by Martins Oloja
This thing called integrity is the most powerful weapon of mass distraction General Muhammadu Buhari’s point men used to win most supporters’ hearts in 2015. Yes, their intangible but lethal missile got us at our very point of our need as a nation. We had then really needed a man of integrity, a good Nigerian indeed in whom there was no guile. We wanted a clean and strong vesselwho could rescue us from the years the locusts had eaten at least up to that point. And most of us found a man we could trust in the lanky General from Daura. And in March, 2015, the election agency we all believed said he (PMB) defeated the then incumbent President, Goodluck Jonathan who also meekly joined the nation in congratulating Mr. Integrity who trounced him to the delight of many.
But is appears that barely two and half years after the election, the arrogant illiterate of the 21st century around ‘the man of integrity’ are making most of us to have a rethink that the integrity of the taciturn former head of state may have been massively overrated after all, just as Collin J. Browne, an organisational culture expert, noted in a 2015 classic titled, “Integrity is massively overrated”. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/integrity-massively-overrated-browne-organisational-culture-expert/.
Meanwhile, the concept of “the illiterate of the 21st century” is not original to me too. It is to Alvin Toffler I have quoted several times here. The sociologist and writer on organization development and leadership says, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”. There is a sense in which one can claim today that there are some influential men around the presidential palace in Abuja who are neither learning, nor unlearning and relearning but are busy inspiring the spirit of errors that are making us to doubt the integrity we once perceived in President Buhari. Or is there another sense in which we can be made to believe that an undisclosed ailment in a man in power can erode integrity? It is better to allow the answer to this last question to blow in the wind for now.
Many of us today view integrity as an ancient idea that is either expendable or no longer applicable in an age of moral relativism. Just as honesty is essential for trust and trust is essential for any healthy relationship and for the ability to lead, so integrity is essential to becoming trustworthy.
It appears that our leaders are becoming more and more unworthy of our trust. And that is why there is so much restiveness in the society and constant recourse to rule of man as the laws that the men in power make are no longer able to ruleus anymore.
It has been written that if you can’t trust someone in all areas, you can’t trust them in any. Whenever we betray a trust, we compromise our integrity. Integrity is a prerequisite to credibility. Dr. Steven C. Riser, a scholar and cleric who believes that, “Integrity is the key to character and the cure for inconsistency” says, “it involves an inner sense of wholeness, which results from being consistently honest and morally upright”. Integrity is crucial in all aspects of life: professional, personal, social and spiritual.
What is this thing called Integrity?
Among other definitions, Webster describes integrity as “soundness of moral character.” Integrity from a biblical viewpoint has to do with being morally sound. What does it mean to be morally sound? A person with integrity knows what is important to God and consistently lives in light of what is important to Him.
Dr. Riser argues thatintegrity involves more than living our values; it involves subscribing to God’s values and with His help learning to conform our conduct to those values”.
And thus, this thing called Integrity is like the foundation of a house: if it is unstable, the entire house may come apart when it comes under pressure.Experts on this ethical thing say Integrity is not determined by circumstances, based on credentials and is not to be confused with reputation. A person with the integrity of heart is a morally and spiritually healthy individual.
Remarkably, Dr. Riser again believes that a person’s reputation is only the shadow of his character – in some cases the shadow (reputation) may appear larger or smaller than the actual height (character) of the person. A good reputation may or may not be an accurate reflection of a person’s character. A good reputation is as good as gold but a person with integrity owns the gold mine. If you take care of your character and become a person of integrity, your reputation will take care of itself.
Integrity has to do with a sense of consistency between a person’s inner values and attitudes and his outward words and actions. The more consistent we are, the higher the degree of integrity we possess. A good biblical example of integrity is Daniel (5:13-17). Daniel’s values, words and actions were thoroughly consistent. You can’t put a price tag on integrity because genuine integrity is not for sale.
What is more, Integrity helps us know what to expect from others. The more consistent a person is, the more confidence we have in how they will act in the future. An unpredictable leader suggests that they are not making decisions on the basis of deeply held values but on how they may feel at the moment. It is hard, if not impossible, to trust such people. People will only trust those who have proved themselves to be trustworthy.
According to my teacher on this, Dr. Riser, the common denominator in all these different forms of a lack of integrity is simply: inconsistency. Yes, inconsistency is what we are beginning to notice in Abuja, our Abuja where “economic men” are confusing us about presidential integrity that we may need again soon.
It should be noted that we all have values we live by whether we are conscious of them or not. Our values energize our motives that drive our actions. People with high integrity have high values and live by them consistently. This is confirmed by an ancient word that is ever so true in Proverbs 10.9, which says,“He who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out.”
Now I know, this thing called Integrityis so crucial to nation building, which is whyanother cleric, O.S Hawkins warns all good men who want to want to build nations and men to wear it (Integrity) as an apparel. He counsels: “Integrity– Don’t Leave Home Without It”. According to Hawkins, this thing called Integrity is the single most important trait of one who desires to truly make a difference in our culture and world today.
Curiously, there are those who believe that intellect, yes brainpower is it! After all, knowledge is power and many believe that the most important thing they can have in addressing the culture is intellect. Someone else might say intensity, a spirit of conquest, a passion that is contagious. Still others might say it is insight. That is, good old common sense and the ability to see through issues and use discernment.
However, in the long run there’s one word,there is only one thing, which describes the single most important characteristic of one who finishes strongly and makes a lasting difference in the midst of a culture. The word is integrity. Now, more than ever, it is what our world needs. And I am still persuaded that we were not wrong in 2015 when we chose Integrity as our leading light, our weapon to drive away the locusts that were eating our tomorrow so voraciously.
But it is time to tell the president the whole truth, easily the most powerful force on earth. It is time to tell him that some people are beginning to feel betrayed because of the sleazy things that are beginning to happen in the government he presides over.
There are a few of them we can contextualize, in this regard. It should be noted that Integrity of a leader is quite challengedwhen on a day a major newspaper wrote an editorial on,“President Buhari’s parochial appointments” and the same president made more parochial appointments in the education sector alone.
Sadly, this trend continues till date in a complex federation most people are clamouring should be restructured. A president’s integrity is questionable when he arbitrarily dissolved some Universities’ Governing Councils, sacked Vice Chancellors and appointed new ones contrary to the extant laws governing the institutions. And the integrity of a leader would become more challenged when he regretted his action but failed to respect the laws and reverse his decision. The integrity of a leader will not go unchallenged when Fulani herdsmen kill farmers and destroy farmlands with deadly weapons in some parts of the country and they (herdsmen) go scot-free. There is an ethical challenge in a leadership of a complicated federation that will condone toxic quit notices by some young politicians from a section of a country while other open freedom fighters from another section are declared terrorists.
What is worse, the integrity of a leader who was elected on the strength of his perceived integrity to deal with graft in the state oil corporation will be eroded when corruption stories begin to emerge copiously from the same state oil firm. No doubt, integrity question will emerge when a president nominates an anti-corruption chief executive to a confirming authority according to the law, and the same president condones his intelligence chief’s damning letter to the same confirming authority saying the president’s nominee is corrupt and incompetent. This is a conundrum in Nigeria’s complicated presidency.
But as we continue with this conversation on integrity, we should also reflect on the other issue raised here last week that,“elections have consequences”. And so, those who have knowledge, passion, intensity, gift of the gab, and war chest but have little or no integrity should not be allowed to even apply to lead us from 2019. Reason? In this new world that social media rules with artificial intelligence, we are likely to confuse unethical candidates’ efficiency with effectiveness, expediency with priority, imitation with innovation, cosmetics with character or even their pretence with competence. And that will be another tragic error!
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Martins Oloja/Guardian