To be called to serve in this respectable position out of millions of people is an honour, and to be plucked out of hundreds of equally qualified persons among stakeholders is even a greater honour and demonstration of trust your principal, the governor, has in you as individuals. By the same token, it means you are in a position of double trust — public trust and that of the person who trusts you to help him discharge his mandate.
As political and administrative heads you have to recognise and appreciate your current positions. You are now leaders. You have a burden of steering the ship of the state as heads of different organs of the government. The generality of the people are also looking up to you to provide solutions to the myriad of socio-economic and political challenges faced by the people. Collectively, you constitute the highest decision-making body of the state. You have to always remember that what you do or did not do as decision-makers in your ministries, or collectively as a council, would have far-reaching implication on the lives of all indigenes and residents of this state.
As key appointees, you are also the closest set of persons to the governor. You are his first line of lieutenants in whom he places his trust to help him discharge his responsibilities. Just like you cannot afford to fail the people, you can also not afford to fail the governor who brings you into his government to help him. Helping the governor does not mean urging him on into every of his heart desires, no. It means helping, sometimes even against himself, by ensuring that whatever he does is done in accordance with the rule of law and in the overriding public interest. What the people who queued under the sun to vote for the government wants from the administration is good governance. Nothing less.
Imperatives For Good Governance
What then is the good governance that everybody expects you to provide?
To a large extent we all have fair idea of what constitutes good governance because, as intelligent beings, we all know when things go wrong, and therefore, when they are good as well. In the case of governance, it is good when it is honest. Honesty is at the heart of good governance. It means that those given public responsibilities are honest to themselves, and to the people.
What does it mean to be honest to oneself? Being honest to yourself means sincerity. It means you honestly believe in what you do or say. It is in being honest to yourself that you promise what you believe you can deliver. It means offering advice to the governor or taking decision based on what you believe is the truth and actual position of things. To be honest to yourself is to know your limits and means and operate within them. It also mean you reign in yourself from indulging in practices that at the end of the day may land you in big trouble.
After being honest to yourself you have to also be honest to the public. Honesty to the public constitutes safeguarding public trust believing, as you should, that you are only a representative of the collective good and commonwealth. This, in turn, supposes that you as a public officer jealously guard what belongs to the people and ensure that it works for them in the best possible way. This is the foundation for good governance.
There should be deliberate decision on your part to ensure that every penny of public fund is judiciously used for the good of the people. This starts with the budgeting process. You have to ensure strict compliance with budgetary provisions and make sure all releases and disbursements are strictly accounted. This is what will build public trust in the government and provide you with the needed support to do your work. It also has far-reaching implications for peace and stability in the state.
As leaders at your levels, it is your responsibility, as part of your good governance delivery, to ensure enforcement of the rule of law. Respect for the rule of law is a fulcrum for good governance. You have to ensure strict enforcement and hold people accountable for violations. In every position you find yourself always ask: What does the law says? Adopting this posture will not only help the state, you will be the ultimate beneficiary when it comes to reckoning at a latter day. You will be glad you stick to the rule of law.
A key law enforcement role in relations to good governance is compliance with, and demand for transparency and accountability. As the first step, you have to acquaint yourselves with the laws because it is only when you know the laws that you can apply them. You should remember that ignorance of the law is no excuse for infractions. Where there are deficiencies in the laws, you should introduce sunshine laws that make government business more transparent and accountable. This is not a difficult assignment. Already, there are a number transparency laws and mechanisms that you can easily adapt for this purpose. The significance of transparency is cannot be over-emphasised. When there is transparency, there is less room for direct stealing. When the public officer is guided by codes of probity and accountability, there would be less cases of abuse of office and where there is due process in government business; there would be value for money and curb in sharp practices.
It is your duty and responsibility to stop embezzlement. But you cannot stop embezzlement until you personally set precedence. You have to make personal vow and commitment to not be corrupt. With this, you will find your staff falling in line. With your own commitment to rule of law and due process, you can demand for the same conduct from others.
The discussions above paint a scenario for prudence, probity, transparency and accountability. With that solid background in place, the stage would now be set for the fruits of good governance to manifest. These fruits come in the form of improved life condition for the people. It means provision of basic infrastructure that would catalyse development; roads, potable water, electricity, et cetera. It also extends to quality human services such as education and healthcare delivery.
Now, the antithesis to good governance is corruption.
Corruption is a cancerous virus which deprives the society of all forms of development. Over the years, Nigeria groans under the weight of corruption and, at one point or the other, we have all found ourselves in a situation of lamentation and wonderment. We wonder why we are this poor. Why our people wallow in poverty, why we cannot get it right with electricity, for example, or even be able to attend to our healthcare and education needs. The answer to all these is in corruption. The problem is that successive persons in positions of leadership often give more attention to what they can get out of the system, than what they can do to better the system.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, you are now in that exact spot for which many others have passed through. You have to ask yourself, what do I do differently? If you ask me, the answer will be: eschew corruption. We have spent too much a time abusing corrupt leaders in this country and lamenting our situation for any of us to indulge in corruption when given the opportunity.
Corruption has deep-seated place in our lives that it has since become an existential issue. Corruption affects our most basic human rights; the rights to live and move freely. With corruption nobody is safe in the society, no matter how highly placed. If you think you are safe because you move around with armed security, remember you have your loved ones that are vulnerable to those consequences. Where there is endemic corruption, you cannot have a good police or the military to effectively protect the citizens.
It also has other ripple effects that can as well be fatal. When, for example, corruption deprives the people of access to good drinking water, it can lead to outbreak of preventable diseases. In the absence of, or lack of well-equipped hospitals, it would also means those afflicted cannot receive good attention and may ultimately die from the consequences of corruption at different levels.
A major damage corruption does to a people is breeding inequality. When there is clear inequality in the society, and poor wealth redistribution mechanism the only obvious consequence is insecurity and dangerous disaffection. We see this manifests time and again at different places.
Corruption also erodes legitimacy in governance by eroding trust in leaders among the followership. Often times you find people too distrusting of their leaders that they are lethargic in meeting their important civic duties to the state, like payment of taxes or even voting in an election. Where also justice becomes corrupted and only works for the rich, you find less and less people resort to the formal law enforcement structures. Instead of going to the police or the courts, some people would rather take the laws into their own hands in form of jungle justice and any other shortcuts to justice.
It is your responsibility as leaders to fight all this.
Why Fight Corruption?
The consequences of corruption highlighted earlier make fighting corruption a very important business that we should all pay attention to. The first and most important commodity for a leadership is legitimacy and support of the people. Nothing earns you that trust and legitimacy more than adopting anticorruption posture and making visible commitment to use the public resource for public good. Your first duty, if you ask me, should be around such efforts. As a government, you have to demonstrate that commitment to the people and that readiness to serve the people whole heartedly.
We are not in very good times economically. This, coupled with the increasing challenge of population burst, means only one thing: leaders must ensure prudent management of the scarce resource to confront the competing challenges facing our society. You should not allow the scarce resource to be plundered by self-serving and selfish few. The posterity is there to judge you.
But you don’t just fight corruption or stop it by words of the mouth. You have to take practical steps towards making sure your system is cleaned up and positioned for optimal performance in a transparent way. Look at your existing laws and provisions to audit accountability measures already in the system, those that you do not have work quickly towards implementing them.
Most importantly, sanitise your budgeting and procurement processes. Oftentimes, politically exposed persons like you fall for the traps of the law because while you work, sometimes genuinely out of ignorance or in a rush to deliver results, you disregard laws guiding procurement and government contracting. You should make sure you do not fall into that. Whatever you are going to do, follow it through and make sure you stick strictly with the due process.
Aside procurement fraud, one area you should also look at is payroll fraud. This has become so rampant. At various government levels manipulating the payment vouchers to steal from the treasury has become widespread. Thankfully, there are modern techniques of weeding out some of these ghost names on the payroll. You should emulate technologies like the IPPS employed by the federal government in this respect.
Productivity, or lack of it, is another important corruption area. Oftentimes, people take pay for jobs they never did. You have to fight indolence and redundancy as a way of ensuring that the public get value from what is paid for workforce. In some cases, the workers need motivation for to work hard from you as leaders. If you are indolent as a commissioner or permanent secretary, or you are often out of your duty post, your staff may not behave any different.
Leadership is everything when it comes tackling corruption in public service and ensuring good governance. It is you as leaders that can set the tune for others to follow.
The role of leadership is illustrated by the example of the herdsman. It is the herdsman that takes the lead and paves the road for his herd to follow. He clears the path and confronts every possible danger ahead of the cattle. The herd takes after him and it is because they see and believe in his sacrifices and leadership, the cattle follow him to wherever he sets his feet.
Personal example is therefore key to trendsetting in the quest for probity and integrity in public service. A leader with soiled hands has no moral basis to question his subordinates. And when the leader is involved in dirty deals it becomes a free for all. Modern and quality leadership is therefore the bedrock of whatever may happen in the quest to tackle the menace of corruption.
You have to be conscious that for many of you, this is just the stepping stone of public service, not the end. If you manage it very well and come out intact from this, the horizon maybe endless for you. Falling into the temptations and banana peels of office could also mean denting your record or terminating your career prematurely. You should always have this at the back of your mind. You should therefore aspire to make name for yourself for all the good reasons. You should be a star performer who will walk with shoulders high in the streets of Gombe and anywhere else, not someone who will bring shame to himself, his family and associates. When you are good everybody would want to associate with you but when you spoil your name, everybody will run away from you, and you will be left to carry your cross. Let met at this juncture warn that with the current regimes of law enforcement and transparency mechanism, you cannot hide any wrongdoing. You are literally naked and whatever you do can be traced easily by agents of law. You should also remember that you will almost certainly be subjected to investigations at the end of your sojourn. You have a duty to ensure you are not caught on the wrong side of the law.
Nuhu Ribadu was the pioneer chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
This talk was delivered at a retreat for Gombe State government officials.