Back To Fundamentals —Chido Onumah


Those who categorise Nigeria as a failed state forget to add that it is equally a full blown criminal enterprise. It is a reality many people in the country contend with, but few are willing to accept. For a country acutely deficient in everything that makes a state functional, the communal violence, bomb blasts, kidnappings, and general insecurity in the country, are troubling in more ways than one. And we can only dismiss them at our peril.

We now know, thanks in part to WikiLeaks, why the new imperialism, headed by the United States of America, had predicted that Nigeria could disintegrate by 2015. All things considered, it is hard to fault this prognosis. But this article is not about the sordid revelations by WikiLeaks on how Nigeria has been misruled and the characters responsible. It is about the moral leadership that is lacking under President Goodluck Jonathan.

We have about four years to doomsday, presumably. While we wait, perhaps it is helpful to address some fundamental concerns. If we ignore those who were focused on ethnicity or religion, we would still find enough people who a few months ago genuinely believed that Goodluck Jonathan was the man for the job. They were willing to back him even though he was running on the platform of a political party that ought to be on trial for its crimes against Nigerians. They implored us to make a distinction between the man and the party.

A hundred days on into his second stint as president and almost 500 days after he first took up that job, it is clear, even for the cheerleaders of the Jonathan presidency, that there is nothing to cheer about. There is hardly anything to show that President Jonathan appreciates the enormity of the country’s problems or the urgency they require.

In May, during his inaugural speech, President Jonathan promised us a transformation agenda. Considering what the country had gone through and the divisiveness that trailed the April polls, the expectation was that before long there would be concrete effort to address the myriad of problems confronting the country, including corruption, unemployment, poverty, infrastructure deficit, and communal violence. Unfortunately, the only transformation we have witnessed is more violence, sorrow, tears, and blood.

If not for the cronyism that has become the directive principle of state policy in Nigeria, there is no reason the Inspector General of Police and the National Security Adviser should stay a day longer on their jobs. But since he has refused to act, the president should take full responsibility as commander-in-chief.

President Jonathan is a Christian and he must be familiar with the saying that “He that is faithful in small things will also be faithful in great things”. Nowhere is this saying more applicable than in the country’s political leadership. Let’s take the small issue of providing moral leadership. And here, I urge readers to ignore what anybody has said about the president or for that matter the claims about the president by WikiLeaks.

President Jonathan swore to uphold the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He has also said repeatedly that his administration will not spare any official whose integrity is called to question. Paragraph 3, Part I of the Third Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that the Code of Conduct Bureau shall have power to: (a) receive declarations by public officers made under paragraph 12 of Part I of the Fifth Schedule to this Constitution; (b) examine the declarations in accordance with the requirements of the Code of Conduct or any law; (c) retain custody of such declarations and make them available for inspection by any citizen of Nigeria on such terms and conditions as the National Assembly may prescribe.

Paragraph 11 of Part I of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution provides that: (1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, every public officer shall within three months after the coming into force of this Code of Conduct or immediately after taking office and thereafter — (a) at the end of every four years; and (b) at the end of his term of office, submit to the Code of Conduct Bureau a written declaration of all his properties, assets, and liabilities and those of his unmarried children under the age of eighteen years.

In July, the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) wrote to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) pursuant to the preceding constitutional provisions and Section 2 of the Freedom of Information Act 2011, (assented to by President Jonathan on May 28, 2011) which states that “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other Act, Law or Regulation, the right of any person to access or request information, whether or not contained in any written form, which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution howsoever described, is hereby established”.

The request was for the CCB to make available the following: the 2007 asset declaration of President Goodluck Jonathan; the asset declaration of the president after the end of tenure on May 28, 2011; and the current asset declaration of the president when he assumed office on May 29, 2011.

AFRICMIL submitted the request to CCB not because it wanted to embarrass the president or score “cheap political point”. It did so in good faith because it believes what the country so desperately needs now is courageous and moral leadership. AFRICMIL thought that perhaps if the president had forgotten, the constitution mandates him to declare his assets. Two months later, there has not been any response from the CCB. The closest to a response we have got was an interview on national television granted by the chairman of the CCB, Mr. Sam Saba, who told the nation that there was no law that mandates the president to make public his asset declaration or the CCB to make public the asset declaration of public officers.

Any wonder nothing works in Nigeria? How can we progress when you have so-called public officers who prefer to interpret the law in a restrictive sense or how it suits them rather than in the interest of the country? Surprisingly, in the same interview, Mr. Saba said Nigerians were hampering the work of the CCB by not giving information to the commission. Talk about speaking out of both sides of one’s mouth! Perhaps, Mr. Saba forgot that four years ago, as vice president, President Jonathan made public his asset declaration. Never mind it was done after much pressure from civil society.

Granted that Mr. Saba does not acknowledge the moral obligation of the president to publicly declare his assets, he can’t claim ignorance of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which compels the CCB and other public institutions to make available records at their disposal. In line with the provisions of the FOIA, AFRICMIL plans to seek legal redress against the CCB, but in the meantime we hope the president will do the right thing.

Mr. President, there is something called moral authority and it is sorely needed in public service in Nigeria.

•Onumah is a coordinator, African Centre for Media & Information Literacy. [email protected]

Load more