A cursory look around will show that on the driver’s seat of much of the impunity that cripples our country’s prospects are professional men and women. Whether they are lawyers frustrating free and fair elections, judges mocking Justice by their rulings, Accountants aiding fraud by Governors or Bankers helping politicians hide looted money, professionals are complicit in many cases. But professional bodies seem to do little about this. One way to solve the problems of Nigeria is to make the peers of Nigerian professionals in public positions of authority accountable for their conduct.
A professional association seeks to protect a particular profession, the interests of members of the profession and the public interest. In order to promote professionalism, every professional body defines and sets standards for its members. Through awards for professional excellence and other forms of recognition, high standards of quality are encouraged among members of professional associations.
Members who breach ethical standards and rules of professional practice are sanctioned to serve as a deterrent to others. In order to promote the public trust complaints of misconduct reported, by members of the public, are dealt with by professional associations. Sanctions meted out to erring members may include suspension or expulsion depending on the gravity of infraction of the code of professional practice. Many lawyers, doctors and other professionals have lost the right to practice in Nigeria due to proven cases of professional misconduct. Others have been prosecuted for engaging in criminal activities.
No society has developed without the contributions and sacrifice of members of professional associations. In traditional African society, age groups, professional bodies and socio-cultural organizations maintained high ethical standards. Those who broke the law and professional ethics were named and shamed. The modern professional associations which emerged during the colonial era have strived to maintain ethical standards. But since official impunity became the order of the day in Nigeria, professional associations have compromised ethical codes and discipline of erring members.
In recent times, members of professional associations have been indicted in corrupt practices and abuse of office. In particular, professionals have been accused in the splitting and inflation of contracts, doctoring of records, forgery, issuance of fake reports, abuse of judicial powers, corruption and money laundering, building collapse, sexual harassment of workers, child abuse etc. Such indicted professionals are no longer penalized unlike in the past when those who brought professional associations to disrepute were sanctioned.
No doubt, standards of governance and ethics can be enhanced if professional associations are mobilized to organize their members to an ethical culture and sense of greater purpose. It is on record that professionals were at the forefront of the struggle against colonialism and military dictatorship in Nigeria. The time has come for professional associations to reposition themselves to play a leading role in arresting societal decay and rebuilding this broken Nation. To achieve the noble objective, all professional associations must wake up and take up the challenge of maintaining ethical standards among their members. The rising wave of official impunity can be curbed if professionals who hold public offices are held accountable by the professional associations to which they belong.
Femi Falana(SAN), Prof Pat Utomi. Prof Antony Kila, Dr Muiz Banire(SAN) Innocent Chukwuma and Dr Usman Bugaje wrote for The New Fabian Society of the Concerned Professionals.