Journalism in the service of society

Trust deficit in public institutions and need for re-orientation

THE fraudulent misadventure of a misguided teenager, Mmesoma Ejikeme, which stirred spirited conversations last month, has once again revealed the unwholesome character sketch of the Nigerian composition, exposing the nuances that now define clearly the fault-lines of our socio political existence as a people and the perception of our public institutions by the people. 

The doctoring of a Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examination result by the candidate, which ordinarily should have been roundly condemned as one of those escapades of youngsters who seek recognition through unethical means, become a subject of noisy national debate, with opinions divided as to where to heap the blame.  

Three major features accompanied the development as it blew open: the growing moral decadence among the various segments of the people, trust deficit occasioned by unethical practices in our public institutions and the deepening fault-lines created by primordial considerations within the society. These, among others, made a mountain out of a simple and straight forward fraudulent misadventure by a misguided youngster. 

In the melee, moral laxity was promoted, otherwise responsible persons wore primordial garbs, and scumbags flaunted obscenity in a rabid bid to be part of the conversation. During the dispensation, the proclivity for reaching conclusions before looking at the premise was in open display by those that ordinarily would have been seen as the conscience of society – either to malign or to protect. 

There was a clear case of lack of trust among the major segments of our society; but more than that, the sentiments expressed signposted a huge confidence deficit in public institutions in the country. It has become obvious that public institutions no longer enjoy the benefit of doubt and are no longer disposed to fair hearing from the public arena. It also showed that otherwise exposed and enlightened persons are not so immune to bigotry. The summary is that things are hardly regarded on the basis of facts or commonsense any longer. Unbridled sentiments now replace diligent interrogation of issues, while good conscience and rational thinking have become very rare commodities in the Nigerian landscape.

There is no doubt that public and even big private entities in the country have over the years displayed tendencies that have made positive acclamation a risky venture. Public institutions in particular, whether national, state or local, have become cesspools of corrupt practices and dens of unethical and unprofessional activities. Hiding behind the ubiquitous processes and procedures, and other very atrocious bureaucratic contraptions, the public service has become an enclave of despicable and disdainful activities. 

Private entities dealing with the public, including educational institutions, religious bodies, non-governmental and civil society organizations, anti-corruption crusaders and more – all display at different levels similar tendencies in a manner that easily signposts a deep societal decay, because the malaise cuts across. The level of fraudulent activities going on, and lack of productivity in many public institutions have attracted opprobrium from members of the public. That is why members of the public often declare them guilty even before interrogation and trial. That was the case in the JAMB result doctoring saga. 

That notwithstanding, it is not enough reason for the rising scenario of jumping to irregular conclusions by otherwise reasonable persons on matters that have very serious implications for the character and moral fibre of the society and state. Certain happenings and perceptions within our society over the years have given birth to a swarm of sceptics and bigots who now work from sentiments to reality; not minding the moral implications of such indulgence on the larger society. 

In the heat of the debates on the Mmesoma result-doctoring episode, calls were made in some quarters for the scrapping of some government institutions including JAMB. They claimed such institutions have outlived their usefulness. They suggested, in the case of JAMB, that individual universities should be allowed to conduct their own admission examinations based on their own stipulations. Others suggested the decentralisation of some federal government agencies to allow for consideration of certain peculiarities. Yet, some suggested thorough reforms of such agencies as a way out, rather than scrapping and/or decentralisation.

On JAMB, we tend to pitch our tent with the last suggestion as we believe that the tendencies that bedevil such institutions will still be found at decentralised levels without serious reorientation of the people and effective restructuring of the operations of such institutions. The image that JAMB has created in the last few years with Professor Ishaq Oloyede at the helm shows that reforms and focused leadership can change the orientation of such institutions and make them more purposeful, relevant and productive. 

Although there are some agencies that have obviously lost relevance in the current scheme of things in the country, we believe that instead of rushing into dismantling some of the public institutions that are still relevant, for the reason of non-performance or relevance, government should rather look at the operational structure of those institutions, remodel where necessary and appoint persons of capacity and integrity to administer them; and in the process, create better understanding of their activities and gain better perception from the public, just as in the case of JAMB. 

Only recently, the new government of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu dissolved boards of government establishments, with the exception a few with statutory status. Thiss therefore provides a veritable opportunity for government to look for the kind of persons with capacity and integrity to refocus the establishments towards delivering on their mandates and building public confidence in them. The poser should be: What kind of agencies would government want to see? This would guide the proper reconstitution of the boards for effective delivery and aid the resurgence of public trust.

More than that, there is an urgent need for national re-orientation which must of necessity start with the rejuvenation of our national values of honesty and integrity. Morality must be the bedrock of our national psyche. It must start from the family level where morals inculcation in the young ones will lead to attitudinal change for a better society. The corruption and unethical infiltrations that have diminished public institutions in Nigeria are driven by poor moral dispositions of those who lead and work in such institutions. The defective structures of the institutions are erected and sustained by individuals who operate in, and do business with them.

If the country is to build and nurture strong public institutions, the people themselves must jettison primordial sentiments and unbridled emotions when assessing and commenting on core national issues and responding to issues that diminish our national assets. The people must be firm in condemning unacceptable moral and ethical indulgences and eschew reading unhelpful meanings into any issue that slows down national growth and development.   

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