“Everything secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show it can bear discussion and publicity”. “There is no error so monstrous that it fails to find defenders among the ablest of men” --John Dalberg-Acton Lord Acton (1834-1902)
“If it be asked, what is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of our security in a Republic? The answer would be, an inviolable respect for the constitution and laws- the first growing out of the last… A sacred respect for the constitutional laws is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government” Alexander Hamilton, the first US secretary of treasury (1755-1804)
hen Mr Goodluck Jonathan was selected as the vice presidential candidate for Umaru Yar ar dua, he publicly declared assets worth about 8oo million Naira. I wrote an article asking how he made that much, considering that he had been a public servant most of his life. I sent the article to the guardian newspaper and heard nothing it. One year into his presidency, Mr Jonathan is making all sort of illogical and incoherent excuses why he should not comply with the rules of his party and best compliance of code of conduct in public life, by publicly declaring his assets. Knowing Nigeria, and being the president, he will probably get away with it and hell will not be let loose.
As a Nigerian, I am alarmed at the continued deterioration of standard of probity in our public life, and it is even more worrying that it appears not to be only institutionalised, but normalised. It is sad that the investigative journalists who are supposed to be holding public officers to account and subjecting their behaviour and conduct to scrutiny seem to be none existent. I am very disappointed, and for a die-hard optimist and believer in Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan’s refusal to publicly declare his assets, a flagrant disregards of the rules; is another symptom of the serious disease which is killing Nigeria and symptomatic of everything that is wrong with our country. It is yet another good reason for honest Nigeria to work together to lay a completely new foundation for accountable democracy in Nigeria, where presidents would not disregards the laws and rules. We urgently need a new organisation which would promote a culture of rule of law and do away with impunity, abuse of power and contempt for probity. It is sad that our transformation president does not seem to consider obedience to laws as part his transformation agenda.
Mr Goodluck Jonathan is setting a very bad example of how public officers should behave. His behaviour should not only be condemned in the strongest of words, but deplored as unbecoming of a president. No true democracy should tolerate a leader who shows such unashamed disregard for the law. It is simply both inexcusable and unacceptable and should not be a feature of our democracy. If the president of Nigeria is finding good reason not to obey the law, what moral authority does he have to expect the citizens to obey the law? What good excuse could a leader have for refusing to obey the law? Does anybody still wonder why EFCC has been so ineffective in carrying out its constitutional duties? This is bad both for our image and democracy. Does Mr Jonathan think that the law is optional? Does he really understand what a law or rule means? Laws are the way things should be done and anybody who fails to do exactly as the law says is a law breaker. Mr Goodluck Jonathan is showing the early signs of power intoxication and should be offered help before he becomes addicted to disregarding the law like his predecessors. This is the making of autocracy and tyranny and should have no place in any true democracy.
I have consistently argued that one of our problems as a nation is our understanding and attitude to rules and laws. This is perhaps, one of our most serious problems, for in this lies the origin of bribery, corruption and impunity that have stalled our development as a country. It is this disdain for rules and laws that has manifested in the refusal of the president to publicly declare his assets as the rules demand and the apparent inability of his administration to produce a coherent policy against corruption and bring corrupt politicians to justice. How can a doctor convince patients that he can cure a disease he is suffering from, if he has not first used the treatment he wants to offer his patients to cure himself? How can President Jonathan convince Nigerians that he has no skeleton in his cupboard, if he refuses to open the cupboard as the law demands for all to see? Why is our transforming president against transparency and accountability? How can President Jonathan provide the leadership that would move Nigeria forward, if he is finding excuses for not complying with the rules?
It is a very sad and tragic that the legislators who should compel him to comply with the law, are themselves busy with attempt to cover up their own corrupt practices, and are also against public declaration of assets. I continue to wonder why Nigerian politicians subscribe to the lowest of values and actively frustrate honesty and transparency in public life. It cannot be that they are unaware that probity demands that holders of public offices, especially in countries where corruption is endemic, declare their assets publicly to fostall unlawful enrichment while in office. It is therefore right that President Goodluck Jonathan should publicly declare his assets as he did when he became the vice president, if he has nothing to hide or be compelled by law; and if the law fails: he should face the full consequence of this violation. This is the only way to change Nigeria if we will avoid bloody and violent revolution. Our politicians should be reminded that the road to tyranny begins with the violation of rules. The hole that will sink a ship starts with a crack.
The obfuscation by the president and his attempt to avoid complying with the rules for public officers like him on the declaration of assets, undermines his moral authority to lead and provide the leadership Nigeria needs to get out of the woods. At a time countries like Qatar and China are aggressively laying the foundation for their future survival by making the necessary human and infrastructural investments they need, Nigerian politicians continues to operate with the mind-set of tribal leaders of 17 century. They continue to protect a system that is unable to hold its operators to account, not investing in the future, allows criminals to make our laws, and encourage politics of religious, ethnic and self-interests. It is a politics that only benefits those who should be working for the best interest of all, here in lies our failure. The hired labourers have taken over the farm.
Even if we buy the idea that positions should be zoned, common sense tells us that this should be implemented in a way that ensures that the best candidate from the region emerges as leader. Unfortunately, in the name of zoning, regions of Nigeria have been allowed to foist on the rest of us, the worst and most incompetent or unscrupulous member of their ethnic groups, whose only aim is to represent the very parochial interests of those that propelled him to power. The evil of this resides in the fact that it is done at the expense of what is in the best interest of Nigeria as a country. We have seen this in our politics since independence. It is this disease that enabled Tafawa Belewa to emerge as prime Minister, Shagari, elected president, Abiola denied his mandate, Jonathan to emerge as presidents and the very well qualified and astute Obafemi Awolowo denied the opportunity to led this country. It is the same contraption that twice threw up Obasanjo as president with its devastating consequences and has prevented an Igbo man from being the president. One would have expected a leader who trumpets his love for Nigeria and his transformation agenda to articulate a policy to overcome this very feature of our dysfunctional union.
It is not difficult to see that a good, honest and competent president, will put in place a system that would ensure that Nigerians and not the ethnic groups have the final say on whoever emerges as a national leader. This is very simple. All that we need to do is end the practice of the region selecting one person as their preferred candidate by introducing regional primaries in the region that claims it is its turn to produce the president, if we wish to continue with this archaic practice; and then allow the first three candidate to contest in a national convention of the party to enable the party choose a candidate with the best national outlook to things. This will ensure that ethnic champions are not elected to national offices where their ethnic interests would stop them from finding national solutions to problems. Nigeria should not be electing into national offices people whose loyalty is first to their ethnic group and who are prepared to place ethnic, religious, or party political interest over and above the interest of Nigeria as a nation. Our problems are surmountable; all we need is the will to work for the solutions.
The new Nigeria will have to rethink the powers of the president. The Nigerian president is far too powerful. It is like an executive dictator. It is virtually impossible to hold him to account except by threatening him with impeachment, ; in which case he simply buys the members of the house. The president has free reign to the resources of the country and is virtually unaccountable. This is wrong. This is not democracy but autocracy. This is probably because our constitution was endorsed by the military. We need to review the powers of the president and make the office more accountable to the law. We cannot continue to run a dictatorship in the name of democracy. It is simply unacceptable to continue to run a system that allows the president to appropriate unlimited state fund to his party, use state fund to fight elections and channel billions into his personal accounts by misuse and misappropriation of security vote. We need a new constitution that would protect the principles of separation of power, accountability and checks and balances, otherwise there will be no Nigeria very soon.
To paraphrase Lord Acton, I cannot accept that we should have different standard of probity for our presidents, senators, governors, members of the house or armed forces or any other person in any position of power and or authority, or presume that they will do no wrong. If there should be any presumption at all, it should be that people in position of authority, particularly in Nigeria, are inclined to abuse their power and position, and "that power tends to corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Men who win election that is not free and fair are almost always corrupt men. “There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it”. We cannot have one rule for the leaders and another rule for the people and survive as a country. I hope Nigeria survives.