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The public morality debate - CONCERNED PROFESSIONALS

Posted by The Port Harcourt Telegraph on 2005/01/09 | Views: 246 |

The public morality debate - CONCERNED PROFESSIONALS


The public morality debate introduced by the President could not have come at a more opportune time.

The public morality debate introduced by the President could not have come at a more opportune time.

First, since the President has now been reluctantly persuaded that there is need for a national dialogue, we should expect that public morality would be on the agenda of the dialogue.

In the second place, is the Presidentís comment on the moral issues in the Anambra crisis. Coming on the heels of the mayhem in Anambra, the Presidentís angst on the Governor Dariye issue and the businessman governor provides us an insight into the nature of the prism through which the President filters public morality questions.

Concerned Professionals agree with President Obasanjo that it is immoral for a State House of Assembly to refuse to investigate the circumstances of the arrest and the questioning of the governor of a state for money laundering activities in a foreign country.
One expects that every citizen of the state would feel betrayed and troubled that the chief law officer of the state had acted in a manner that could sully the image of the state and Nigeria. Our sense of morality is therefore affronted by the action of the State House of Assembly.

The perception of the outside world that anything goes in Nigeria cannot be further reinforced by anything else.

In another part of the world, the governor would have resigned if he could not find a legal defence for his action or would be so compelled by the society represented by the House of Assembly.

The moral issue therefore is not the governorís personal standard of uprightness and accountability but that of Plateau State. Before the good people of Plateau think they are unnecessarily being out down, we must state that the reports of solidarity with the governor by some of his brother governors and prominent citizens from other states suggest that there is a Dariye in many of our governors or in all Nigerians. Governor Dariye has been accused of maintaining a foreign account against the stipulations of the constitution. Israel has a similar law. In Buhariís Nigeria, there was also such a law.

However, when the law caught a very powerful Permanent Secretary of royal lineage, like in all things Nigerian, a cock and bull story about the account being relic of his studentís days was told. In Israel when Abba Eban, as Israelís Foreign Minister was caught in a similar dilemma, his immediate last job having been Israelís Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, he promptly resigned and was charged to court. No story about the relic of his then recent sojourn abroad. In Nigeria, in spite of our constitutional provisions on foreign bank accounts, public officers own luxurious houses abroad.

If a public officer cannot maintain a foreign bank account, even with only $100 in it, can he own houses and still be respecting the spirit of the law? This is the moral question. How do these officers pay the property taxes when such properties are not income earning? Do they remit money from Nigeria or do they pay by cash or do their business associates pay on their behalf? Who is fooling who?

We are also told that no corrupt governor will go unpunished once out of office and stripped of immunity. The evidence belies the assertion. We all remember the governor who in contradistinction from his fellow governors, who favour Europe as the destination of their foreign real estate investment, chose Washington D. C. His choice was perhaps influenced by his desire to keep that well-known Nigerian senior public officer on the Potomac Company. After all, it could be luxuriously lonely at the top. He is now nearly two years out of office and he is yet to be prosecuted. Indeed, he has bought himself the ultimate immunity: he recently declared for the Peopleís Democratic Party (PDP). The masses are not fooled. The national dialogue must debate this matter and the issue of public declaration of assets. Mere filing of assets declaration, which may include declaration of prospective assets to be illegally acquired in office, will not suffice.

The President is also right in criticising governors or public officers who still run personal businesses while in office. It is morally reprehensible. Such governors, nay public officers, if indeed they exist and if their activities are confirmed through impartial investigations should be subjected to the constitutional sanctions for such an offence and if the offence is not recognised or sanctions are not proffered in our laws, the President has a moral duty to introduce legislation to remove the lacuma in the laws. This national dialogue must address this issue comprehensively. The President has made no such effort.

The moral issues go beyond a governor running an airline or radio/television station. It should also include corporate agricultural businesses. In essence, let us apply similar treatment to similar diseases. Taxes paid from huge profits of very profitable farming ventures


The Presidentís comment on the immorality of a governor running an airline while in office would tend to confirm public suspicion that the travails of Slok Airlines might not be unconnected with political vendetta. It is frightening that executive power could be deployed to deliberately ruin a citizenís business for purely political reasons. It destroys economic value and retards economic development. We believe that President Obasanjo takes his religion too seriously to be so uncharitable. However, would a person not asked by God to run for office (for the second term) be inclined to be guided by such virtues as love, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance which abound in the President?

The prospect of a less religious President abusing such executive powers to deal with his real and imagined political and chieftaincy opponents presents a greater moral question than the businessman governor issue. To retard economic development by the use of such power in a poor developing country by those entrusted with the responsibility to grow the economy is a betrayal of the people. It is simply put, economic sabotage.

Concerned Professionals believe that the national dialogue must also address this in the context of all government regulatory agencies granting licences and permits for citizens to operate businesses. They must be insulated from political pressures. The United States model of Securities and Exchange Commission is commended to the national dialogue. No citizenís business should be subject to any public officerís vindictiveness.

President Olusegun Obasanjo however lost us with his comments on Anambra. We hasten to point out that we nevertheless agree with the President that all honourable men would only enter into honourable and lawful agreements, which can stand the scrutiny of the public and the law courts. An agreement to loot a state, as the Ngige-Uba agreement has been portrayed could neither be characterised as honourable nor lawful. If the characterisation of the agreement is true, neither Ngige nor Uba can be described as honourable. How can any of the two or anyone on behalf of any of the two then claim equity on the basis of morality? It would appear that it is the illegal nature of the agreements that has prevented the injured party from seeking redress in a court of law, as the standard of civilised behaviour would suggest. If the agreement is to serve public interest or is even lawful, both parties should publish the agreement.

The moral issue in Anambra to PDP and all Nigerians for that matter should be why candidates for election should be so desperate as to enter into devilish agreements, with clauses for jurisdiction and enforcement in occult shrines (hollow claims of holy water and bible under the garments of one party notwithstanding), if all they seek to serve the common man. The moral issue is not as the President suggested the obligation to honour an agreement, lawful or not. All talk about reconciliation and accommodation of the two parties based on the illegal agreement is a cynical intepretation of what public service is.

However, while the President takes exception to the moral issue of not honouring agreements, the Presidentís implied condoning of the violence in Anambra, morally outrages Concerned Professionals. The President as the chief law officer of the country owes a duty to protect all Nigerians including those who have failed to honour agreements that he personally thinks should not be breached. Burning an ordinary citizenís property is a criminal act known to law as arson. Burning public property cannot be less.

Deliberately failing to prevent the burning of government property by the Nigeria Police Force is treasonable. We therefore urge the President to bring to book all the brigands that burnt government properties in Anambra and the Police for failing to stop the arson and their breach of duty for not arresting those who took part or directed the mayhem. Anything less is an invitation to anarchy and a gradual but sure return to Hobbesian state of nature: short, brutish and nasty. No one and no political party has the mandate to take us there.

The role of the Police in Anambra matter to date underscores the need to review the structure and control of our law enforcement agencies. The existence and some control of policing at state level is now inevitable. The national dialogue must ensure this.

The Presidentís handling of matters like this is responsible for the widespread doubts about governmentís sincerity in the fight against corruption and with each such issue, the President loses not only those he has recruited into the battle but also potential new recruits.

The President must rise above the political interests in his party and any personal weaknesses that are perhaps holding him hostage and distorting his perception of public morality. The only way corruption can be fought is to keep expanding the army of believers, and by having a clear vision of public morality and duty, extolling them and enforcing them as even handedly as possible. Selective application and distorted perception will sap public trust.

The President means well; at least he talks about and against corruption even if the fight is fitful and appears selective. The President owes the country a duty to re-organise and unify the forces against corruption and abuse of public trust before 2007.

The national dialogue must therefore create the platform to ensure that the legal and constitutional framework must support an open, more transparent and less corrupt society. If we are rated the third most corrupt country in the world, it is anyoneís guess what our position will be in 2010 if some of those waiting in the wings take over in 2007. Some believe corruption should be extolled, Ďdemocratisedí and exploited as an instrument of governance.

Concerned Professionals believe that Nigeria needs a rebirth now or we are all doomed.

Signed for Concerned Professionals ó Pat Utomi, Tunde Akinleye, Ayo Igbodaro, Tola Mobolurin, Njideka Anyadike and John Onyeukwu

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Comments (3)

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Abieyuwa(Edo, Nigeria)says...

Otasowie means evening life is better than morning life. There is an error in your ‚Äúevening life is better than evening life‚ÄĚ?

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Naija g(Houston, Minnesota, US)says...

Sokari doesn’t mean joy. Joy is Biobela. Go to the village and ask the meaning of the name.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.