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EDUCATING FOR A CULTURE OF LAWFULNESS
 
September 16th, 2015
- By Hon. Nimi Walson-Jack


In 2012, Nigeria was classified as the 35th most corrupt nation in which to do business (should be, not to do business) in the world. On the eve of the 2012 International Anti-Corruption Day, Nigeria I issued a statement, which message is still germane even as the federal government restarts a campaign to “fight corruption”.

The unfavourable but realistic rating should not be seen as evidence of our inaction in fighting corruption, but rather, it is an admission that the current institutional or regulatory approach to fighting corruption is not sufficient to curb corruption in Nigeria. It has been argued that the current Gestapo approach, in which law enforcement officers jump over fences, break down walls, arrest and parade suspects in full glare of the media, file multiple charges against accused persons and try and convict accused persons in the media court, has failed.

Now it must be evident that crime and corruption are still on the increase despite the avalanche of laws and a name and shame policy adopted by the anti-corruption agencies.

There is no debate that crime and corruption are serious threats to economic development, democratic government, the operation of fair and impartial legal systems, and the morality, well-being, and advancement of citizens throughout Nigeria. No person disputes the need for Laws to deal with the twin evils of crime and corruption. The point is that what is needed is a complementary strategy that amounts to a fundamental shift in values.

 

   

The regulatory approach needs to be accompanied by society or culture sympathetic to the rule of law. Law enforcement and regulatory systems function more effectively in myriad ways when bolstered by a sympathetic culture – a culture of lawfulness.

A culture of lawfulness means that the dominant culture, ethos, and thought in a society are sympathetic to the rule of Law as distinct from rule by Law. Without such a culture of lawfulness, there would almost certainly be more crime. Most people act in a manner consistent with the Law because of their expectations that others will behave similarly and that this is best for everyone. In the absence of a culture of lawfulness, many will be freer to satisfy their immediate needs and preferences, even in the presence of elaborate laws. That is really where we find ourselves today.

On the other hand, without laws and law enforcement, the culture of lawfulness, on its own, is unlikely to provide for the rule of Law. There must be specific processes for rule making and rule enforcing. The culture needs enforcement, but the enforcers need the culture, otherwise, society might be swamped by the violation of laws, or a pervasive police presence would be needed to control criminality. At the same time, the rule of law protects society from the excesses of Law enforcement.

The rule of law without a culture of lawfulness is not really feasible; the rule of Law without such a culture is also not really desirable. Without a culture of lawfulness, law enforcement is futile. Without law enforcement, the promise of democracy cannot be fulfilled. Increasing public awareness of these propositions is important. Government may have a lead role in providing a lawful environment for the citizenry, but civic, religious, educational,  business, labour, cultural, and social organizations at all levels of society have important roles to play.

Many factors contribute to a culture of lawfulness, but one of the most important elements, education, has been overlooked in campaigns to reduce crime and corruption. Relying on law enforcement alone to stem the tide in these twin evils is neither feasible nor desirable. There is the need to look to education and culture – to grassroots prevention - to augment the traditional fight against crime and corruption. As the story of Palermo, Sicily, Italy shows, civic education or education for democracy, can significantly help build the culture of lawfulness.

Empowering and educating the citizenry is essential. Mass civic education is necessary to improve citizens’ substantive knowledge about crime and corruption, and influence of their attitude. These do not come automatically, especially to young persons. Systematic, formal, and less formal education programmes in schools, professional associations, trade unions, and the workplace, as well as religious institutions appear to make a difference when they go hand-in-hand with regulatory practices.

The cognitive or knowledge based goals of an educational programme on crime and corruption would enable citizens explain why society needs to develop and maintain a culture of lawfulness, describe how crime and corruption threaten the values and institutions of society and a culture of lawfulness; and identify measures that could be taken by themselves (citizens) and society to promote a culture of lawfulness and to resist the attraction to and acceptance of crime and corruption.

Building a culture of lawfulness does not take eternity. In “Guide to Developing a Culture of Lawfulness”, Dr. Roy Godson, Professor of Government, Georgetown University, asserted that    “… basic elements of a culture of lawfulness can be built in a relatively short time frame – within one generation”. The methods, techniques, and processes that have been successful in other jurisdictions e.g. Hong Kong and Sicily between the late 1970s and the late 1990s, demonstrate that it is possible to shift a culture and bolster the rule of law even in areas where crime, corruption, and poverty have been prevalent for decades.

The phenomenon of crime and corruption is increasingly complex. To confront it, better planned and more scientific and technologically sound instruments, resources, regulations, and actions are required. Education is and will be an essential and irreplaceable instrument as we strive toward the achievement of curbing the scourge of crime and corruption in Nigeria.

 

Hon. Nimi Walson-Jack
Executive Director
Public Education Works Initiative

Hon. Nimi Walson-Jack is the Vice President, Civitas International, a non-governmental organization dedicated to civic education in educational institutions and the community. Hon. Walson-Jack was the General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (2004-2006), and a former Electoral Commissioner, Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission. He is a Lawyer, public speaker and civic educator, resident in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria


 

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