Encouraging The Code Of Conduct In Business And Profession For National Development
Being an address delivered at Rotary International District 9125 Conference, Abuja 2016
I am at once delighted and humbled to have been afforded the honour to address this august congregation- a gathering of men and women of no mean statures; a conclave of personalities who have committed their existence to the betterment of themselves and humanity. Indeed, it is no understatement to say that this is a gathering of men who carry in their hearts the drive- that passion that alone has the ability to transform their environment into an earthly paradise. This is what the Rotary Club means to me, and to us all who have gathered here today.
Rotary International- founded one hundred and eleven years ago, remains a burning light in this world of ours; not only teaching men to do right by their fellow men, but in fact showing men how to do right by their fellow men. The examples abound and the Club has made its mark in every nation of the world and in every field of endeavour- medicine, science, education, governance, banking, commerce, the list goes on. So, for me, it is not lip service when I say I am humbled to have been called upon to address a congregation of greats such asthis. Thank you very much, sirs.
As it is probably known to all present here, the theme of my address here, if I may call it that, is: “Encouraging the Code of Conduct in Business and Profession”. Permit me again to say that when I first received the theme, as a legal practitioner, I felt that there was something wrong with it, but I will come back to that as we go along.
If a poll were to be taken in this hall right now, or across our dear nation, I am confident to say that many would agree that Nigeria, great nation that she is, is a nation of destiny navigating strange waters right now, and the outcome of this auspicious season we are witnessing right now, will set the tone and pace for the next hundred years of our national life. Like the prophet Joel is reported- in scripture- to have warned, “Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision!”
We may even liken these times to the days, the months and the years which followed 1960- the year of our independence; we all know that the Civil War and the turmoil which characterized that era was preceded by certain choices and decisions. It was that English poet, T.S. Eliot, who wrote in his opus, Four Quartets: 'We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”. So, we are here again, brought forward by the Almighty hand of Him who orders the times and seasons to the Valley of Decision; we are here in this season Change, and we MUST chart the course of change that we desire if weare to see our nation arise to her place of pride and honour as the great Eagle, and Giant of Africa amidst the comity of nations.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Ethics- that branch of moral philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct- which is in effect, father to every code of conduct, has a role to play in determining the outcome of our national psyche. Perhaps this is what led the Lebanese philosopher, artist, poet, and teacher, Kahlil Gibran to say “The true wealth of a nation lies neither in its silver nor in its gold, but in its learning, its wisdom and in the uprightness of its youth”. And I add, the elders.
As we proceed towards examining the ways by which we may, if possible, 'encourage' a code of conduct in business and profession, as the theme suggest, let us take the immortal words of the late Gibran as our measure- as our mirror. By these words, let us for just one moment evaluate our wealth as a nation.
Nigeria is globally acknowledged as nation blessed with immense natural resources- crude oil, solid minerals, fertile earth and even fantastic vacation spots which have been located in our geographical space through no effort of ours but by the hand of Him who has predestined us to be the envy of other nations. With a population of about 170 million people, the available human resources in this great nation of ours is better left to the imagination than measured. The long and short of this is this, my people; We Are Blessed!
However, in the eyes of the word of Khalil Gibran, are these numerous blessings enough to describe us as a wealthy nation? Are we wealthy in terms of learning? Are we prosperous in wisdom? Are our youths renowned for their uprightness?
There lies our national dilemma: on a global index, our universities do not come up on the first 300, do they? Do our locally devised policies and interventions reveal the influence of wisdom? Where do we rank with Transparency International, and how are our people perceived at the different embassies and ports of entry all over the world? The answer lies in our answers to these different questions.
Like any sound medical practitioner will tell us, the first step towards treatment is correct diagnosis of any malaise, and therefore the first step towards national recovery is not denial or huddling in darkness, but a honest-to-the-bone acknowledgement of our national ailment. As a Christian, two words of Scripture constantly admonish me as I work on personal development and growth. The two are “If we say we have no sin, we err, and the truth is not in us” and “Come, let us reason together; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow”. This is why unlike many who took offence at President Muhammadu Buhari's public admission of the negative reputation that a minority of Nigerian citizens have garnered across the world for the majority, I credit him for that uncomfortable but honest and courage admission, because an admission of an ailing condition is the first step on the road to healing. It is true that we have suffered a deficit of integrity, of honesty, and of uprightness. Again, I find it necessary to make recourse to the scriptures: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but wrongdoing is a reproach to everybody”.
Our great bane as a nation, (and let me quick to say that there is hardly any adult in Nigeria that is exempt from this), is wrongdoing, in our personal lives, in business, and in our profession. This is not an attempt to rehash again all those things that we have agreed that are wrong with our nation, no; this is just to situate us where we are, as it is said, we must acknowledge where we are, to get to where we desire.
We must establish what a 'Code of Conduct' is exactly; what do we mean when we say there is a code of conduct? Is there perhaps an operant code of conduct even now in our nation that we are unaware of, or that we feign ignorance of?
Ladies and Gentlemen, it actually grieves my heart to announce to all of us present here today that there is a code of conduct that is presently active amongst our countrymen today, but I am running ahead of myself, and putting the cart before the horse.
Let us deconstruct the words: Code of Conduct.
'Code' as used here, could mean 'policy', 'regulations', 'rules', or if you are ICT-savvy, 'program'. Aha, let us go with these: regulations, rules, or program.
A program, according to the ICT expert, is a set of pre-written instructions or directives given to a computer to behave in a specific manner, at a specific time, in a specific set of conditions.
Rules or regulations, as defined by educationists or social engineers, are a set of instructions or directives, given to pupils or to members of a society to behave in certain legal, or ethical conduct that are suited for specific sustainable coexistence.
With these definitions, I sincerely doubt if anyone here would say that there is an absence of a 'code of conduct' in Nigeria. If anyone doubts me, let him take a stroll to any nearby fuel stations where cars are queued up, awaiting fuel. Or let him take an observational stroll into any of our banks where customers are awaiting their turn to be serviced by their banks. Or better yet, let that doubtful Thomas just step outside this audience and go to the nearest traffic light to observe the conduct of our fellow countrymen at the junctions, and in response to the prompting of the traffic lights.
The three situations I have outlined here will prove me right that there is actually a code of conduct in operation across Nigeria; however it is also apparent that this is not the Code of Conduct desired by all who look forward to the prosperity and greatness of our nation. Everyone who undertakes the experiment I have proposed will come back with a similar report that reveals the code that has been hardwired, perhaps in ignorance, into the psyche of the average Nigerian.We might describe this as a code of Corruption, for it is that which persuades Nigerians everywhere that 'cutting corners' is the path to personal progress.
Permit me to say that the lawlessness that we most likely would have observed I n these 'laboratories' that I have proposed are the consequences of Mis-education. Nigerians are victim of a Mis-education of the most insidious type- the type that crept upon us “when men slept”, to paraphrase the scriptures again.
The mis-education of my people began when wrongdoing was detached from consequences. It began when the law succumbed to sentiment and apathy, such that it no longer exacted a just recompense from offenders and lawbreakers.
It began when Akin learnt that he could run the traffic lights without any punishment for such action. It began when Nneka learnt that by dating her boss at work, she was no longer bound by the office codes of punctuality and productivity. It began when Ahmadu learnt that offering some financial inducements could not only purchase him waivers if he was unqualified for a contract bid, but was in fact necessary to clinch the bid regardless of whether he was qualified or not. It began when the people of Otori village learnt that the time to 'get a piece of national cake' is when aspiring politicians go on campaign. Miseducation began when Chief Agbalowomeri learnt that all he owed the electorate was the distribution of rice and N200 notes during campaign, and that once he clinched the desired seat, he was no longer beholden to the ones who voted, and may be, snatched ballot boxes to ensure his victory. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, permit me to say that that the code of conduct that has been hardwired into the psyche of a large majority of our people is the one that teaches them that lawlessness pays, and is rewarded with power, position and prosperity. Do you disagree?
However, the true Code of Conduct we desire as a substitute to the code of corruption currently in operation, is defined as: “a set of rules outlining the social norms and rules and responsibilities of, or proper practices for, an individual, party or organization”.
Proper conduct and ethical practices; these are the foundation of any code of conduct that will serve to accelerate our progression from a nation of apparent lawlessness to a nation that exists on the twin pillars of law and order. But how do we effect this? By cajoling the people? By pleading with our fellow countrymen to love Nigeria? I beg to disagree.
I also make bold to state that 'encouraging a code of conduct in business and profession' as suggested by the theme I was given, is not the duty of any social engineer be it a law enforcement agencies, the legislators, or the judiciary. Encourage? Why?
I know many well-intentioned folks often talk about the 'carrot and stick' approach as effective for teaching good behavior. Be that as it may, I will however like you to cast your minds back to the very symbol of justice- Our Lady, who bears in her hands the scales and a sword; there is a reason why she brandishes a sword and not an ice cream cone, or a carrot as is suggested by some.
To steer the ship Nigeria, into calm, peaceful and prosperous waters, Lady Justice must be re-invigorated with a sense of purpose; this and only this will reverse the injustice of mis-education that has been perpetrated on at least two generations of Nigerians.
The generations from 1920-1970 are indeed lucky to have been recipients of the effects of social engineering that is attuned towards the growth of civilization in society. This generation learnt by both rote and example, that hard work, honesty, integrity and discipline were virtues to be desired, cultivated and exemplified in daily living. Little wonder that this was the generation that bore us Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo, Nanmdi Azikwe, Adekunle Ajasin, Adekunle Fajuyi, Anthony Enahoro, Pa Imoudu, Funmilayo Kuti, Gani Fawehinmi, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, and a host of many others- some alive while others live in our fond memories- who today are probably observing the nation with tears intheir eyes as they wonder “What went wrong with the land of our birth? Have our labours been in vain?”
It is not by coincidence that this same generation birthed what we now refer to as the Golden Age of Nigeria, when in the field of sciences, arts, culture, and sports Nigeria was the envy of the world. Today we all hark back to the wholesome entertainment of that era- in song, film, theatre and dance, and look with bewilderment at the substitute being offered by our young energetic but misguided musical artistes of today whose offerings serve only to perpetuate the mis-education we speak about today.
“Maga don pay, shout Halleluyah!”
“If you love me, you go buy me Ferrari”
“I want to do Sina today” That is the stuff that is educating our youth today- that is the 'Code of Conduct' being taught subconsciously and insidiously to our countrymen, and we wonder why we are the way we are.
In the courts of justice, many erring people walk free daily due to unscrupulous exploitation of technicalities and procurement of 'perpetual injunctions', thereby teaching Nigerians everywhere and anywhere that it is okay to commit a crime so long as you can be smart and creative in your defence of same.
It is therefore my humble submission that there can be no talk of encouraging a code of conduct in business and profession without a honest inquiry, identification and admission of the existence of an operant code in the minds and heart of Nigerians as a result of years of mis-education which teaches the majority that wrong is profitable and right-doing may not yield expected returns. Corruption did not just become a 'virtue' overnight in our country; its ascendancy was facilitated by the very ones who were entrusted with the sacred work of social engineering: the law enforcement agencies. Under decades-long misgovernance, custodians of the bastions of our society i.e. our lawenforcement personnel traded away justice and accountability for personal enrichment. That is how Corruption ate Nigeria; this is how we got where we are today as a nation.
What to do?
We all know the path to a return to sanity; it espouses that Law and Order, that time-tested bastion of hope for all civilizations and societies everywhere must be allowed to take its pride of place as the centre, the fulcrum on which Nigeria as a nation rests. I will make a brief detour into classical physics, Newtonian physics to be specific, to drive home this point.
Newton's 1st Law: An object in motion or at rest (i.e. equilibrium) will continue in its state (motion or equilibrium) unless acted upon by an external force. Applying this to our nation, it tells me that we will continue in this state of lawlessness unless we make a conscious effort to halt the rot. The present administration's effort in this area is commendable however we encourage the leadership to do more, and in time too.
Newton's 3rd Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Newton's law, applied to our circumstance as a nation, teaches that wrongdoing must have its just recompense and right-doing, or righteousness as my Christian brethren would say must have its reward.
If these two laws are taken into consideration and applied in our nation-building and social engineering efforts, there is no doubt that we will be taking firm steps towards national recovery. It is necessary to state that all hands must be on deck in this great effort to reposition the psyche of our people and the generations to come.
I noticed a curious thing when I visited the UK in the build-up to the 2012 London Olympics. There were young men and ladies around the city who had volunteered to help tourists who had lost their way amidst the hustle and bustle of London, find their way. That, to me, is true citizenship borne of a sense of ownership.
Are there such in Nigeria? How can we cultivate such a mindset amongst our countrymen? I want to suggest that this august assembly of patriots, The Rotary Club, should spearhead the establishment of yet another club that will be, in effect, the Ambassadors of A New Nigeria.
This club, as I envision it, will serve the dual purposes of model and sentinel. As models, the members will embody the virtues desired in the New Nigeria by living lives that uphold cardinal virtues of honesty, hard work, integrity, and discipline. This will serve to re-direct the psyche of the majority which has hitherto been immersed in a culture of lawlessness and impunity. Consistent modeling of these new virtues will serve to redirect the ethos of our nation, and imprint the new code of conduct on the minds and hearts of our people. As sentinel, the members will report any wrongdoing observed and draw the attention of appropriate agencies to the event.
Seeding the nation with members of this envisioned club will be like the proverbial yeast or, to make yet another allusion to scripture, the leaven that fills the dough thoroughly. With enough members, it is possible to catalyze a chain reaction of conscious citizenship that will push our nation to that tipping point.
In closing, I will like to say that, in my humble opinion, the only encouragement needed for instilling the Code of Conduct in our business and profession are these that I have outlined above.
For emphasis, I will repeat it again:
• The Law must be enforced for people to learn obedience.
• If people will live as ambassadors of a New Nigeria, in time the majority will emulate them.
• Conscious citizenship requires that everyone act as watchdogs i.e. the eyes and ears of the government.
This is how to encourage, if possible, the code of conduct in our businesses and professions.
Written by Barr. Kayode Ajulo.