Critical Conversations

Integrity Tests for Politicians: An Anti-Corruption Tool

It is a well-known fact that corruption is detrimental to the development, good governance, and social well-being of a country. Nigeria’s political landscape rife with corruption of different magnitudes, but the evil cut across all aspects of national life. Corruption, particularly in the public sector, has been the major drawback to national growth. President Muhammadu Buhari had envisaged that if Nigeria was going to make any meaningful progress in the area of growth and development, then corruption has to be defeated. This probably explains why his administration prioritised this in its scale of preference, and has equally remained dedicated to the course in the last six years.

However, corruption appears to be entrenched and it appears as though we are flogging a dead horse. This is why it makes great sense for the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) to strongly consider the option of conducting a personality and integrity test for political appointees and candidates of political parties, especially as the 2023 general elections beckon.

Political appointees and party candidates should be placed on a scale regarding their character and integrity. This will act as a precursor to ascertaining the capacity of public office holders to deliver on their duty without indulging in corrupt practices that has dominated Nigeria’s political turf for years.

Areas to be subjected to this test should include: record of past performances in public and private offices, career files, court cases, business records and tax records. Any form of extortion, threat or the use of force or other forms of intimidation to extract any type of favour should equally be vetted and tested.

A major area that deserves scrutiny in Nigeria is self-dealing, which is the practice of hiring one’s own firm — or a firm belonging to close relatives or friends — to provide public services. Patronage, a “cousin” of self-dealing which is hiring one’s own friends and relatives, even when they are not the most qualified, should also come under evaluation in this test.

The test should equally cover the individual’s previous involvement in government procurement that could have been subject to bid-rigging, kickbacks, and official collusion, including over-invoicing, as well as possible involvement in judicial decisions that were affected by favoritism and bribery.
This is the standard in most countries around the world. The likes of UK, Canada, India, and Kenya have an elaborate system of vetting candidates on integrity and character.

Read Also: Nigeria’s Anti-Corruption War and the Unexplained Wealth Executive Order

India, for instance, has an electoral regulation that require candidates at levels to swear affidavits providing information on any previous and pending court cases against them, the outcome, all details of their assets including those of their spouses and dependants. This is coupled with liabilities due to public financial institutions and the government. It also includes their educational background and qualifications.

Pundits and public analysts have equally emphasised the importance of such measure and how it can help combat corruption at the very root. Countering corruption and Building Integrity are two sides of a coin. While Counter-corruption or Anti-corruption ideas tend to be perceived in a negative light, building integrity suggests a more positive dimension of what is essentially the same process. Integrity, according to CIDS, is the quality of being guided by strong principles, or being fully operational, intact and internally consistent in the application of agreed-upon principles and standards.

Given that building integrity measures focus greatly on the behavioural factor, actors involved in the process range from the populace all the way to governmental, regional, and international organisations.

Political systems are evaluated based on the extent which the system produces the output and the process which informs how those output come about. One entails a surface structure, while the other a deep structure. The process which informs how those output come about defines the output. In lay man’s terms, it is referred to as garbage in, garbage out. Integrity is quite crucial for any assessment of the process of governing. If those operating within government systematically lack integrity, there is no rational basis for expecting quality governance: one that is devoid of corruption for that matter.

The issue of trust in governance has always been seen as a major one by many analysts. Trust is the building block of every government without which there is likely to be political upheavals. Conducting integrity and personality test is one of the ways in which trust can be earned. Since the test work with fact, there are records to show that a particular candidate or appointee can be trusted to deliver if handed a role in government. This is coupled with the assurance and confidence instilled in the citizenry that these persons are men and women of good conduct. Therefore, for citizens, integrity and good conduct serves as a validation tool. As for those in governance, having the awareness that others within the political system also have integrity facilitates engagements that enhance growth.

It is stated that counter-corruption measures include preventive actions that eliminate the incentives and opportunities for corruption and other unethical behaviour to occur. Three measures are key and they include Integrity, Transparency, and Accountability. Out of these three, integrity stands out. It in fact defines the whole.

Personality test is also quite crucial. Who and who is contesting elections or getting appointed? Decorum and ethics are important aspect of leadership. According to a popular saying, character precedes essence. It is a sense of decorum and ethics that inform how leaders will behave or conduct themselves once they assume top government positions. A lack of decorum and ethics is the more reason why some Nigerian leaders have openly been involved in disgraceful outfits both in words and actions. This is even more prevalent with men of the Red Chambers.

Apart from intermittent invectives traded among Nigerian politicians, the lack of self-restraint shown by many politicians have equally contributed in no small measure to the tension that overheats the polity on several occasions.

It is important to recall the reports that Femi-Fani Kayode was rejected from joining the APC on a strong basis of character. The APC cited among his many misdemeanor, a lack of honour, principle, and value which is summarised in the statement of the Director General of the Progressive Governor’s Forum PGF, Salihu Moh. Lukman, who stated that, “Mr Fani-Kayode fabricated stories, distorted, insulted the party, and has consistently written and distributed damaging information about our party and our leaders. The elementary rule of decency would require some good distance between our leaders and such a person.”

If a good number of Nigerian politicians were to go through an integrity and personality test, most of them would fail. Outstanding leaders who have left great imprints on their political turfs went through a personality and character test successfully.

Read Also: Nigeria’s Anti-Corruption War and the Unexplained Wealth Executive Order

Fighting corruption is important to any country that seeks advancement, both economically and socially. But entrenching a good moral system is pivotal. If there are men and women of character and integrity, a major part of Nigeria’s problem will be solved.

The onus lies now with the legislature to provide the enabling laws and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) to lay effective frameworks that will make political appointees and party candidates obtain clearance that would provide genuine results on their integrity and personality test. This is vital as the 2023 general elections beckon.

Piercy Mabel