In his previous life as a military dictator, President Buhari was obsessed with orderliness, and this gave birth to War Against Indiscipline (WAI) in 1984. He created WAI to correct social vices and instill ethical values in Nigerians using the power of TV ads and military whips.
WAI targeted corruption and laziness in the public sector, but it also concerned itself with making sure Nigerians maintained orderly queues at bus stops. Military men were on hand to whip sense into Nigerians that didn’t stay in line. Also, civil servants that failed to recite the national anthem were suspended without pay. But the war against indiscipline lasted only a year; it ended as soon as Buhari was removed from office in 1985.
Buhari has found his way back to Nigeria’s seat of power in civilian clothes, and his WAI may be making a comeback of sorts.
Old WAI, new bottle
What’s happening now?
On March 16th 2022, Nigerian senators debated a bill to consider the establishment of a National Agency for Ethics, Values and Integrity Compliance.
The bill is the brainchild of Senator Ayo Akinyelure (Ondo Central – PDP) who’s not happy with how badly ethical morals and values have fallen in Nigeria. The lawmaker proposed the bill to tackle Nigeria’s many problems in the areas of indiscipline, abuse of office, and criminal acts.
Senator Akinyelure set five objectives for the national agency to accomplish:
1. Define Nigeria’s ethical values.
2. Ensure the maintenance of high standards in workplaces.
3. Develop and enforce ethical standards for Nigerians to live by.
4. Create and develop programmes to combat unethical behaviour.
5. Develop a reward system for dedicated citizens.
We don’t have the full picture of how this agency is supposed to do all that, but we hope it doesn’t involve the use of whips. Because we’d like to know now if singing Sungba in public would be a violation of this ethical code. And would Nigerians still be allowed to give Bubu nicknames and call him a bad boy? We have so many questions.
Where have we seen this before?
The Buhari administration already relaunched the WAI brigade in August 2016, but little has been heard about its activities since then. The administration also approved a national ethics and integrity policy in 2020 to reclaim Nigeria’s “lost ethical and integrity values”.
The creation of an enforcement agency as proposed by Senator Akinyelure would give such a policy “teeth”. Senators passed a similar bill in July 2018, but Buhari didn’t sign it before the tenure of that Senate expired in 2019.
Will the WAI bill succeed this time?
The bill passed the second reading after the debate on March 16th, 2022. The Senate referred it to the Committee on Establishment for further legislative action.
This legislative action includes a public hearing where any interested parties can make recommendations on the proposal.
What did senators say about the WAI bill?
This is a compilation of what senators said during the debate on the bill.
Nicholas Tofowomo (Ondo South – PDP)
I see this bill as a rebirth of the War Against Indiscipline (WAI). The ethics breakdown in the transport sector is so embarrassing. People drive recklessly. Even in Abuja here, you see people breaking traffic laws here and there.
Emmanuel Orker-Jev (Benue North-West – PDP)
If you take a look around, a lot of the morals and ethics of our society have been degraded and something ought to be done about it. But we don’t need to create a new agency. Whatever can be done as espoused by this bill can be done by the National Orientation Agency (NOA).
Adamu Aliero (Kebbi Central – APC)
There’s a need for value orientation and for leadership to inculcate discipline in our society. It’s time for us to really look into our value orientation so that we can refine the politics and leadership of this country. If we don’t do that, we won’t reach where we want to be.
Ahmad Lawan (Yobe North – APC)
This issue of the orientation of Nigerians is a major fundamental issue and should be treated as such. In fact, it’s at the centre of the failure of so many things the government tries to do. When you have someone who has become a bandit all of a sudden, I’m sure one of the reasons is that he’s completely forgotten the orientation of his community. When people are properly orientated, they can live with so much discomfort and work hard to make sure they overcome them.