CSR and Civic Education in Nigeria

December 29, 2012 § 1 Comment

Kenneth Amaeshi

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has gradually become a buzz word in the Nigerian private sector landscape. This is obviously a good sign. CSR is also seemingly becoming more sophisticated, shifting away, albeit sluggishly, from its overly philanthropic outlook of the recent past. In my over 10 year experience of researching and studying the evolution of CSR practice in Nigeria, I think there is some reasonable progress in this area. At least the practice is now beginning to attract the right attention in organizations and is being professionalised. The financial services sector, for instance, has gone a step further in initiating an industry level programme on sustainable banking. These are all positive signals.

However, the more sophisticated it becomes, the more shadowy it gets through its pursuit of seemingly exotic and foreign tastes whilst ignoring the basic things. It doesn’t take a genius to recognise corruption, bad governance, and unenlightened followership as the main problems of contemporary Nigeria. Some of the challenges currently borne by the private sector through philanthropic activities – e.g. provision of health care, portable water, greening of the environment, poverty alleviation, et cetera – are all clear symptoms of a failed government. Tackling these symptoms without carefully addressing their root causes will only perpetually lock CSR into philanthropy.

In my opinion, the best CSR in Nigeria should focus on addressing the problems of corruption and bad governance in the country. Often times, corruption and bad governance are fruits of ignorance and poor education. One way of fighting corruption and bad governance is through civic education for value re-orientation. The average man on the street is aware that Nigerians need to change their orientation, but the question has always been HOW?

Firms can engage with anti-corruption and promotion of good governance in many different ways. They may decide to have CSR programmes in these areas targeting their different external stakeholders – particularly their customers, the government, and local communities. They can also empower and collaborate with the civil society and international institutions to champion these changes in society.

Another option is for them to look inwards and focus internally on their employees and their organizational culture. In this regard, CSR becomes a business philosophy and a way of life. Some firms are beginning to play in this space – i.e. institutionalising employee oriented CSR activities, for example, employee volunteering, protection and promotion of human rights and equality in the workplace, et cetera. Some have also embedded these in their human resources management functions through policies and routines. These are all positive steps, but more needs to be done.

It is embarrassingly tragic that corruption has become our second nature. One can also appreciate that some of the private sector players are products of the corrupt system. Some may even be sustained by the same corruption. To that extent therefore, they become beneficiaries of the status quo and do all within their reach and means to ensure the status quo remains. At this point in time in the year (keeping in mind the oil subsidy saga of 2011 and its consequent demonstrations in early 2012), one struggles to ignore some oil marketers who have continued to cheat and wallow in corrupt practices. But on a second thought, it is obvious that they do not act alone. The proverbial ‘value chain’ supporting their equally proverbial ‘bottom line’ is both long and wide. It will not be surprising to find the so-called visible champions and progressive leaders of CSR in the corporate Nigeria dotted in and around this nefarious value chain.

Unsurprisingly, corruption in Nigeria cannot be eliminated solely by executive fiats, neither is it the sole responsibility of the government and its institutions. Corruption poses collective problems and requires collective actions to deal with. What is rather surprising is the seeming reluctance and lack of courage on the part of the private sector to make anti-corruption a core CSR objective. Firms need to show interest and willingness to fight corruption in Nigeria. If not for anything, corruption adds extra burden to the cost of running business in the country. As a business leader once put it, “…in a corrupt country, you are only as good as your last bribe”. This extra cost is either passed to the consumers or to the shareholders. In dire situations, corruption can inhibit entrepreneurial developments and or put businesses out of business. In other words, it is all in our short and long term interest to fight corruption.

Firms can contribute to the fight against corruption and bad governance through their training and manpower development systems. They can make it a point of duty to ensure that all employees are aware of their civic rights and duties and enact them. They can embed such requirements in their performance and promotion systems and processes. Employees should be encouraged and supported to be politically literate and exercise their democratic responsibilities. This does not mean that firms should steer their employees towards any particular parties or candidates, or engage in irresponsible political lobbying. This in itself will constitute institutional corruption and abuse of power. Instead, employees should be empowered through good civic education to exercise their democratic rights and duties. Research has shown that firms who promote good values suffer less internal corruption by their employees. This is an immediate benefit for firms to consider fighting corruption in all forms and promoting good governance in the country.

In addition to influencing the value orientation of their employees, businesses can work with schools and the Federal and State Ministries of Education to ensure that civic education is firmly integrated into the national school curricula and properly taught. Given the state of our education system, this may require some extra financial and manpower resources to deliver. Besides, businesses interested in education as a form of CSR can actually create a coalition or interest group on this and pull their resources together for much more collective impacts. Going solo, which appears to be the preferred option for the sake of brand value, may not be an effective measure given the magnitude of the challenge at hand. Collaboration can be an effective CSR strategy to address complex issues in complex business environments.

In summary, CSR in Nigeria ought to reflect the peculiarities of our local needs. Fight against corruption and the promotion of good governance through civic education should be central to this pursuit, and there are many creative ways to realise this objective. Otherwise, CSR devoid of local content is only as good as tasteless salt.

Amaeshi is an Associate Professor (Reader) in Strategy and International Business at the University of Edinburgh, UK, a Visiting Fellow at the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility, Cranfield School of Management, and a Visiting Professor at the Lagos Business School, Nigeria. He consults in the broad areas of strategic corporate responsibility & governance, sustainability strategy & sustainable investing, and stakeholder strategy & reputation management. For details see my website.

Ethics and Relics in Nigeria’s Politics

December 27, 2012 § 2 Comments

Kenneth Amaeshi

Cast your mind for a moment to Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (1904–1996), Chief Obafemi Awolowo (1909–1987), and Sir Ahmadu Bello (1910–1966). It doesn’t take any ingenuity to conclude that ethnic politics has been rife in Nigeria since independence. On the contrary, ethical politics is scarce, and ethical scrutiny of ethnic politics is not our culture. Subjecting the politics of any of our founding fathers to ethical scrutiny is often considered disrespectful and politically inflammatory. It is an idea steeped in folly and dead on arrival.

However, such ethical scrutiny resurrects some very interesting questions. For instance, what is the moral difference between an ethno-regional leader who protects the interests of his people, and fraudulently enriches himself and his family in the process, and a similar leader who does not protect the interests of his people and yet fraudulently enriches himself and his family in the process? Fraudulent enrichment here will include the use of one’s political position and clout to attract economic favours and commercial profits, which would have been impossible or at best difficult to access without the platform of the political office. In both instances, one could argue that fraudulent enrichment is not a worthy aspiration and therefore not good for the society.

Assuming we accept that fraudulent enrichment is a social ill, it leaves one with a choice between two evils: a seemingly altruist fraud (the leader who protects the interests of his people) and a narcissist fraud (the leader who enriches himself at the expense of his people). One might be inclined to choose the leader who protects the interests of his people despite his fraudulent behaviour, as a lesser evil, on the grounds that many people would at least benefit from his leadership than in the other scenario. Making ethical decisions on the basis of the number of people who would benefit from such decisions is known as utilitarian ethics. Because it focuses on the consequences of ethical decisions, utilitarian ethics could also be described as consequentialist ethics. However, a fundamental question here is: does the end justify the means? In other words, what are the possible implications of focusing on consequences as a measure of rightness or wrongness?

There is only a narrow divide between a consequentialist and a Machiavellian. One of the implications of consequentialism is the marginalisation of the minority. Little wonder Winston Churchill – a former British Prime Minister – described democracy as the tyranny of the majority against the minority. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the politics that dominates the global polity. It works from the premise that the preference of the many must be true and good. If we stretch this position to its necessary logical conclusion, it might produce some uncomfortable but real outcomes: if many do not believe in the existence of God, for instance, does it make it true and good? If many think that abortion is good, does it make it true and good? If many believe in gay marriage, does it make it true and good? If many think that enriching oneself and family fraudulently is good, does it make it true and good? Nonetheless, the implications of consequentialism in contemporary democracy are often understated. They are often left unchallenged and any attempts to challenge them are seen as impractical, idealistic, and sometimes imprudent.

An ethical view which is often marginalised in contemporary politics is one that aims to assess the morality of both the process and the outcome. This is deontological ethics, which derives the rightness or wrongness of one’s conduct from the character of the behaviour itself rather than the outcomes of the conduct. In other words, the quality of the outcome is not superior to the process, and vice versa. The challenge of this ethical view is that it is much more demanding than consequentialism as it requires one to fulfil two conditions, which are equally important and couldn’t be easily traded-off against each other. This is obviously a tougher demand. It challenges the assumption of the wisdom of the many and empowers minority views. Christian moral theology, especially Catholicism, is to a large extent founded on deontological ethics. For a true Christian, therefore, deontological ethics allow for some natural impossibility where one with God, for example, can be majority.

In the eyes of the world (i.e. the many), deontological ethics can grant wisdom to some asinine and absurd conclusions. In this regard, it is very easy to gravitate towards pragmatic ethics, which is based on the exigency and expediency of the circumstance. Pragmatic ethics is also consequential in nature, but does not necessarily imply utilitarianism or a good outcome for the many. Pragmatic ethics instead allows for a narrow definition of ethical outcomes for the minority – even if that minority is selfishly defined. Exigency and expediency constitute the ethical paradigm for political flexibility, manoeuvring, domination, and victory. At the end what counts in politics, as they say, is the outcome – i.e. victory.

It does appear that the Nigerian polity is one dominated by pragmatic ethics, where benefits and outcomes are not necessarily broadly articulated from what works for Nigeria as a whole, but rather narrowly defined as what works for my ethnic group, regional and religious affiliations, and in most instances for what works for myself, my family, and cronies. This view of political ethics is very much embedded in the system that we often find it difficult to imagine a different political ethics outside this ethnic and selfish worldview. We create and fashion our political heroes from this perspective. Overtime, these views are consolidated into effigies that are venerated. They reflect our tribal and ethnic icons and relics. Attempts to challenge this political ethics are easily characterised as tribal bigotry, political insensitivity, and disrespect for our political heroes past and present.

The present day Nigeria is entrenched along ethnic lines that inhibit us from rising above our selfish interests. As long as I benefit from the system, it doesn’t matter what goes on in other parts of the country. As long as my side of the equation is shielded from the onslaught, the rest can go to blazes. This mentality fans the view that there are no permanent friends in politics, but permanent interests. When interests are selfishly articulated, they can never lead to an altruistic leadership or society. A friend recently reminded me that this kind of politics often lead to neopatrimonialism, a genre of prebendalism and corruption.

Notwithstanding our present day mental constraints, our generation has a choice to enshrine our political icons and relics, feed them with our daily sacrifices of encomia and nostalgia, and embed them perpetually in our consciousness. We also have the choice to courageously re-examine these political icons and relics from a different but much more constructive political purview. This re-examination may not necessarily be painless. It is likely to involve some kind of iconoclasm – a constructive destruction of the past for a better political future and scene to emerge. The choices are ours.

In the final analysis, what spectrum of political ethics do you subscribe to? Who is your political icon/relic? What is his or her political ethics? Will you consider iconoclasm as a way for a better Nigeria to emerge? The options are all yours.

Amaeshi is a Visiting Professor Lagos Business School and member of the Thought Leadership Forum, Nigeria.

The political class and civilised public anger

December 8, 2012 § 4 Comments

Kenneth Amaeshi

I recently found myself defending Africa, and Nigeria in particular, against the onslaught of Western disparage. I still do this as if I am a paid Attaché to the Nigerian High Commission in London! Don’t ask me how effective I am at it; the only thing I can assure you is that I have been consistent with it and the need for it seems not to be waning. A couple of years ago I was engaged in a conversation with a Western bloke at an academic conference, and decided to explore this ‘conspiracy theory’ with him. My main line of argument was that the Western media is one of the strong institutions the West has continually used to marginalise Africa and African affairs. I challenged him to give examples of positive reporting by any Western media on Africa. It is always about poverty, famine, diseases, poor governance and death. They creatively avoid reporting on brilliant sparks of entrepreneurship and emerging market opportunities for foreign investments that have continued to thrive despite minimal institutional supports. I cited Nollywood as a classical example of this. In return he challenged me not to externalise my frustrations but to think inwards. He gently reminded me that Africa is its own worst enemy, especially the political class. Well, that’s no news. I knew that and knew it was true as well; but of course I carefully avoided accepting that as the complete truth of the matter, and he knew I knew he understood my point against the Western media.

That was my exploration of conspiracy theories. Back to reality, I sometimes can’t stop wondering why we live in a country where no one is accountable to any one. A country where we ‘tribalise’ and trivialise our politics, to the point that we no longer see virtue in visionary and selfless leadership irrespective of where it comes from. And yet, we think there is a future if things continue the way they are. What a bizarre situation. What a shame. What a collective ignorance. I can only relate the situation to a bus at the edge of a precipice and the passengers are rather busy admiring the scenery as if nothing is at stake!

Although I struggle not to engage in any blame rhetoric, I strongly think that our political and economic elites are the main contributors to the way things are in Nigeria, especially as they continue to thrive on the politics of patronage and State capture. After all, it is no news that most of them get into these positions of power for the very wrong reasons with no noble ideologies. They lack every interest to serve, but seize the slightest opportunities to feather their nests. They are happy and comfortable to travel overseas for medical treatments while the majority of Nigerians disgracefully die from many preventable health misfortunes. They are not worried that teachers and lecturers are on strike, because their children and wards are in private education somewhere in Europe and North America. They are not worried that our roads are in very poor conditions because they travel by air. They steal our money. They create markets for kidnapping. They kill us. They dance on our graves. No one asks questions.

The other side of the story, which is equally sad, is that we, Nigerians, have learned to live with this hopeless condition helplessly. It has become our second nature. The only value system we are proud of is that of corruption and shortcuts. Hard work is a thing of the past and for the stupid ones, anyway. Money is the true god we serve and worship. It is only in a country like Nigeria that people steal massive public funds, spend two days in detention – if ever reprimanded – and sit on the advisory committee a couple of days later. We do not care about the precedence we set. We do not care much about what we pass on to our children. Even if our children fail to reprimand us, because they are the direct beneficiaries of our public loots, their generations will not forgive us for sowing this nasty seed of fraud, recklessness and deception in their DNA. Then, they will continue to lag behind the world in all indices of socio-economic development. They will be the epitome of all bad examples of how not to live in their lecture rooms abroad. They will continue to be the laughing stock of the world. Are you not ashamed of this?

If you are not, I am. I face the heat everyday in my encounter with students on our programmes at the University of Edinburgh where I teach. The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are celebrated as heroes, whilst Africa, especially Nigeria, is vilified for our sheer stupidity. What stops us from being one of the best countries in the world given our human and natural resources? What has become of civilised public anger? Is it in short supply? I don’t really think so. At least, this piece is nothing but that. Most Nigerians are frustrated with the way things are being currently run. Yet, the anger could only be suppressed or at best expressed in the extreme cases of militancy and or terrorism. Why must we, as a country, live up to negative self-fulfilling prophecies? Where is our spirit of national patriotism?

National patriotism, a sense of ownership, is at the heart of every good democracy. And accountability strengthens democracy. In my opinion, one way to galvanise national patriotism is through taxation and its public discourse, because research evidence shows that people care seriously about what hits their pockets directly. Unfortunately, the oil money appears to crowd out taxation as a source of government revenues, which makes it difficult to base any meaningful public discourse on tax payers’ money.

Unsurprisingly this is a problem of our attitude towards life and our values in general – we complain but we are also part of the problem. We are all implicated in this catastrophic vicious circle that, sometimes, I wonder why accountability in public and private discourses has continued to escape the eloquent scrutiny of civilised public anger, which is definitely good for our democracy. May be we need another round of colonisation, since we cannot reliably govern and hold ourselves accountable! Although I can see a dangerously subtle but subversive colonisation of our psyche at play, I leave that for another day.

Kenneth Amaeshi is an Associate Professor (Reader) in Strategy and International Business at the University of Edinburgh, a visiting professor at the Lagos Business School, and a member of Thought Leadership Forum, Nigeria.

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