Ethical and Moral Imperative of Credible Elections

By Rev. Fr. George Ehusani

I congratulate the Konrad Adenauer Foundation for hosting this Roundtable specifically for Religious Leaders to discuss the roles we must play, if the next rounds of elections are going to be free, fair and credible, and especially free of violence, and for asking me to make this brief presentation. I commend KAF for this initiative and pray that our discussions here today may indeed contribute towards the credible, free and fair elections that we desire.

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 I consider the Ethical and Moral Imperatives of Credible a very critical topic to address today, as many engaged in contemporary Nigerian politics do not seem to realize that there are ethical and moral dimensions to political, economic and legal issues that should engage the human conscience. With regard to the conduct of elections in our society for example, many Nigerians who camouflage as religious people, do not seem to realize that the looting of national, state or local government treasury for the purpose of buying party chiefs and the electorate; the intimidation, killings and maiming of opponents and the destruction of their property; multiple registration and multiple voting; substitution of candidates’ names, diversion of electoral materials, selling of voters cards, stashing of and stealing of voter boxes, falsification of figures; declaration of false results; receiving of bribes and the favoring of one candidate against another by agents of the law, corrupt deals and judicial malpractices at the election tribunals, etc., are not simply electoral offences or an assault on universally accepted democratic principles. They are criminal offences and over and above all a violation of the elementary ethical and moral principles of Truth and Justice, Equity and Fairness, Honesty and Integrity, that all religions profess. Such violation of moral and ethical principles is known by Christians as SIN and Acts OF INIQUITY. No one who engages in any of the above electoral offences can lay claim to any measure of moral probity. Such unscrupulous persons, who have no qualms of conscience, are not religious people. They constitute an evil force in the society which must be exposed and appropriately sanctioned, if we are ever to make progress as a people or find peace, security and stability as a nation. See Scripture Passages in the Appendix….

In June 15 to 17, 2007, the Protestant Academy in Loccum, Germany, had cause to host a Workshop that brought together stakeholders from Nigeria and Germany to brainstorm on the Nigerian problematic. Under the rather curious theme, “Nigeria: Too Rich for Dignity and the Law?” and coming shortly after the flawed 2007 general elections in Nigeria, the Workshop was an occasion to focus attention on the contradictions of the Nigeria State, and attempt to draw up recommendations on the way forward. At this Conference held in Loccum, one Heinrich Bergstresser, a German participant who has spent many years researching on Nigeria, observed that Nigerian are an extremely creative and constructive people, but that there is in the country what he called “a destructive undercurrent” that accounts for the fragile balance which has been the fate of the country since its Independence from the British. What according to this speaker is missing is “some initial spark that would turn the fragile balance closer towards the first stage of nation building.” Unfortunately, whatever this “initial spark” has remained elusive, and in my opinion the widespread acrimony that often attend our national elections do tend to render the “fragile balance” of our country even more precariously fragile with each succeeding election.Many of our country men and women continue to approach politics with a killer’s touch. Party primaries at State and Federal levels have often been an exercise in high level brigandage in which the infrastructures of state are used to intimidate the opposition, and looted resources of state were distributed openly to buy the allegiance of congress delegates, and as could be expected, the results have often gone in favor of the highest bidder. There is widespread lack of truth and justice and a prevailing culture of fraud in the political mechanisms and processes nearly across the board.

The cumulative result is an unprecedented number of litigations in our courts, arising principally from party primaries, and a preponderance of anger and frustration among aspirants to political office. Political parties are dangerously split into warring factions, poisoning the polity and heightening the tension in the land. And as election approaches violence looms over the horizon, with threats of bomb blasts, direct assassinations, and arson and sundry attacks. Some Nigerian prepare for the elections as if for war. As part of their preparation for elections, they import shiploads of arms and ammunitions large enough to prosecute a civil war, to the consternation of the generality of our people. What are the moral and ethical implications of all these for a people who pride in calling themselves a religious people? It is instructive that one of those present with me in Germany in the year 2007, at the Workshop referred to above, was Professor Attahiru Jega, now INEC Chairman. In his paper presentation he described the succession of Nigerian leaders in the following words: “With very few exceptions, our crop of so-called leaders have essentially been self-serving rulers, some even despots…They lack vision, focus, selflessness and even enlightened self-interest. Most of our so-called leaders are unimaginably corrupt; they are greedy, they are vindictive, they are callous and in many fundamental respects, senseless and even reckless… there is perhaps no other country in the world where power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely as in Nigeria.”

Seven years after such a damning moral judgment on the Nigerian political elite, the situation is not much different. It is perhaps even worse. True, Nigerians of integrity and credibility have little chance in contemporary Nigerian politics, as greedy merchants, power mongers, common criminals, mediocre functionaries and charlatans have often taken control of the political machinery, forcing the men and women of reason and conscience to disengage. Many knowledgeable and principled Nigerians–who in saner climes should assume the responsibility of leadership –can often not make sense out of the elite madness and corporate death-wish that we witness today, and so they have become cynical, apathetic, despondent and resentful. The Nigerian situation is however not irredeemable. We read in 2 Chronicles 7:14 “If the people who are called by my name, humble themselves, and pray and seek my presence and turn from their wicked ways, I myself will hear from heaven and forgive their sins and restore their land.”

Nigerians are not a different breed of human beings from citizens elsewhere such as in Singapore or Malaysia, South Africa or Ghana. Many of us do not believe that Nigeria is so difficult to organize and lead unto peaceful co-existence, political stability and economic prosperity. Yet, if this country of over 160 Million people must make any headway, if the progressive decay in the polity must halted, if the descent into anarchy in Nigeria must be averted , if in the words of Heinrich Bergstresser the fragile balance must be tilted towards the first stage of nation building, then it cannot be business as usual. There must be a paradigm shift. And this paradigm shift  must begin from the character and conduct of elections, as no illegitimate government can champion the moral and ethical revolution that Nigeria today desperately needs.  In the first Encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, released in December 2005, the Pope observed that the just ordering of society and the state is a central responsibility of politics. Highlighting the words of St. Augustine, the Pope says that a state or a government that does not function according to the rules of justice would be nothing but a bunch of thieves or a gang of robbers! In our day the Americans identify such governments as “rogue regimes”. A rogue government, an illegitimate government or a government with a stolen mandate can only hasten, rather than reverse our descent into anarchy, for as Proverbs 29:18 puts it, were there is no vision –where there is no integrity the people perish.

Violence-free and credible elections are indeed an element of social morality and an imperative to good governance, stability, peace and progress. If the next round of elections turn out to be another exercise in elite brigandage, then as a people we are doomed: In the best case scenario, the level of anger in the land will increase; our courts and tribunals will be flooded with litigation that would render government practically dysfunctional; much more sophisticate weapons may find their way into the hands of thugs and criminally minded people; and the plight of the generality of people will be worse than we have ever seen before. And in the worst case scenario, violence will erupt in many flash-points across the country such as to render the country so ungovernable that the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency may be considered only a dress rehearsal. We can quickly shout “God forbid” at this point, but we acknowledge with the book of Proverbs that indeed where there is no vision, the people do perish! And they say that if we do not change our course, we would end up where we are headed.

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We must all take responsibility for what becomes of our country, and each one of us must undergo a conversion experience and do what we must within our spheres of influence to change the people’s perception of politics and governance and the processes and procedures for orderly change of government in the modern world. Nigerians need to learn a fresh new lesson on leadership as service of the people, not some kind of conquest. We need a fresh new perception of politics as the noble art of negotiating the stewardship pf a society along the ethical and moral parameters of truth, justice, equality, transparency and accountability. Religious leaders have a major part to play in this much needed re-orientation of our people.

Our Sacred Scriptures have all the ethical and moral codes needed to teach the required lessons and spearhead the desired change of orientation. But perhaps we must first rid our society of the burden of the con-men and women, rogue preachers and charlatans, madmen and murderous fanatics, as well as the elite prostitutes of power who parade themselves as religious leaders in this country. Yes, as part of the desired ethical and moral revolution, we need to help our various institutions of state put in place new arrangements that would ensure that the paths to public service are not as smooth and attractive as they are now for rogues, thieves and brigands, and that the gains of office are not as rewarding as they are today for men and women of easy virtue who have no business government treasury. The desired change will come about only when the various stakeholders in the Nigerian society, including religious leaders, staunchly reject the ignominious status-quo that throws up for leadership positions men and women of base character and dubious wealth. Time is running out for the Nigerian leaders and people.

With the widespread disengagement, bitterness and resentment in the land, and with a violent culture already entrenching itself in several parts of the country, there are ominous signs in the horizon of an impending popular revolt, or what is called the revenge of the poor. For indeed as presently constituted, the superstructure we have in place in Nigeria is only a pack of cards that will soon come crashing down. But if today the Nigeria people –including Christian and Muslim politicians experience the much-needed conversion and toe the line of sanity and integrity, we may yet pull back from the brink of disaster. There appears to me to be only one way out of the mess of the moment: the way of ethical and moral revolution, which naturally must be spearheaded by religious leaders, for it is better to light a candle than forever curse the darkness!

APPENDIX

Scripture Passages on Ethics in Politics:

Exodus 18:   capable men from all the people –men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain.

Exodus 20:16–You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

Exodus 23:1– Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness.

Exodus 23:7– Have nothing to do with a false charge and do notput an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.

Deuteronomy 16: 19- 20Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Deuteronomy 25: 15-16You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.

Leviticus 19:11- Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.

Proverbs 6:16-20 There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him, haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Proverbs 10:9–The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.

Proverbs 11:1, 3The Lord abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weighs are his delight. The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.

 Proverbs 12:17–A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies.

Proverbs 16:8–Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice.

Proverbs 19:1–Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a fool whose lips are perverse.

Isaiah 3:15-16 He who walks righteously and speaks what is right, who rejects gain from extortion and keeps his hand from accepting bribes, who stops his ears against plots of murder and shuts his eyes against contemplating evil-this is the man who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress. His bread

Rev. Fr. George Ehusani is Executive Director, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation

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