In politics, anything is expected. Yet, politics ought to be guided by law and ethics. Ethics is morality. It concerns right and wrong. It is a consideration of rightness or wrongness. It is weighing between right and wrong decisions and actions based on the consequences and usefulness, or ones duty to act or not.
Every decision and human actions must be guided by ethics. Ethics support the existing laws of the land. Laws are obligatory, enforceable and punishable rules of conduct, as in the laws of government and a customs of a community. Ethics are codes of conduct as in the mores and values of a siciety or the guiding principles of an organization to which one voluntarily agrees to belong to and obey, else get sanctioned. Although, unlike laws which regulate everybody, ethics are for a group, but in terms of good moral conducts generally, good ethical behaviours are expected of everyone as well. In this broad perspective, ethics, like laws, help to maintain peace and order in society.
The release of the audio of the recorded phone discussion between Surveyor Furoebi Akeni and former Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, close to the Bayelsa West Senatorial bye-election, portrays political conflict, which as even explicitly expressed in the quarrel is a matter of law and ethics.
Notwithstanding the political aspect and legal dimension of recording a phone conversation, the ethical side is of utmost interest in this write-up. My intent is to draw out the ethical issues involved, and how they could be handled by others who face or might face similar situation.
First of all, human beings have feelings, thus could naturally grumble against an organization, employer and whoever, and even against themselves. Although it is sometimes said that grumbling is allowed, at least to let out emotions, but decorum is also required.
The Bible considers grumbling as a sin, hence, God took offence when Israelites on their way from Egypt, out of slavery, mumured against Moses. God also took offence when Moses too grumbled, struck the Rock of Meriba twice instead of once, and called Israelites rebels, while asking them to drink water from the rock.
Why grumbling is some how good, stems from the fact that, it is worst for agrieved persons to bottle up their grievances, as that could lead to destructive psychological and physical crises. More so, grumbling constitutes grapevine information which could be useful for amending policies and actions in organisations.
Also, human beings have needs. The essence of working for an organisation or taking up political appointment to serve in a government, is to meet the needs of the organisation as well as those of the employee or appointee.
Achieving the needs of the employee or appointee might not be through monetary benefits alone. Things other money or pay are also motivators, and for some persons, such non-monetary considerations, which Fredrick Hertzbag call hygiene factors, are better motivators.
Thus, for such persons, job enlargement (more duties), job enrichment: giving them a position and according them authority as well as responsibility and resources to perform, would satisfy and motivate them to achieve goals.
Some persons are satisfied by getting monetary and non-monetary rewards, while some are satisfied more by either of these elements.
From the broadcasted audio, Surveyor Akene, needed all the two kinds of motivators. He complained about two things. That, it was difficult to pay his childrens’ school fees while he served as Commissioner for Lands and Survey in Dickson’s cabinet. And that he was also sidelined or better put, he was not given authority backed with responsibility to discharge the functions of his portfolio. Instead, that the functions were taken away.
If his complaints are true, both are indeed painful treatments that many persons, especially, those who are impatient or intellectually radical, cannot endure.
The premise of my clinical analysis of the ethical side of the divulged phone call conversation is “fiduciary relationship”. Any relationship for the purpose of employment, work, business, and that between a professional and clients is fiduciary. It means relationship other than that of relatives, spouses, parents-children etc who could freely know much about one another, with less fear of betrayal and harm.
Fiduciary relationship is based on utmost good faith, trust and confidence that one party in the temporary relationship, will not divulge vital information to cause harm to the other person or the organization.
Fiduciary relationship, as in the case of employee/appointee/consultant and employer/appointer/client, must thus, be guided by ethical decisions, before accepting to relate, during rendering of services and even after rendering the service.
The person lobbying for a position or whose competencies are unavoidably needed, ideally, should decide to accept stipulated conditions of service, negotiate or reject the offer. Once the offer is accepted, the person is bound and ought not to complain while rendering service, and even thereafter.
For core professionals, he or she can stake the conditions including ethical principles, accordance of full autonomy and responsibility as well as remuneration and perks. And then, make it known that attempts to violate such, would warrant resignation.
But that’s if he or she is so indispensably needed. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala’s case in which she was paid in Dollars as Finance Minister in Nigeria, comes to mind. It’s the ideal thing, but difficult to apply in less developed countries due to uncompetitive economy, unemployment and poverty.
A person who cannot cope with a system is free to resign. That, Surveyor Akene did, stressing interest in returning to his private professional practice and to live his personal life. The decision to resign, could be classified as personal ethics, while quitting because of his alleged sidelining in the Dickson cabinet is situational ethics. His decision was based on that alleged situation, as he needed to fulfill his personal needs while the government and state were fulfilling theirs.
But then, the serious ethical concern is in exposing the discussion between him and his former boss, and the alleged issues concerning the government in which he served. Except in extreme and irreconcilliable cases, it is unethical to expose in unpalatable terms, an organization or a person one has served, even after quitting. Otherwise, having known so much about the person or organisation due to the trust in fiduciary relationship, vital confidential matters, business secretes, strengths and weaknesses would be let out injuriously.
However, a former employee or appointee owes society, a duty to expose an alleged malpractice which has negative impact on society, and if the exposition would be of utility or value. If so, then, the consequence of the act of exposing the alleged acts, outweighs the perceived wrongness of the exposer or whistle blower. In that case, the end justifies the means, meaning, the overall benefit of the wrong act, is more important than the wrongness of the act.
A former employee/appointee may speak about privileged information to a panel of inquiry or law court. He or she can also make public expose` if the information is factual, and use factuality as defence against defamation, as in the case of the alleged loans being verifiable at the Debt Management Office in Abuja, vis-a-vis applying the funds for development of the state, despite frantic denial by former Governor Dickson.
Here too, a class of ethics, that stresses that an action can be right or wrong, no matter the situation and place, comes in. The import, for instance is that, if loans were actually taken and if it is wrong to take huge loans and not tie same to development projects, then it is absolutely or totally wrong. And such action will be wrong anytime, anywhere. The wrongness of such an alleged act is not relative or peculiar to one person or place.
A former employee/appointee or consultant, would also rightly and legally rely on defense of public interest and development motive, of his or her expose` supperceeding for instance, the corrupt interest of an alleged former boss or the organization.
But, such public allegations must be really true, separate from opinions and devoid of malice and negligence in terms of proper checking and inaccuracy in interpretation and presentation.
Despite the legal opportunities to make factual expose` the former employee or appointee has a moral burden of facing the court of public opinion, whether the act of exposing a former boss and system was right, when he or she had even taking the right step to resign. The proverbial bitting of the finger that fed one, would be cited.
It could also be evaluated from counter allegation from some members of the public or the alleged former boss or institution, that the complainant was after selfish interest, more than organisational or soceital interest, but could not get much, hence the outburst.
These moral burdens, account for why some persons leave organisations peacefully or remain there and endure. Even while some resign, they drop sketchy expressions for the organization that the decision is due to “personal reasons”; or to ‘return to private life/practice” or on health grounds.
Again, while a person may unequivocally state unpalatable complaints against a former employer/appointer and organisattion, while resigning, or having resigned, such information or vexatious issues might on moral ground not be made public. – Or might not be published in the press as it is the vogue in this era of free use of social media and unprofessional self-publicity, without consulting legal, human resource and communication experts to do the right and lawful thing.
Violating the ethics that guide fiduciary relationship with a former employee/appointer or organisation, would typify the person as not worthy of being trusted, especially with secret information. He or she could also lose opportunities to serve in subsequent political dispensations, employment or consultancy.
These are even more so, in political circle, where relationship between a political appointee and the government, as well as the appointer is fiduciary. The appointment is at the pleasure of the appointer, who can decide who to hire and fire, enlarge, enrich a job or portfolio reduce or de-enrich.
Although the portfolio of a commissioner is statutorily designed, with clearly delineanated functions and jurisdiction, governors sometimes tactically whittle down authority and responsibility, create parallel offices, amend the statute using a kowtowing legislature, for economic or political agenda of interest to him or her or to undo an appointee feared as too “smart” and intelligent or punish a godfather who insisted on a certain lucrative portfolio for the godson.
Given the intrigues and backstabbing in real politics and in organisational politics, and for professionalism on the part of those who seek or are wooed to take appointments, caution must be applied. This is more so for those who are professionals or who are advocates of a better and just society, and cannot fit into systems that are not compatible with their philosophies, else get themselves messed up.
It is always better to leave an organization or fiduciary relationship, peacefully, to maintain good image and remain trust worthy even before former employers, former bosses and clients, so as to be trusted by prospective ones in future.
Two wrongs, they say, cannot make a right. The complex ethical dilemma of publicly exposing the alleged wrong acts of a former employer, boss or client, and or not exposing them, depending on any of the categories of ethics, the person anchors the decision, is a matter of choice.
But Aristotle’s Golden Mean grand theory of ethics of, “Do unto others, what you want them do to unto you”, as well as the Christian Judo ethics of “Be thy brother’s keeper”, should ordinarily, always guide our decions, actions and fiduciary relationships.