Lest We Forget

a commentary on socio-political developments and institutional policies

HONESTLY, WE ARE DISHONEST!

“Honesty is the best policy” is supposed to be a time-honoured aphorism except that there is something so dishonest about it. It is an orphan. Being without parents, an orphan is everybody’s errand boy but with no-one to clothe, shelter and defend him. He is easily used and easily abused. Time has recklessly worn out the saying so much that it is largely observed in the breach or revered with a sneer. Well, everybody loves an honest man but not at their own expense. Everyone expects everybody else to be honest except themselves. That, precisely, is the problem. Until that “everybody” includes everyone “we ain’t going nowhere”. How many citizens have been singled out for national honour based on honesty and integrity? Not any. So how can we be encouraged to be honest? How many have been persecuted socially or prosecuted legally for corruption and dishonesty? Not many. So how can we be discouraged from being dishonest.

Honestly, we are so dishonest that we cannot fill a simple form or answer a questionnaire honestly. If we do not falsify our age, we give other wrong information to circumvent regulations. We want to take advantage of the non-vigilance of others. Dishonesty breeds distrust. Even our institutions are not immuned from this malaise. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was reported, sometime in 2013, to have recovered N8.6 billion as excess charges fraudulently collected from customers by banks in ten months. The Deputy Director, Consumer Protection Department, CBN,Umma Dutse, disclosed this to newsmen. When you go to filling stations, the corporate dishonesty game continues. They underdispense fuel. Usually, they fraudulently dispense between 800 and 900 mililitre as being 1 litre (instead of 1000 mililitre). Including NNPC filling stations which ought to be exemplary in fuel-dispensation honesty. Why are we so thoroughly dishonest? Dishonesty permeates every sector of our socio-political lives.

Unfortunately, dishonesty is bad for the economy.In an interview by Christiane Amanpour of CNN aired on Tuesday, 16th April 2013, The Finance Minister and the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said 99.9 percent of 170 million Nigerians are honest and hardworking. In other words only 170,000 Nigerians are dishonest and lazy. Yeah, maybe the Minister is refering to rent seekers, emergency contractors, swindlers, subsidy scam beneficiaries, political hangers-on, etc. Yet her figure may not be correct. While I agree that we should not wash our dirty linen in public I do not think we should not wash it at all. Pray, where did Oga Madam get her statistics from in a country that is averse to data gathering and conducting research? Definitely not from the Federal Bureau of Statistics. On the other hand, majority of us are thouroughly dishonest. Probably her assertion is inversely correct. Only 0.1 of us (or 170,000 Nigerians) are honest. Ours is a non-trusting society.

According to Professor Whiteley of Essex University Britain, in a study carried out on honesty and integrity, “In a non-trusting society, however, things are different and enforcement mechanisms such as formal contracts and courts are required to ensure compliance, and these all make the costs of doing business higher. Clearly, integrity is essential to the building of trust.“Empirical research suggests that societies in which trust and integrity are strong perform much better on a range of economic and political indicators than societies where they are weak.”Professor Whiteley also concludes that societies with greater degrees of trust sometimes enjoy better health and education, reduced crime and higher levels of life satisfaction. He adds: “The corollary of this is that low trust brings pathologies, such as poverty, crime, ill health and unemployment. More recent research shows that trust is equally important … So a lack of integrity has serious consequences for our society.“This highlights the need to research integrity and its apparent decline over time. It raises many important issues such as how do people actually define dishonesty? Can individuals genuinely disagree about what honesty means in practice? Is honesty all of a piece or is it compartmentalised in people’s lives? –“In other words can they be honest in one context and dishonest in another?A simple questionnaire below, I bet, will be dishonestly answered to favour the respondent. If you think I am not being honest you are cordially invited to the Integrity Test.

Try the “integrity test” as devised by Essex University for yourself. Rate your attitude to each of the following activities as follows.
One point if you think it is never justified;
Two points if you think it is rarely justified;
Three points if you view it as sometimes justified, and
Four points if you think it is always justified.
Write down your score against each question.
Be honest. (Need we remind you)
A. Avoiding paying the fare on public transport.
B. Cheating on taxes if you have a chance.
C. Driving faster than the speed limit.
D. Keeping money you found in the street.
E. Lying to protect your own interests.
F. Not reporting accidental damage you have done to a parked car.
G. Throwing away litter in a public place.
H. Driving under the influence of alcohol.
I. Making up (false claims in) a job application.
J. Buying something you know is stolen.

Integrity Test Analysis
A score of 10 points suggests you are very honest,
11 to 15 points means you do not mind bending the rules but are more honest than average,
16 to 20 suggests you are relaxed about the rules (You are dishonest)
21 points and above suggest you do not believe in living by the rules (In other words you are thoroughly dishonest).

Seriously speaking, dishonesty is cancerous. It debilitates the economic health of a nation. It breeds fraudulence, encourages survival of the “thiefest“, creates wealth without labour, fuels inflation, and numerous other socio-economic vices. We hope the Ministers recently relieved of their posts (Ms Stella Oduah of Aviation Ministry, Mr Godsday Orubebe of Niger Delta Affair Ministry,  Navy Capt (Rtd) Caleb Olukolade of Police Affairs and Dr. Yerima Ngama, Minister of State for Finance) would be sufficiently honest in filling the Code of Conduct Form as expected of them after their tenure. Time will tell.

Well, if you expected to pass the integrity test and did not, do not worry. Just GO and sin no more. Do you think others can fare better? Invite them to the Test.

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