Nigeria as a nation has constantly found itself grappling with a persistent and debilitating issue – the trifecta of lacklustre leadership, a legal framework in disarray, and an ethical deficit that permeates its governance structure.
The recent unravelling of more corrupt leaders further accentuates the unending woes that have plagued Nigeria’s governance system. As each revelation comes to light, it serves as a stark reminder of the pervasive culture of corruption that has permeated the corridors of power, undermined the trust of the citizenry and obstructed the path to progress.
The recent Betta Edu scandal for instance is evidence of lacklustre leadership, legal vacuum, and ethical deficiency that has shaped Nigeria’s conundrum. A woman who, at first glance, seemed like an Amazon determined to usher in positive change but was hewed down the lofty ladder of leadership owing to ethical and moral deficiency which could have been her guiding principles in her quest for impact.
For the record, Edu’s malfeasance was not discovered by any internal anti-corruption mechanism but she was given away by disgruntled insiders who perhaps felt shortchanged by the sharing formula.
The APC administration since 2015 has always paraded leaders who typify the struggle between genuine public service and the murky depths of unethical conduct. An effective leader must grapple with the intricate interplay between leadership, law, and morality. This is the moral obligation and responsibility of leaders to make decisions, act and conduct themselves in an ethical and principled manner. This is so because law and obedience to laws are the most important components of life.
The distinguishing mark of a good leader is impeccable character because it is a character that makes people trust the leader. No one can buy or demand trust, it is given by the people in response to character.
A leader must be fixed, predictable and stable and this results when leaders understand the relationship between leadership, law and ethics.
At the core of ethical leadership lies the recognition that leaders bear a profound responsibility towards their followers, organisations, and society as a whole. This ethical imperative entails making decisions that uphold moral principles, respect human dignity, and promote the greater good. Leaders must navigate the complexities of leadership by constantly evaluating the ethical implications of their actions.
As a leader, it is essential to align personal values with ethical standards. This alignment creates a moral compass that guides decision-making, even in the face of difficult choices. Leaders must have the understanding that ethical leadership not only improves organisational outcomes but also contributes to a just and compassionate world.
A leader must at all times display a high sense of integrity and honesty. While integrity is the unwavering adherence to moral and ethical principles, honesty on the other hand is simply the quality of being truthful, sincere, and straightforward in one’s communication and actions. When leaders exhibit a high sense of fairness and equity which refers to impartiality and consistency in decision-making, it ensures that everyone has access to the same opportunities and resources, regardless of their background or circumstances.
Ethical leaders treat all individuals with fairness, respect, and equity. They avoid favouritism and ensure that decisions are made based on objective criteria, not personal biases. Nigerian leaders and most of their African counterparts lack the ability to assess the impact of their choices on stakeholders, the community, and the environment, and choose the option that aligns with ethical principles. This is what breeds corruption in the long run.
Leaders who desire to make an impact in the 21st century must embrace ethical culture which is the collective values, beliefs, behaviours, and norms that shape the moral character and conduct of an organisation. As much as possible, leaders must avoid ethical dilemmas which are complex situations or moral conundrums where individuals or groups face conflicting moral principles or values, and any decision or action taken may result in ethical consequences.
When ethical dilemmas are encouraged by leaders, there are often no clear-cut right or wrong choices, making the decision-making process challenging and requiring thoughtful consideration of the moral implications. Ethical leaders confront ethical dilemmas head-on and address them with courage and moral clarity. They are not afraid to make difficult decisions when ethics are at stake.
Leaders must also be guided by regulatory compliance which enables them to adhere to the laws, regulations, policies, and standards that govern an industry, organisation, or specific activities. When this becomes the case, individuals, businesses, and institutions meet the legal requirements and fulfil their obligations as set out by relevant authorities and governing bodies.
Ethical leaders ensure that the institutions under their care comply with all applicable laws and regulations. They operate with a commitment to ethical business practices and corporate governance. Leaders should also be able to navigate the ethics and legal boundaries and this involves skillfully manoeuvring between the requirements of the law and the principles of morality in decision-making and conduct.
It requires individuals and organisations to strike a balance between legal compliance and ethical responsibility, ensuring that actions align with both the letter of the law and the spirit of ethical conduct. Successfully navigating legal and moral boundaries requires a deep understanding of the legal framework and a strong commitment to upholding moral values and ethical principles.
Leadership necessitates understanding the distinction between legality and morality. While laws dictate acceptable conduct, morality transcends, demanding adherence to ethical principles. Effective leaders prioritise moral correctness over mere legal compliance. Conversely, adherence to the law shouldn’t justify morally compromising actions.
Nigeria faces pivotal challenges stemming from deficient leadership, legal gaps, and ethical lapses. Addressing these issues head-on is imperative for Nigeria’s sustainable development. Visionary leadership, legal reform, and ethical fortification are crucial for overcoming long-standing hindrances and unlocking Nigeria’s true potential.
Kalu Okoronkwo, a leadership and good governance advocate writes from Lagos and can be reached via [email protected]