This past week the Accountability Lab Nigeria team shortlisted candidates for the Integrity Idol Nigeria Award.

by Obinna Ejiogu

This prestigious award is bestowed upon an individual who embodies the ideals of accountability, honesty, transparency and integrity in public service. Integrity Idol strives to create a network of individuals who are role models for integrity, and who advocate for greater accountability in the civil service and society in general.

After the sorting of nominations had been done our team took on the task of contacting the nominees and their nominators to see who amongst them would be most deserving of the honour. This was just the initial screening stage, but we already saw some strong contenders, some questionable ones and got some laughs along the way.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had initially envisioned a lot of paperwork, some berating from a disgruntled person or two but of all things, I never expected the process to be this fun. The integrity discussion is one that always generates a lot of buzz in Nigeria, and with good reason. The first thing I was able to notice from some of the calls I made, was that many of the receivers did not fully understand the concept of integrity. Some nominated their candidates for their polite behavior, some for their spiritual beliefs, some nominated their family members out of appreciation and could not attest to their work.

Many of the nominees were pleasantly surprised at their nominations and quite eager to talk on the issues they faced. I could hear their pride when they realized that all their hard work was being appreciated and recognized. Many never thought that their efforts would amount to anything, but worked only to satisfy their conscience.

It’s not easy being a person of integrity in Nigeria, especially in the public service. We were quite amazed by some of the harrowing tales that were given to us by the nominees. Unfortunately, corruption has been so ingrained in the country’s fabric that many citizens are not even aware that such actions are destructive to society. Many nominees had seen their houses burgled, property destroyed and vehicles vandalized. They have been blackmailed and threatened on several occasions by dubious individuals and even their superiors. A majority had been ostracized by friends and family because they refused to dole out undue favors to them.

Some were even wary that our efforts to reach out to them were a scheme to extort them or intrude in their affairs, fears that we were quick to allay. It is sad to see that individuals who strive to make a positive change in society are treated as outlaws, even to the point of being cautious of recognition for their efforts.

Though we sometimes found ourselves rooting for certain candidates due to the emotional grip of their stories, we remained objective in our assessments. If only such people were the ones featured on the evening news, on newspapers and on billboards for their heroics, would we not have a more positive outlook on society?

There are so many examples of honest individuals who are victimized for doing the right thing. Take, for example, the high court magistrate who stated that he is searching for truth and justice even within the justice system, and was attacked and injured with a machete for refusing to play along; or the investigative journalist who was exiled from his hometown for 9 years for exposing a robbery scandal that involved his government, both completely innocent of any crime whatsoever. Their stories need to be told and their strong morals emulated.

The Accountability Lab team would like to congratulate those that were nominated for the award, and Nigerians all over the country who stand for honesty and accountability in their endeavours. You are the true heroes!