. So we directly perceive Mrs. Madueke’s unethical act and that she has been exposed. We directly perceive that she has not denied this but that she relies on “my fundamental right” to continue to be minister. We directly perceive that some other Nigerian ministers are unethical but they are yet to be caught and exposed. So the question confirms (i) Mrs. Madueke’s immorality and (ii) that we have more work to do about Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s cabinet colleagues.
The fourth question is: if Mrs. Alison-Madueke refuses to resign, why is President Goodluck Jonathan guilty of immorality just because he refuses to sack her? There are two answers. It is conceivable that President Jonathan directly perceives the oily acts and deals under Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s watch, but that he does not believe these oily deals are immoral. The second answer is that he directly perceives the oily deals as unethical, but that he believes that it is her time to eat, and she has state backing to continue to eat. The two answers confirm why another philosopher, Hannah Arendt, argues that evil is banal. It is the variant of the Yoruba fragment “??r?? pèsì j?,” meaning the intensity of an evil act passes its articulation.
Also, the two answers show that the basis for the failure of the Nigerian state historically in the past and today is ethical. The African fragment, which is a derivative of perceptual ethics concludes thus: the decay and corrosion of a fish starts from the fish’s head. There are those who will find cold comfort in misinterpreting the decay of the fish’s head to mean sweetness, but that merely puts them in league of those who say the rotten plantain represents ripeness and maturity. If such spins speak to weak intellection, they also stress a fundamental fact: that the failure of the Nigerian state proceeds from turning ethics on its head.
There are important lessons here: The failure of the Nigerian state is NOT the paucity of technocrats; it is the paucity of ethics. Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s oily deals show this, and Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s recent gaffe in referring some Nigerian professors in the Diaspora to the counsel of some British academics confirms it. Herein lies the failure of the Nigerian state. And here in lies the moral basis of that failure.