Integrity in International Life and Relations: Nigeria’s Empirical Dimensions and Implications

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By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The word, integrity, is of Latin origin, ‘integritas,’ meaning unimpaired condition, moral soundness. It is the freedom from impurity. As explained in the Black’s Law dictionary, it is about ‘moral soundness, the quality, state or condition of being honest and upright.’ Put differently, integrity is essentially about character, good character, good behaviour, or good attitudinal disposition.

The explanation in the New International Webster Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language is not different: uprightness of character, probity and honesty; unimpaired state, soundness; and undivided or unbroken state, completeness. In essence, integrity is goodness and objectivity of character and purpose.

Besides, integrity can be an aspiration as provided in the case of Saint Joseph’s College in Ondo, whose motto is ‘noble integritas,’ that is, noble integrity. This further means that it is not sufficient to have integrity, the integrity must also be noble. In this regard, nobility and integrity do constitute two sides of the same coin. At Saint Joseph’s College, a Catholic institution, students were taught about life with integrity, why there is the need for a life of integrity. Students, including my humble self, who had the opportunity to have such a Catholic education, were brought up to always live a life of integrity. Most unfortunately, however, in international life and international relations, there is no emphasis on integrity the way it was put in Saint Joseph’s College, Ondo.

In international life, integrity is required as a criterion for friendship, non-recourse to violence in inter-personal relationships, fostering better understanding and maintenance of peaceful coexistence. In international relations, which is, stricto sensu, state-to-state interactions, unlike international life which involves non-governmental stakeholders and non-official activities of government officials, integrity, at best, does not mean much. It is only compelled through international agreements.

Explained differently, there is nothing like moralism or integrity in inter-state relations, which is largely characterised by power politics, quests to protect national interests by whatever means possible, including cruel methods. There is more of unfairness, injustice and chicanery in the conduct of international relations than equity, fairness and justice. Let us at this juncture explicate some manifestations of integrity in both international life and international relations before investigating those of Nigeria.

Integrity in International Life and Relations
In every facet of life, the issue of integrity is always raised. As posited above, there is nothing like integrity in international life and in international relations. Integrity only exists indirectly in agreements. For instance, international agreements do underscore the principle of sanctity of agreements (pacta sunt servanda). An agreement voluntarily negotiated, freely done, signed and ratified should, on the basis of integrity, be respected. To agree on something, even on the basis of a gentleman’s agreement, and refusing to meet the obligations of the agreement cannot be rightly argued to have any iota of integrity. Thus, what international law has done is to compel integrity of purpose by insisting on the need to always respect obligations lawfully contracted. Without integrity of purpose, a duly negotiated and signed agreement can always be vitiated.

Besides, the notion of integrity in international relations is that of completeness and indivisibility, especially in terms of territory. This is the fundamental concept of territorial integrity in international law which prohibits the threats or use of force against the ‘territorial integrity or political independence’ of another State in the international relations of Member States (vide UN Charter, Article 2, paragraph 4). As a political concept, one core national interest of most countries of the world is the maintenance of territorial integrity. No country voluntarily cedes its territory, even in a war situation. It is only under a force majeure that one’s territory can be ceded. It is important to note that the cession by Nigeria of the Bakassi Peninsula to the Republic of Cameroun, following the judgment of the International Court of Justice and the subsequent Green Tree Agreement, is nothing more than an aberration. Consequently, integrity, in the context of territorial integrity, is therefore an instrument of self-preservation.

Integrity can also mean capacity and trust, especially in terms of financial borrowings. International creditors are not always ready to grant development loans if the factor of integrity of the borrower is not first established. A borrower must be seen to have the capacity to repay loans and this capacity to repay cannot but be a resultant from integrity. Only persons, individual or organisational, with integrity, can seek to be law-abiding and repay loans.
Grosso modo, the notion of integrity in the sense of honesty and being upright does not exist in international relations. The lack of honesty is specially covered up by diplomacy and the conflict system on which international relations is largely predicated.

Issues in Domestic Integrity
Current issues of integrity in Nigeria can be explicated at three different, but complementary, levels: individual level of President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB), Nigerian level and international level. At the level of PMB, it cannot be rightly argued that PMB has any integrity of purpose by virtue of his attitudinal disposition to political governance in Nigeria. He has not shown any seriousness of purpose in the respect for rule of law. He wrongly believes that national security interest comes before the respect for rule of law. Whereas in normal climes, national security interest should not only be defined, but also protected by rule of law. Rule of law must always take precedence before anything else. Most unfortunately, PMB has been more engaged in flagrant disrespect for the rule of law in the governance of Nigeria.

For example, PMB is not able to recognise the limitations of his presidential powers in the appointment of political aides. He is also confusing his presidential powers with the obligations created for him by the law of the land. The public calls for the sack of the Service Chiefs clearly provide a good illustration of our point in this case. Public Service Regulations require that civil and public servants should retire either on the attainment of thirty-five years of public service or attainment of sixty years of age, whichever one comes first.

All the Service Chiefs have spent more than thirty-five years in service and all of them except one, have attained the age of sixty years. The calls by the general public for their replacement is not even because of the disregard for the rule of law, but mainly because of their inability to contain boko haramism, because insecurity has been witnessing a spike, with many Nigerians being killed on daily basis with impunity.

The first problem in this case is that PMB is treating the Service Chiefs as if they are his personal or special assistants over whose appointments he has absolute control. The Service Chiefs, immediately after their appointments, are in the service of the whole nation and are therefore pretty bound by the rule of law and not by the whims and caprices of PMB. In terms of integrity, PMB has been directly projected to the world as lacking in integrity by his Senior Special Media Assistant, Shehu Garba.

Shehu Garba, speaking on behalf of PMB, has it, in reaction to the brutal massacre of farmers in their farms by Boko Haram insurgents, that the farmers did not have clearance from the military before going to their farms, hence a justification for their killing. A government that is not capable of providing security, which is a main objective of political governance, necessarily lacks integrity of purpose. If government, and particularly the military, knows that a particular area is dangerous and should be a no-go area, why is security not strengthened in that area? Why should farmers not be able to go to their farms to farm and find food to survive? At home, security is not there. In the farms, security is lacking. Where is integrity in political governance?

Worse still, Mr Shehu Garba also said that only PMB can determine when Service Chiefs are to leave office. This statement is most unfortunate because PMB only has the right to appoint any of the Service Chiefs in other capacities after their official retirement from public service. PMB cannot prolong the stay of any of the Service Chiefs in service on attainment of sixty years of age or thirty-five years in service. What is lawful and desired is for PMB to seek replacement in the military but PMB determinedly sustains illegality and a life of non-integrity

And perhaps worst still, the Army Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai, is also on record to have said that terrorism will be here with us until 20 years to come. How do Nigerians cope with twenty more years of boko haramism? Will there not have been national disintegration by then? This is one implication and expression of lack of integrity in political governance. Nigeria cannot survive twenty years of Boko Haram terror with the current experiences on the ground.

Apart from aides speaking on behalf of PMB, the President himself has not helped matters. He cannot rightly be said to be a man of noble integritas if, contrary to the provisions of Section 2(3) of the EFCC Act and Section 147 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, he appointed Mr. Ibrahim Magu as Acting Chairman of the EFCC since November 9, 2016 without confirmation by the Senate as required by law. PMB has retained him in acting capacity contrary to the requirement of law.

The well known truth is that PMB openly swore on oath to serve the Nigerian nation and to defend the Constitution of the country. Most unfortunately, however, he has refused to comply with the rejection of his nominee by the Senate and Ibrahim Magu has been a good test case of integrity. Ibrahim Magu’s integrity has been called to question: the Senate refused to confirm his appointment on questionable grounds, and yet PMB is sustaining illegalities and misconducts, while claiming to be fighting corruption. The international implications of this lack of integrity at the domestic level for international relations cannot therefore be far-fetched.

International Issues of Integrity
There are many manifestations of lack of integrity raised at the level of Nigeria’s foreign relations. Four of them are noteworthy: #EndSARS protests and the saga that immediately followed them; the report by the Cable Network News (CNN); the personal integrity of former military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, and the allegations by the Army that the Boko Haram attacks are sponsored by the international community to destabilise Nigeria.

Integrity of purpose is first raised at the level of brutalisation of the #EndSARS protesters at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos State, on Tuesday, 20th October, 2020. All the protesters were harmless and peaceful. They held the National Flags and were singing the National Anthem, but were shot at by soldiers from the 81st Military Division on Kofo Abayomi Street, Victoria Island, Lagos.

In the beginning, the military claimed ignorance of any killing and non-shooting of any protester, but later admitted shooting into the air only. The military argued that it was invited to the scene of protests by the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu, but the same governor denied such a claim. The military claimed again that it only shot blank bullets into the air but later admitted to be in possession of life bullets as well. The life bullets are meant to be used for legitimate self-defence. And perhaps more disturbingly, various video reports in the social media have shown life bullets on the scene of protests, involvement of military vehicles with hoodlums, and soldiers shooting sporadically.

In fact, the BBC correspondent at the protest ground in Lekki, Damilola Banjo, reported in the Pidgin Service of the BBC that she and her editor witnessed sporadic shootings by soldiers for more than twenty minutes. She narrated the scary situation at the scene of the protests. When she was asked to confirm if there were really any shootings and casualties in light of the denials by the military, she reconfirmed sporadic shootings into the air and existence of one casualty, who might have not been a victim as a result of military shootings, as at time she managed to crawl on her stomach and escape.

More significantly, the revelations from the judicial panel of enquiry, set up to investigate the extent of brutality of the SARS, have shown more contradictions in the statements of the military. In the views of the general public, there is no element of integrity. In other words, the Government of Nigeria cannot be said to have integrity and it is on the basis of this perception of lack of integrity that the international community has the potential to relate with Nigeria in the foreseeable future.

A second related issue of integrity is the report by the Cable Network News (CNN). The CNN reported that a number of protesters had been killed contrary to the denial of the Nigerian military. In the eyes of the Nigerian military, it was ”fake news”. The Government of Nigeria protested and promised to sanction the CNN. The CNN reportedly later came out to denounce its earlier submission. Full stories about the situational reality are yet to be told.

However, the issue of integrity is still raised at the level of the Government of Nigeria and at the level of the CNN because the CNN relayed a satellite coverage of the Lekki protests. Can the CNN with its global credibility engage in fake news? Did it succumb to political pressures or to the threats of possible closure of office in Nigeria?

The third issue is that of General Yakubu Gowon. Tom Tungendhat a British parliamentarian, representing the Tonbridge and Malling, accused General Yakubu Gowon of looting half of the Central Bank of Nigeria while in office. Many Nigerians have come out in defence of Yakubu Gowon, believing that the allegation cannot be true. Some elders and men of integrity like Chief Edwin K. Clark of the South-South, Chief Ayo Adebanjo of the South West, Chief John Nwodo of the South East and Dr. Pogu Bitrus of the Middle Belt, have made it clear that they would ‘not support maligning people without facts.’

They also noted that they ‘stand for integrity in public life and will not shield corruption. But we are not aware of any such accusation against General Gowon since he was overthrown 45 years ago.’ The Federal Government has also come into the defence of General Gowon. The issue to now address is what informed the allegation? When General Gowon was ousted in 1975, parliamentarian Tom Tungendhat was not yet born. When Gowon had to seek asylum in the United Kingdom, to which documents did Tungendhat have access, to enable him levy such a heavy allegation? Will the Government of the UK be prepared to come into the open to accept allegations against Yakubu Gowon, a special friend of Britain?

Above all is the critical allegation that the international community is sponsoring Boko Haram in order to destabilise Nigeria. As explained by the Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Colonel Sagir Musa, ‘the recent killing of our people on a rice farm in Borno State was unexpected, inhuman, cowardly, dastardly and sadistic cruelty by the Boko Haram terrorists. There is no normal human being that will take pleasure in such inhuman massacre of defenceless and armless civilians, working on their farms, but that is the nature of terrorism and those who sponsor it.’

More important, Colonel Musa noted that ‘there is an international conspiracy to cut Nigeria to size and compromise national renegades making attempts to destabilise and dismember Nigeria, if possible in subservience to the international paymasters, who are the owners of Boko Haram. They train them, arm them, finance them and supply their logistics’ (The Punch, Thursday, December 3, 2020, p.14).
This observation can be tenable, but what is the extent of its integrity? How do we explain the conflicts between the fresh calls for use of mercenaries and that mercenaries had been used in the past but they all fled away, on the one hand, and the conflict between the calls on the global community to assist and the military allegation against the same community as sponsors of Boko Haram attacks, Nigeria, on the other? If the international community is to be held responsible for Boko Haram attacks, how do we also explain the observation of the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallon, that stakeholders should go beyond a security response in finding a solution to the 119-year old terrorists in the Northeast? (The Nation, December 3, 2020, pp 1 and 5). In other words, terrorism existed in the Northeast even before the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914. Can the global community be held responsible for Nigeria’s unending terrorism?

The statement is made to give the impression that the international paymasters or the specific countries aiding and funding the Boko Haram are truly well known. If their identity is known, why is the international responsibility of such countries not raised by the Government of Nigeria? Can the Nigerian military rightly ascribe the ownership of the Boko Haram to the international paymasters? Are outsiders responsible for the many problems of social integrity in Nigeria?