Effects of Corruption and Bad Leadership on Journalism in Nigeria

Corruption and Bad Leadership, the Bane of Unethical and Subjective Journalism

Scientific Essay, 2017

26 Pages




Theoretical Framework

Related Literature on Professional and Journalism Ethics

Corruption in Nigeria: Conception, Perspectives and Effects

Corruption and Bad Leadership as the Bane of Unethical and Subjective Journalism

Good Leadership and the Promotion of National Development and Ethical Journalism





The pervasive corruption and unceasing bad leadership in and among the Nigerian press have for long now ushered in various forms of professional compromise such as unethical and subjective journalism. The press, especially their leaders, having been influenced negatively by the macrocosmic institutionalised corruption and bad leadership of the political elite and their like, are becoming deeply immense in these nefarious misdeeds and unethical and subjective journalism. Consequently, the masses have lost confidence in them, and receive media contents with outright contempt and dissatisfaction. This paper thus calls for a change on the part of the press and the government, for which the masses would follow suit. Although the paper relies more on the secondary sources, the library print materials, controlled interview, observation and intuition of the primary sources of data collation were also involved. It is approached qualitatively, descriptively and objectively with the text-content analysis too.

Keywords: Corruption, Bad leadership, Bane, Unethical, Subjective, Journalism, Nigeria


In spite of the fact that most of the masses and a few of the ethical and objective press have been worried by the high level of unethical and subjective journalism practise of the press, following the pervasive corruption and ageing bad leadership in Nigeria, those involved seem to remain recalcitrant forever. The situation degenerates every day. The Press, who are deeply involved in corrupt practices, like their political bosses, are bent to this scourge and thus throw away their professional ethics and rather resort to subjective and unethical journalism. They tell lies and even incite, all just to make money out of media contents. Most of them are not honest. Such press dread doing what is right in order to be favoured by their dubious bosses who would reward them only when they do the unusual that favours them. Most of the press are known for collection of brown envelope.

Brown envelope syndrome negates all the basics of ethical and objective journalism in Nigeria and the like nations, such as fairness, objectivity, equity and balance that are required for ethical and objective (empirical) journalism/broadcasting. Brown envelope hampers the practise of ethics and good leadership/governance. It brings about pervasive corruption. A journalist must not accept bribe (brown envelope) as a reward for publishing or suppressing news or comments. Certain fake news is aired; while genuine ones are withheld once brown envelope deal transpires. Accepting brown envelope makes news susceptible to abuse by interest groups. Brown envelope leads to news distortion. During elections, in particular, brown envelope from worthless aspirants make the media paint them good, singing their praises (Ekwo, 1990; Lai, 2000; Ogbuoshi, 2005; Okioya and Adedowole, 2011). Most members of the audiences of most state-own media have lost confidence in them and no longer want them for any news because of their praise-singing for worthless incumbent leading state officials.

These days, most of the press are not truthful, honest, competent, disciplined, virtuous, diligent, upright, just and politically neutral. Rather, they are the absolute opposite of what they are supposed to be. Such unethical (corrupt) press easily get paid to broadcast mere political propaganda and false information. They extensively indulge in sycophancy rather than facing reality and calling a spade a spade. Because they are remote-controlled by the government, they are at their whims and caprices, such that they praise-sing unnecessarily a failed (failing) incumbent government. Corruption has made it almost impossible for the press to do anything free, just for the interest of the poor voiceless masses. Money and power have taken charge of journalism in Nigeria and the like nations, thus media ethics are grossly compromised, abused and trampled on with impunity. Some people could have their businesses or events adverts aired well; while others would have theirs not or poorly aired.

A truly virtuous or ethical press would not agree to deceive the world about what obtains or not in Nigeria as being so or not. Such press would not collect or pay bribe for any reason. They would not work for fear or favour. They would not accept bribe to tell lies. Rather, they would insist on journalism (professional) ethics at the expense of their job/s and lives. On the other hand, one may (would) not blame the press much for being corrupt because of the circumstances surrounding them. First, there is no press freedom. In Nigeria, press freedom is a mere paper thing. The press are at the mercy of the top government officials. They operate almost only on the wimps and caprices of the top government officials (the political elite), whose extreme control of and influence on the media have brought compromise of professional and moral ethics and pervasive corruption to the media, the constituency of the press. The Nigerian press, especially states staffs, are remote-controlled by the states governments to practise journalism unethically and subjectively, as they their masters are pleased, not as supposed in normal standard practise.

Ogande (2011:16) lends credence to the above thus:

More often, politicians, by reason of political expediencies or circumstances, gave glowing defining of press freedom which naturally would have a blend of state imposed order[s]. It has to be so, for the mere reason that it suits his [their] disposition well since it could provide him [them] a measure of some protections from incursion of the ever gullible press… It is glaring that our history is replete by woeful tales of press humiliation in Nigeria as journalists always suffer the indignity of police harassment through physical assaults and sometimes detention beyond the legally regulated time for a suspect to be charged to court.

From the libertarian philosophical perspective, Ogande (2011:17) describes press freedom as ‘every efforts [sic] made or calculated to hold government accountable and from overstepping its bounds by the press.’ The broad corruption and bad leadership in Nigeria that crept into the media have made most journalists to compromise such supposed efforts or calculations, such as their watchdog duty/role over the government and their general journalism ethics and societal established core conventions, norms and values. In most cases, the internal leadership of the press is corrupt and bad, in consonance with the political leadership under which they operate as a microcosm. As the body with other parts cannot live without the head, so it becomes the case with most journalists who ordinarily would be ‘saints journalists.’ However, where such supposed saints journalists are conscious of that, their reputation and journalistic ethics, they would never soil their hands no matter what. So tempting the situations though, but they can desist from or overcome all if willing and determined. Thus, this is where the ‘apostles journalists’ are also blamed along with their internal and external corrupt and bad leaders in the press and in the government and other sectors.

Their corrupt bosses restrain them from covering, writing and/or publishing certain ills– exposing information for the consumption of the public. The recalcitrant, ethical and objective journalists who defy their ill-orders are illegally punished, as if a legal breach of statutory orders. Thus, frightened by such illegal punishments, victimisation and indictment, most (almost all) Nigerian journalists (press) rather take to the institutionalised corruption (Dibie, Besong and Robert, 2016) and unethical journalism that seem the order of the day. Such restrains on press freedom contradict the right to ‘freedom of expression’ enshrined in all the Nigerian constitutions. Press freedom thus becomes the opposite of what scholars and the press conceive it to be. For example, Sambe and Ikon (2004:11) conceive press freedom as ‘unrestrained liberty to write or publish information for the consumption of the public.’ For Korch (2007:172), it is ‘uncensored expression of thoughts and ideas that stimulate the discussion of public affairs essential for full functioning of a democratic society.’

Ogande in Idebi and Madaki (2011:22) points out that freedom of the press can guarantee the following:

i. Systematic and independent public scrutiny of those in power and an adequate supply of reliable information about their activities (the watchdog or critical role of the press);
ii. Stimulation of an active and informed democratic system and social life;
iii. Opportunity to express ideas, beliefs and views about the world;
iv. Continued renewal of culture and society;
v. Increase in the amount and variety of freedom available.

Theoretical Framework

The Utilitarian or Ethical Scientist, the Absolute and the Objective theories are apt here and thus adopted to ground the work. Accordingly, the utilitarian theory maintains that an act or action is right or good if and only if it is and well lends to the general good of all or possible of a greater majority of the society. Merill (1978) posits that most of the theorists are concerned with the achievement of greatest happiness (pleasure) to greatest number of people. This theory also places emphasis on the prevalence and dominion of good over evil. To this, Thayer (2001) avers, ‘The morally right affirmation produces the greatest balance of good over evil. All that matters ultimately are [sic] determining the right and a wrong choice is the amount of good promoted and the evil restricted.’

Absolute theory contends that a right action must be right in all places at all times and circumstances. This is how journalistic ethics should be in Nigeria rather than the otherwise obtained. Its exponents believe in the existence and the need for universal code of morals (ethics), which basically applies to everyone in all ages and everywhere. In view of this, Kant (1959) argues that the decision to perform an act must be based on a moral law no less binding than such in all circumstances, conditions and at all times. These theorists thus prevail on journalists for objectivity, fairness, accuracy, balance, conformity to norms, values and conventions, decorum and right actions in both professional and personal living and deeds. And, the objective theory postulates that ethics should be rational (reasonable) rather than emotional or sentimental. Merill (1958) argues in favour of this, when he observes that one of man’s purposes of ethics is to serve as a reliable and helpful guide to right actions. Compromising ethics, the theorists imply, would lead to chaos and/or autocratic, selfish and irrational tendencies, actions and practices. This is why the external and internal corruption and bad leadership in Nigeria result in unethical and subjective journalism/broadcasting. In what gives credence to the foregoing, Okioya and Adedowole in Idebi and Madaki (2011:1.2) write,

Journalism, like other profession, is a very hazardous profession with myriads of ethical problems to contend with in the course of realizing journalistic goals. It is the responsibility of the professional journalist to be guided by ethical principles and standards, concerns, obligations and accountability in performing his [her] duties. …As we know, every profession is usually guarded [sic] by certain laws, rules and regulations– whether formally coded or only recognized as conventions. Journalism is often criticized and hardly enjoys public confidence as a result of what the journalists do or fail to do. The journalism profession must therefore maintain some decorum and keep to certain standards of integrity to earn the trust and command respect in the course of performing his [their] duty in his [their] chosen career.

Related Literature on Professional and Journalism Ethics

Swant (1996) notes that professional ethics in journalism are connected with the operation of the press whether as owner, editor or reporter or as author, financier or advertiser. Merrill and Stein (1997) hold that the role of the journalistic ethics is to help journalists to determine what is right to do, by giving them standards by which they can judge actions to be right or wrong. Erstwhile, Meril (1982) has held that ethics has to do with duty– duty to self and duty to others; the duality of individual and social morality is implicit in the very concept of ethics; what the journalist communicates is in a very real way what he himself is. Egbon (2006) gives credence to the foregoing by noting that ethical considerations is very important as it compels the journalist to commitment and thoughtful divisions when faced with alternatives that could lead to the highest good of enhancing his credibility as a person and journalist.

Basically, ethics enhances social responsibility and the protection of individuals against the vagrancies, the unguarded and the unmitigated power of the press, as exhibited by media professionals in performing their professional duties in contemporary times (Okioya and Adedowole in Idebi and Madaki, 2011:4). Ethical journalism, regarded by many as journalistic ethics, involves virtuous, judicious and moral religious practise of journalism by the press in accordance with stipulated rules and regulations, media laws, constitutional provisions general decorum, norms and values and moral precepts, by which the actions, deeds, decisions and professional practices of the press are guided and judged. Okioya and Adedowole (2011:2) admonish,

Every profession has its own ethics, which are the code of conduct, which set standards of behaviour for members of such profession to their actions. These professional codes have the advantages of fusing a code of morality into the performance of the profession to which they refer. They constitute a means of control and discipline among the members of the profession. Professional ethics, therefore, regulates the relationship between professionals and particular publics.

Ethics plays the following roles in journalism, which brings to place ethical journalism when not compromised and/or breached:

i. It ensures objective journalism, grounded by truth, fairness, honesty, decorum, moral uprightness, sincerity and generally accepted standards, norms and values.
ii. It prevails on journalists to practise at all times their professional norms, rather than compromising them for the unusual, for the good interest of all.
iii. It acts (serves) as a watchdog over the journalists for which they are bound to cut their excesses.
iv. It shapes the worldview, perception, relationship and deeds of the journalists. Buried in their conscience, consciousness, mind and mental faculty, ethics prompts the journalists, like other professionals, to judge themselves, their actions, thoughts, words, deeds and those of others to ascertain whether good or bad, right or wrong, moral or immoral, stand or sub-standard and thereabout.
v. It spells out the core responsibilities of the journalists, for which they often try to discharge if and where possible completely. By this, both the journalist and the audience know when, where, why and how the journalist discharges their responsibilities (duties and obligations) or not. As such, when journalists fail, they are blamed; when they succeed, they are applauded by the masses, even though the ruling government often tends to usurp such praise from journalists. And, when the journalists’ efforts to discharge their responsibilities are thwarted by the government, internal and/or external, the ‘ethical selfless journalists’ are exonerated by the morally upright members of the audience/masses, since both parties are conversant with and conscious of the established ethical requisites, precepts and conventions.

Corruption in Nigeria: Conception, Perspectives and Effects

The conception of corruption is shaped by approach, perception, profession, cosmology, religion, culture and viewpoint. Scholars differ in their perceptions of corruption and their focus of tackling hydra-headed concepts of corruption (Besong, Dibie and Robert, 2016). Some believe that any action that is morally wrong and harmful to another, to economic practise and betrayal of public trust for private gain and at the same time affect economic progress of the society, should be regarded as corruption (Enoch, 2011:253). That is the conception of corruption based on ethics. Hence, the early British traders whose activities betrayed the indigenous economic progress amounted to corruption (Okeremata, 2012:2).

Corruption has been defined by Ndaliman and Auwalu (2011:108) as ‘any act contrary to ethical, legal, legitimate, right, positive and moral standard expected by a society which one lives in.’ This reflects the encompassing description of corruption by Otite (2003) thus:

Corruption means the pervasion of integrity or state of affairs through bribery, favour, or moral depravity; it involves the injection of additional but improper transactions aimed at changing the moral cause of events and altering judgments and position trust. It consists of the doers and [the] receivers of informal, extra-legal or illegal act to facilitate matters. It is in this sense that one sees corruption as a lubricator of the social system, a means by which to overcome economic obstacles and bureaucratic red-tapism. Hence, the ambivalence and inconsistency in the theory and practice of corruption, although, it is generally regarded as a debasement of integrity, it may also serve as a nerve in social development .

Using a conceptual schematisation, Banfield (1975) has emphasised that the frame of reference is one in which an agent who has accepted the obligation to act on behalf of his principal, serve or fails to serve the interest of the principal; in acting on behalf of his principal, an agent must exercise some discretion. He emphatically stress that ‘an agent is personally corrupt if he unknowingly sacrifices his principal’s interest for his, i.e. if he betrays his trust. He is officially corrupt if in serving his principal’s interest, he knowingly violates a rule, i.e. acts illegally or unethically albeit in his principal’s interest [sic].’

Faboyede (2009) traces the root of corruption in Nigeria to the military era that subdued the rule of law, facilitated the wanton looting of public treasury, dilapidated public institutions and free speech, and instituted a secret and opaque culture in the running of government. The result has been total insecurity, poor economic management, abuse of human rights, ethnic conflict, capital flight, etc. Poverty and the enormous wealth inequality in Nigeria are deeply rooted in the country’s pervasive corruption. Corruption remains a major challenge to Nigeria– against the realisation of meaningful and sustainable socio-economic, political, cultural, technological and education development of various phases. Similarly, recounting the ageing situation of endemic and pervasive corruption in Nigeria across times, Dode (2007:7) observes,

A number of studies show that from 1960 till date, Nigeria as a nation has had the misfortune of being ruled by a number of corrupt political leaders. In the First Republic, corruption in the country assumed a number of dimensions ranging from massive rigging of elections, stuffing of ballot boxes, outright bribing of voters, to collaboration with law enforcement agents to further the course of one party against the other.

Corruption effects on Nigeria society with its populace as well as challenges to national development are legion, diverse, devastating, disturbing and endemic. It is one of the cankerworms ravaging the Nigerian society in numerous ways. It takes various forms and perpetrators. While ‘minor’ corruption, that from middle class, average or poor Nigerians, is widely heard of and severely punished, major’ corruption, that grievously and heinously perpetrated by the ‘big guns’– the bourgeoisie, technocrats, gerontocrats, elites, politicians, top military and Para-military officers, business moguls, clerics, etc.- is rarely heard of and punished (Besong, Dibie and Robert, 2016). This is simply because the latter is an institutionalised corruption, involving the ‘unequal citizens’, ‘sacred cows’ (Besong, Dibie and Robert, 2016); those above the law, the lawless law makers of lawless law house (Robert, 2014), the ambassadors of poverty who impoverish their nation and people (Philip Umeh in Nwachukwu-Agbada et al., 2011); who loot the state’s treasury, set bad example/legacies (Robert, 2016); who plague the Nigerian state cum her populace with institutionalised crimes (Besong, 2016) – corruption, ethnic and religious solidarity, discrimination, fundamentalism, politics, regionalism, tribalism, nepotism, embezzlement, killing (hired assassination), money-ritual, fraud, criminality, inciting of communal and ethno-religious conflicts, among a host of others (Besong, 2016; Jang, 2012).

In what gives credence to the muse that corruption in Nigeria has been institutionalised, Jang (2012) observes,

Right from the 1st Republic to the 7th Republic, corruption has proved an endemic disease in this country [Nigeria], and our rulers have come up, from time to time, with fanciful diagnosis but none has provided the antidote. The whole phenomenon of corrupt practices, conspicuous consumption and pervasion of governmental procedures in Nigeria has its roots in the ideological flux which characterises the transition from indigenous moral restraint, on one side, to the complexities of modern discipline, on the other hand. …Politics in Nigeria, for example, is sometimes hard to keep clean merely because people are moving from one set of values to another. In no other area of life is this better illustrated than in the whole issue of ethical solidarity and kinship obligations. Corruption seems to have remained with the Nigerian society independence and only attains a higher level during civilian rule. The consequences of this social malaise has been enormous and what measures they are to eradicate it from the Nigerian society are not easy to attain.

Frisch (1994) cited in Odo (2012) informs that nothing is as destructive to a society as the rush to quick and easy money, which makes fools of those who work honestly and constructively. Obasanjo (1994) is cited in Odo (2012:2) to have noted that no society that treats public funds and property with utter disregard and cares only for personal accumulation on the principle of ‘steal and go’ can make progress. Shedding light on the foregoing, Besong, Dibie and Robert, 2016:16) observe,

It is clear thus that institutional corruption involves ‘steal and go’ while corporate and ‘minor’ corruption involve ‘steal and die’ or ‘steal and go to jail.’ Institutional corruption is no longer a ‘crime’ or ‘sin’ in Nigeria society because of the calibre of perpetrators who have ‘corruption immunity’. The implication is that the poor are simply told in mute that to be a corruption lord, you must join the big guns’ clubs- politics, academics, multi-national business corporations, bourgeoisie, military/Para-military and elitist classes- to ‘steal and go’ free, above the law. Even when such ‘above-the-law’ citizens are exposed to the masses, the ends of their cases are usually funny, fishy and flimsy. The irony still is that money and property recovered (seized) from the labelled ‘sacred cows’ are hardly heard of and used. Of course, only God knows the whereabouts of the recovered loot from Sani Abacha, James Ibori, Joshua Dariye, Prince Alayaimeyesie, John Yakubu, to mention but a few. That is, the looted money and wealth from the hands of ‘labelled institutional corrupt lords’ to the hands of ‘serving exonerated institutional corrupt lords’. Corruption kills or even strangles ethics and development spirits and consciousness along with norms, values, culture and virtues.

More so, blaming the Nigerian government and its institutional agents for pervasive corruption, Adibe (2012) cited in Odo (2012) laments,

The politicians entrusted to protect the common patrimony of Nigerians steal the country blind; law enforcement officers see or hear no evil at a slight inducement; government workers drag their feet and refuse to give their best, organized labour, including Universities lecturers in public institutions, go on indefinite strikes on a whim while journalists accept brown envelopes to turn truth on its head…

The USAID Report has empirically proved the worrisome situation of corruption in Nigeria thus: 94% of those interviewed perceive some corruption, including 52.8% who believe that people ‘always bribe officials.’ Almost three-fourth of [the] respondents disagreed with the statement that bribery is not common among officials in Nigeria (Comet, 2000 cited in Sani, 2012) . Lamenting the adverse effects of corruption, Besong, Dibie and Robert (2016) inform that corruption effects on the Nigeria society since independence are grave, enormous and multifaceted. The economy, politics, public and private sectors, culture (ethics, norms, value and morality), military, government (executive, legislative, judiciary and traditional and religious institutions), social life, development, education, growth and other spheres of Nigeria are plagued by the grave effects of corruption, especially those of institutionalised corruption.

Corruption has posed serious challenges to economic development in the country and undermined democracy and good governance by subverting electoral process and governmental procedures. Corruption in election reduces the legitimacy of government, accountability and representation in policy-making. In the judiciary, corruption suspends the rule of law and erodes public confidence in justice dispensation (adjudication). It also erodes the institutional capacity of government as institutional safeguards are disregarded, resources are siphoned and officials are hired or promote without to performance. It undermines economic development by generating considerable distortions and inefficiency (Odo, 2012: 16). Stating categorically, Odo (2012:15) aptly puts it:

Corruption is a key factor in every crisis that had rocked the Nigerian nation since independence. The sabotage of the nationalists and the demise of the First Republic; [the] fall of the Gowon regime; the overthrown vagaries and the annulment of June 12 presidential election; the derailment of the Babangida transition programme; etc. are all indices of these crises.

Economic growth and development efforts and logistics are shattered and destroyed by corruption. Corruption amounts to impoverishment (poverty), stagnancy, bankruptcy, regression, immorality, failed leadership and followership, underdevelopment, famine, social vices, bad governance, decadence, injustice, insecurity, ethnicity (ethnic solidarity), religious fundamentalism, unproductive social systems, high death rate, lack of social amenities and infrastructure, power tussle/contestation, destruction/vandalism, militancy, kidnapping, armed-robbery, thuggery, political instability and military takeover with serial coups, nepotism, oligarch, abandonment/unfinished development projects/programmes, misappropriation/embezzlement, civil unrest, conflicts, confusion/anarchy, god-fatherism, bad legacies, frustration, half-baked graduates cum poor standard of education, oil/cash economy, the relegation and demise of agriculture and indigenous commerce, regionalism, gender inequality, and women low participation in politics and decay in all facets of the society, as it permeates all aspects of human endeavours (Besong, Dibie and Robert, 2016; Robert, 2016).


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Effects of Corruption and Bad Leadership on Journalism in Nigeria
Corruption and Bad Leadership, the Bane of Unethical and Subjective Journalism
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The Ebonyi State University is the author's Alma-mater; the New Frontier Industries Ltd Research and Publications Int’l is his affiliation.
Corruption, bad leadership, bane, journalism, Nigeria, unethical, subjective, political influence
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Odey Simon Robert (Author)Eric Ndoma Besong (Author), 2017, Effects of Corruption and Bad Leadership on Journalism in Nigeria, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/354371


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