Leadership and the ethics of making vows By Adeolu Ademoyo

A few weeks ago, Nigeria’s president, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan spoke at the presidential award ceremony for Youth Enterprise With Innovation in Nigeria (You Win) Flagship program. At the ceremony, he was said to have “vowed to end the culture of favoritism.”

I find the reference to “vow” significant because to take or make a vow is to make an ethical commitment. Inherent in a vow is faith and being faithful. Hence, a vow is a public and perceivable expression of faith such that the moral perceptual space jointly owned by citizens is where we check the violation or affirmation of vows beyond the mere verbal assertion of it. So we live a vow, hence a lived vow is a tangible and perceivable moral act. We see it, we perceive it because we live it and live in it in a moral and spiritual warm embrace.

Similarly, a few weeks ago Christians all over the world commenced the Easter Season. During Easter season, Christians generally reinstate vows taken at baptism- a requirement that they should live and walk their faith. This restatement of vow of their Christian faith throws meaning on the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus as an expression of triumph of light over darkness as President Goodluck Jonathan correctly claimed in his Easter season message.

Unfortunately, as reported Mr. Jonathan missed out on the crucial point both in his Easter message and YOUWIN award ceremony presentation. It is useless if we make a vow and we do not live and walk the vow. Just as it is useless to claim to be a Christian if you do not live, work and walk by example as Jesus did. Corruption is complete darkness that throws us back to Stone Age and pre-scientific age. To be a Christian and to be corrupt is a complete contradiction because one cannot be both, for a corrupt Christian  is a negation of living by example, which the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ represent. Incidentally, the Easter season is a reminder of Jesus’ death as sacrifice and as example. To defeat this claim, you need to show me why and how you should be called a Christian if you are corrupt or if you are corrupt why you should be called a Christian.

Thus, the fight against favoritism and corruption, which Mr. Jonathan referred to, is more about example and less about law. Yet Mr. Jonathan did not talk about example. There are three ellipsis or gaps in Mr. Jonathan’s “homely”. First he did not include the fact that the death of Jesus Christ is death by example. In other words the death of moral darkness. Second, the president did not include the fact that we ought to copy the example of Jesus by dying Nigeria’s moral darkness. Finally, Mr. president did not name the darkness in Nigeria’s life-which in this case is sub prime corruption and the deployment of the halo of state for corrupt ends.

Like most members of my generation, I grew up with certain moral code from parents: Example is better than precepts. The reason is simple. Example is an actualization of the law. A law is useless if there are no examples. This is the prime meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection. With examples one actually perceives what one ought to do, and one perceives that what one ought to do is the right thing to do.

In our country, in the tepid “fight” against corruption the EFCC, and ICPC are instances of Law. The question is: in the absence of examples, are the EFCC and ICPC useful? I doubt this. I think they are useless if leaders such as Mr. Jonathan, Mr. Obasanjo and others do not live by example by not being corrupt. The reason is that laws do not mobilize. Examples mobilize because exemplary acts occupy our perceptual space and we actually see that they are true or false and what we ought to do or not do. This is why the holy Week and Jesus’ death and resurrection help renew the Christian faith because they are exemplary acts that mobilize spiritually and socially.


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Recently, we were told that Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo spent 30 billion naira to sustain his failed desire for a third term in office. Three principal law makers at this period –Mr. Ken Nnamani (former Senate President) on one hand and Mr. Ibrahim Mantu (deputy Senate President) and Mr. Austin Opara (House Of Representative) on the other hand have contradicted themselves on it. While Mr. Nnamani asserted that public money was used, Mr. Mantu denied this.

Given that moral darkness, which President Jonathan referred to and which Jesus’ death is supposed to defeat, is partly the absence of public accountability and transparency it is obvious that Mr. Obasanjo’s alleged 30 billion naira project is an expression of darkness, the absence of light.  That we cannot trace this and other stolen public money is darkness. Transparency is lightness which Jesus’ resurrection perceptually and perpetually represents. 

Thus my challenge to Mr. Jonathan is: Can you as a Christian live the vow and walk the vow you made at the YOU WIN award ceremony by being a concrete example in the fight against corruption? Can you by Christian example vow and walk the vow to shed light that you referred to in your Easter message on Mr. Obasanjo’s alleged 30-billion naira third term self-perpetuation project even though someone may say it is a “mere” 30 billion naira? The gathering of the ocean begins with that small stream that flows underneath the sewage that passes your street and my street. Small moral examples against corruption are better than countless EFCC and laws.

Adeolu Ademoyo, aaa54@cornell.edu is of the Africana Studies Department, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.




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