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The Triumph Of Shamelessness In Public Office, By Eugene Enahoro

The word “shame” is trending on the Nigerian social media due to the poor performance of Professor Mahmood Yakubu the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the shamefully managed recent presidential election. Shamelessness relates to bold defiance of proprieties or lack of embarrassment about something generally considered unacceptable. Shameless people are indecent, brazen, unabashed, unprincipled, unapologetic or corrupt, and if there is one lesson to be learnt from INEC’s performance in the 2023 presidential election it’s that shamelessness is rampant amongst Nigerian public officials. 

Truly it’s a shame that after 60 years of self-rule Nigeria can’t conduct credible elections! Indeed, Nigeria has become a shamelessly managed nation in which pensions are not paid, salaries are delayed, students are kept out of school for almost a year, public officeholders travel abroad for proper medical treatment, the nation’s, infrastructure is decayed, oil wealth is still being stolen daily, while corruption and treasury looting continue unabated.

All that aside, the real national shame is that of being unable to rescue hundreds of Chibok, Dapchi, and Yauri federal college girls along with other kidnapped students who have remained in captivity for years even as billions are squandered annually on unnecessary presidential gallivanting, executive luxuries and banqueting. It’s a national shame that during the recent presidential election, none of the major candidates made any mention of trying to rescue the missing school girls. 

Paradoxically while in broader culture and personal lives, Nigerians pay great regard to shame, in public life shame seems to be of no consequence. It’s supposed to be a compelling force which prevents people from behaving wrongly, but the hallmarks of our public officeholders are shamelessness, pride and incompetence, which combine to make them regularly engage in wrongful behaviour and mess things up.

The days when public servants were committed to selfless public service, avoiding shame and advancing the interests of the people are long gone. Nowadays placing personal interest over public good is the order of the day. It’s the norm because the system cultivates and encourages Nigerians, especially public officials to shamelessly pursue ill-gotten wealth.

Today’s political officeholders concentrate on using power to enrich themselves, their families and their cronies by looting public funds through outrageous allowances, pensions and kickbacks. It is trite that good leadership requires sacrifice, uprightness, humility, knowledge, wisdom, discipline, compassion, and commitment to the public good in terms of articulating good policies and stamping out corruption, all of which have been noticeably absent.

It is self-evident that since 2015 leadership at the top has been shamelessly ideologically barren, therefore it should come as no surprise that Nigerians no longer trust political leaders who generally have no moral compass, no clear conscience and no shame. 

There is no doubt that the shamefully conducted 2023 presidential elections worsened the trust deficit in government. Billions of naira were squandered while police assisted in the sheer brigandage which was so widespread and well documented on film, or alternatively stood back and shamelessly did nothing to stop it! Added to this was the shamelessness of the university professors who read out results which they knew were false and bogus, of INEC ad hoc staff who mass thumb-printed ballot papers, altered results sheets, and uploaded fake results to the INEC portal which were quite different from those declared at polling booths. 

Human beings are supposed to possess an inherent longing for what is good and right, but since establishment of INEC the commission’s officials have never expressed remorse about all the wrong things they have done in the past, and never possessed enough shame to prevent them from falsifying results in the first place or doing it again in the future. INEC has totally lost its credibility nationally and internationally and it’s time the commission was disbanded and a better structured, less wasteful, less corrupt, more efficient, and more reliable electoral body established.

At the end of the day the business of government is to make things work in a caring and responsible manner, not to give excuses as to why things aren’t working. Nigerian governments are on the whole uncaring, irresponsible and self-centred when it comes to the responsibilities they are supposed to have towards citizens. Regrettably, in Nigeria those in government with the most power and privilege appear not to understand the responsibility that comes with it and the inappropriateness of acting in a selfish, unprincipled manner.

Quite condemnably, top government officials no longer care that their actions are shameful. They no longer even pretend to act in the public interest because there are simply no penalties for mismanaging national affairs. The Judiciary, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) have all failed in their duty to detect and bring to justice public officers who have brought the nation to ruination. Shaming errant pubic officers is supposed to be the last refuge of citizens who suffer the ill-effects of their brigandage, but since it simply isn’t possible to shame the shameless, the last thing Nigerians could hold onto as a control over errant public office holders, has been taken from them.

The incoming government must give the National Orientation Agency (NOA) better leadership, and a higher profile. It is their duty to imbibe a national culture of distinguished public service, revive patriotism and reverse the regression of Nigeria, all of which are hampered by the triumph of shamelessness in public office.

The above was first published in Daily Trust, Tuesday, March 14, 2023

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