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The Integrity Conference: Building positive social norms and the right behaviors in Nigeria  

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By Odeh Friday

A worrying lack of integrity and accountability within society has led to many people being left behind in governance and decision-making processes. We’ve also all seen some of the symptoms – broken public trust that often leaves us citizens feeling hopeless.

There are many who would say that Nigerians have strayed their moral compass, moving away from the tenets that we associate with excellence – professionalism, responsibility, accountability, and self-actualization. But while we may struggle to find those role models amongst us who really drive integrity in their words and deeds, both at home and at work, at Accountability Lab – and I’m certain at many of other organizations as well – we’ve found that they do indeed exist.

The upside of some of this dark news is that it presents us with incredible opportunities for change. We know that if we give the right people the right opportunities, we will easily be able to hold up real role models of public service who can help drive a reform agenda around the values and ethics we need in the Nigerian public service.

It’s helpful, however, to know what we’re dealing with. Unethical practices and the cost of corruption in procurement/ contracting processes, and service delivery has led to the loss of billions of dollars. Roughly NGN 675 billion was paid in cash bribes to public officials in Nigeria in 2019: Bribe-paying Nigerians spend an average of ₦28,200 annually on cash bribes.

The 2019 Audit Report meanwhile, shows the extent of unchecked abuse of the Nigerian authority in financial processes, with about 9 MDAs spending about N49bn without an appropriation from the National Assembly.

Embezzlement, bribery and electoral fraud remain huge forms of corrupt practices in everyday Nigeria. Vote-buying, which is not fundamentally new to Nigeria’s electoral politics, has become commonplace. One of the most essential ingredients of Nigeria’s democracy, now is a challenge to democratic governance.

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In April 2020, Nigeria received US$3.4 billion in emergency financial assistance from the IMF to support its COVID-19 response. Findings from the Bureau of Public Procurement shows that the federal ministry of health had spent $96,000 (over N40m)  on 1,808 ordinary face masks.

Even young people given to advance fee fraud (such as yahoo yahoo) and get rich quick schemes are taking up far too much media space as lifestyle models in our society.

On different levels and with different administrations, the Nigerian government has tried to lead programmes to change behaviors and improve the negative social norms – but the record has been disappointing; from the aggressive 19-month-long War against Indiscipline organized by the former military government with the aim of correcting social maladjustment; the legacy “Good People Great Nation” to rebrand Nigeria which was believed to be inconclusive due to irresponsible leaders; to the faceless “Change begins with Me” campaign which many leaders made a mockery of. In all, none of them have worked to build a Nigeria where citizens are faithful, loyal and honest.

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) have developed the National Ethics and Integrity Policy which seeks to respond to the many damaging effects of corruption in both the public and private sectors while enhancing moral values and integrity but has not moved beyond the intent as citizens are still unaware of the policy.

Findings from the Chatham House Africa Programme’s Social Norms and Accountable Governance Project, show that a significant number of Nigerians – in many instances, 8 out of 10 Nigerians – believe that corruption is morally unacceptable, but many Nigerians are unaware or mistaken about this moral rejection of corruption by their fellow citizens. This means that Nigeria is stuck in a social trap and collective action crisis where most citizens would like to live in a more honest society but do not fundamentally trust that their fellow citizens and leaders share this aspiration.

Today, we are here collectively to call on the government to build sustainable programmes that encourage active citizen participation, support responsible leadership, and strengthen accountable institutions to integrate behavioral insights into anti-corruption strategies and use a social norms approach to tackle corruption as a way of rebuilding the Nigerian value system.

We have with us men and women who, through their lifestyles and professional commitment, have proved that upholding the virtues of integrity and accountability are not impossible feats to achieve. They have done it and are still doing it! We call them “Integrity Icons“. With the Integrity Conference (part of the Integrity Innovation Lab and the Integrity Icon campaign to name and fame honest government officials), we are having frank conversations to collectively create a pathway of actions that take us from personal integrity to building sustainable institutional integrity.

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Building institutional integrity will reduce systemic corruption in Nigeria but this needs cross-sectoral cooperation and collaboration. Both the private sector and public sector must cooperate towards the common goal of strengthening accountability mechanisms, rewarding integrity, and ensuring that governance systems are based on fundamental commonly shared ethical values.

This is why we are committed to supporting private sector-led initiatives such as Ethics 1st, a unique initiative designed to advance corporate and business integrity among companies across Nigeria. We encourage the public sector to leverage the advantages of technology and innovation in initiatives such as these to improve procurement transparency and encourage integrity in the business environment.

In conclusion, we appeal to all Nigerians, including our political leaders, to rethink our value system. Our value system needs the collective efforts from the government, private sector, religious leaders, media, and other invested parties. to rebuild  it. What we need also are creative efforts that experiment with out-the-box ideas and that ensure a diverse array of voices at the table.  We risk hampering our own developmental efforts if we don’t work together to ensure that integrity is the norm in our society. We need to change the narrative and join hands to build a society with good values that prioritise the public good over personal interests.

Thanks to our partners working on behavioral change at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and Luminate, as well as all Nigerian Citizens.

Written by Odeh Friday, Accountability Lab Nigeria; with inputs from Leena Hoffmann, Chatham House and Lola Adekanye, Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). 

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