Imoke: The Terror of National Indiscipline BY PUNCH
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Imoke: The Terror of National Indiscipline BY PUNCH

by crossriverwatch admin


“It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action and discipline that enabled us to follow through”

—Zig Ziglar, author and motivational speaker

The Guardian reported on Tuesday, the suspension by the Governor of Cross River State, Liyel Imoke, of 20 commissioners and special advisers for failure to participate in a scheduled four-kilometre walk to mark the World AIDS Day.

Imoke’s sanction of his cabinet members, the report informs, will extend to their forfeiture of salary for the duration of the suspension. This columnist was struck by the story because it is such a long time ago anyone in public office in Nigeria was disciplined for anything. Even when widely published corruption charges hang around their neck, they are often let off the hook by a light reprimand, advised to lie low until the storm subsides or rewarded with a juicer appointment. What has become, for example, of Oduahgate and the investigations launched with sound and fury into the scandal? It has presumably died an unnatural death in the labyrinths of power.

We are a nation of undisciplined idlers, a weakness which holds important clues to why a nation that takes home roughly $220m a day marks time at the bottom league of most global development rankings. Our leaders have the entrenched habit, to take a simple example of arriving one hour later than the scheduled opening of events to which they are invited. The more important the personage, the later he arrives with some tepid excuses about delayed flights or a hectic schedule.

Following the publication (The PUNCH, April 5, 2013) of my essay, “Frozen in mediocrity: A nation’s dithering work habits”, I received several rejoinders and telephone calls from readers. One caller, obviously a politician with a serious bent of mind, reminded me that things were not always this lax. He went on to illustrate his remark with a telling anecdote about how the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, at the time the leader of the then Unity Party of Nigeria refused to allow Prof. Ambrose Ali, governor of then Bendel State into a meeting presided over by Awo because Ali came 10 minutes late. According to this caller, who claimed to be at the meeting, it was the intervention of some party leaders that dissuaded Awo from refusing the governor participation at the meeting.

Of course, it goes without saying, that only a leader who has first disciplined himself – and Awo’s self-punishing disciplinary regimes are legendary – can successfully discipline others. For as long as our leaders make an ostentatious show of indiscipline and spendthrift habits a point to which I return, for so long will the nation suffer the terror of indiscipline and the arrest of its progress.

Why do some nations ascend to greatness within a short span of time while others including some which are magnificently endowed vegetate at the backwaters? The answer foreshadowed in the opening quote from Ziglar can be found usually in the extent to which their leaders first of all rein in themselves under the impetus of ascetic worldviews and then succeed in infusing the following with a disciplinary orientation.

For example, the outstanding economic successes of China, Japan, South Korea and much of the emerging Asian powers in recent times have been ascribed to the influence of self-denying religious beliefs which pervade the culture such as Confucianism and Taoism. These beliefs advocate the shunning of conspicuous consumption and include ethical codes which emphasise hard work, thrift, honesty and austerity.

It is not for nothing that the International Labour Organisation has consistently drawn attention to the South Korean worker as one of the most productive and diligent on the globe.

In Nigeria, we are stupendously religious with churches and mosques mushrooming in every street corner almost on a daily basis. Even our leaders make a show of religious observances by visiting the Holy Lands now and then. But Nigerian religion is hardly redemptive when it comes to edifying and disciplinary habits especially of those in public offices. Politicians who steal the country blind, it is well-known, build churches and mosques to appease their troubled consciences. A colleague who recently came back from the United Kingdom told the story of how in the wake of a Christian revival in two Scottish towns the crime rate went down dramatically. It would appear however that the more religion we proclaim to the roof tops in Nigeria, the more we wallow in deviance and criminality.

By disciplining members of his cabinet, Imoke has shown that there is a better way. For although he is very much part of the national political elite, he seems to have understood that the nation cannot overcome its morally challenged status without rising above the pervasive indiscipline. And make no mistake about it, it is the leaders that must show the way and shine the light for others to follow.

Indeed, what is often called the developmental state is also the disciplinary state to the extent that such a state is expected to muster the capacity and discipline not just to regulate multinational corporations and hold them down to best practices but also to achieve its developmental goals by standing up against vested domestic interests who for short term gains would challenge or subvert policies that are meant for the common good.

In scenarios like ours, where the state arena is up for grabs and where state officials lack the capacity to enforce decisions and hold the ring against vested interests, what you get is what Banji Oyeyinka, Professor of Innovation at the UN-Habitat, calls regulatory capture. This speaks to a circumstance in which those to be regulated capture the supposed regulators as the current national conversation started by The PUNCH on the abuse of waivers under the Jonathan administration illustrates.

A developmental and disciplined state is the very opposite of a spendthrift one. Even after The PUNCH in a biting editorial comment chastised the current administration for its footloose spending habits (Jonathan’s spendthrift government: Enough is Enough, The PUNCH, December 3, 2012) there has been no noticeable change. For example, PUNCH columnist, Prof. Sabella Abidde, lamented in “Jonathan goes to New York” (The PUNCH, September 5, 2013) the size of Jonathan’s advance party, entourage and their penchant of staying in expensive hotels. There are, apart from money stolen from the system such things as maintaining the presidential fleet, one of the largest in the world, for N9.08b annually.

If the searchlight shifts to the National Assembly, we confront the desolate picture of a nation frantically consuming away its future. The reason why workers go on strike at the slightest excuse is partly because a prodigal and wildly consumptive political elite running what one political scientist has called a “bandit state” has forfeited the moral wherewithal to discipline the following.

Is Imoke’s surprise disciplinary gesture a flash in the pan or is it the beginning of an attempt by a sleep walking political elite to re-institute a culture of punctuality, hard work, rational spending habits and those ennobling values that can underwrite our journey to greatness? Time will tell.

Copyright PUNCH.

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