The need for behavioural change as a strategy to fight corruption was brought to the front burner of national discourse as the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) held the 6th National Policy Dialogue at the Commission’s headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital on Tuesday.
The main thrust of the Dialogue, themed: National Policy Dialogue on Corruption, Social Norms, and Behavioural Change, put together by the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria (ACAN) and sponsored by MacArthur Foundation, was to explore ways to implement advocacy programmes that would enable Nigeria regain its lost values.
In his welcome remark, the ICPC Chairman, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, SAN, OFR, underscored the importance of the theme saying that the emergence and pervasive spread of corruption-inducing social norms across all ethnicities and religious divides was worrisome, thereby threatening the foundation of societal values and norms.
Prof. Owasanoye revealed that a survey by ACAN showed that communities contributed to fueling corruption in the public service as they do not question the source of wealth of people in public office and also, the common expectation that public office holders donate huge amounts of money at public ceremonies.
The ICPC boss explained that although the law and order approach has dominated the activities of anti-corruption agencies, it was not sufficient as it needs to be complemented with some self or group-regulatory mechanism to achieve the desired behavioural change both in government and society at large.
In his words, “Achieving the goal of behavioural change in a society with endemic corruption involves a complex and sometimes a long process that requires a multi-sectoral brainstorming session to develop appropriate policy framework”.
He recommended amongst other things that all stakeholders lead by example and listed corruption–inducing social norms that need to be discouraged and those that need to be encouraged.
Among others, he said that the Federal and State Ministries of Education should develop and implement behaviour change programmes in schools including debates on the subject matter.
The keynote speaker, Professor Toyin Falola of the Department of History, University of Texas at Austin, United States of America, in his presentation, stated that to effectively address corruption, it was important to focus on transforming behaviours and fostering a culture of integrity and accountability, which requires active participation from individuals across all sectors.
According to him, “The corruption issue in Nigeria runs deep, intertwining with various aspects of politics, governance, and society. The origin can be traced back to various factors such as inadequate governance structures, the consolidation of power among a select few, and the lingering effects of historical events.”
Prof. Falola noted that history has shown that corrupt societies transformed themselves and gave examples of Japan, Malaysia, China, etc.
He, therefore, urged the political class and public office holders to transform themselves or the people will transform them in a way that cannot be predicted.
Speaking on poverty, Prof. Falola opined that even if salaries were increased but goods and services were not produced and made available for the people then not much will change especially as money can never be enough.
“Provide good roads, hospitals, and other basic amenities to make life better. Work towards the creation of a middle class,” he said.
He recommended the revival of the independence of the Judiciary; independence and empowerment of the National Orientation Agency; reduction in the monetary attractiveness of public offices; creation of a national economy; providing the citizens with hope; having social safety nets in the areas of health, housing, etc.; and active political will to stop corruption.
“It is a combination of civic responsibility in connection to issues surrounding you and I and our value system,” he recommended.
Earlier, delivering a goodwill message, the Africa Director, MacArthur Foundation, Dr. Kole Shettima, said the Foundation was happy to work with the Commission on the project especially as a lot had been done concerning law and order with less attention on social norms, which he said was as important as the law.
He commended ICPC’s effort in celebrating good people in public service who have distinguished themselves and exhibited sound morals and values, which should be encouraged.
On his part, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator George Akume, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Special Services Office, Alh. Aliyu Shehu Shinkafi, nostalgically recounted how while growing up society was void of the many anomalies being witnessed today.
He noted that Africa, and Nigeria in particular, had more values than the West but the major problem was the low morale in the practice of those values today, and appealed for the revival of these values and the quick inculcation of positive values in children to save our Nigeria and achieve the corruption-free nation all the citizens desire.
Nigeria’s Senate President, Dr. Godswill Akpabio, who was represented by his Deputy Chief of Staff, Dr. Saviour Enyiekere, in his goodwill message, described behavioural change as a precursor to winning the war against corruption.
In his words, “Tackling corruption involves transparency and accountability. It is also about strengthening the legal frameworks. Nigeria is not lacking in such legal framework and the 10th Senate under my leadership is positioned to bridge any existing legislative gaps in the fight against corruption.”
He charged Nigerians to develop the courage to promote a culture of ethics and integrity, especially in schools as that will help indoctrinate the younger generation with such values at their formative stage.
In his remarks, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Tajudeen Abbas, said that despite the existence of laws, corruption had continued to fester owing to prevailing societal attitudes towards wealth, fame, power, and success regardless of how they were obtained.
Hon. Abbas, who spoke through a Member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Oluwole Oke, commended the initiative saying that awareness campaigns, education programs, value reorientation, community engagement initiatives, and legal reforms were necessary to create an environment where corruption is less tolerated and more strongly condemned.
The event, which also had goodwill messages from the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), and featured a robust panel discussion of behavioural change experts, was declared open by the Emir of Keffi, Dr. Shehu Chindo Yamusa III.