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Monday, June 25, 2012

A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE



When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property - Thomas Jefferson.

In the course of answering questions during his presidential media chat on Sunday (24th June, 2012), president Goodluck Jonathan in an ill-conceived expression of irritation when asked why he had not publicly declared his assets responded that he did not give a damn about declaration of assets and that he felt doing so would only be playing to the gallery. He said also while still responding to the issue of his refusal to declare his assets that it wouldn’t be right and it would force all other public office-holders including Ministers to do same. He admitted that the now late former president Musa Yar’Adua’s public declaration of his assets had forced him as the then Vice-President to declare his assets also, while at the same time wondering what the curiosity was all about since the time lapse between the time he declared his assets as a Vice-president and now is not much.

There ordinarily will be no problem with Mr President’s ‘principle’ and hard stance against declaration of his assets, except for just one snag; he is the president in a country where not to be corrupt is regarded as an abnormality. A country in which probably hundreds of lives are lost daily to corruption and lack of infrastructures.

When former and now late President Yar’Adua declared his assets, he sent a very important message that he was a president who was willing and ready to stand up to scrutiny. I am not sure the thought of the former president choosing to publicly declare his assets as a way of playing to the gallery came across the minds of many people, even more doubtful is the possibility that any person or group of persons capitalized on that in an attempt to bring the then president or his presidency down.
On the contrary, if memory serves me well, the declaration gave a lot of us some hope that perhaps that was a government that was willing to lead by example and show some level of probity.

President Jonathan said his declaring his assets publicly would have forced other public office-holders to do so as well. Disappointingly, none of the people on the panel of interviewers thought to ask the president how public officials declaring their assets would have been a bad thing.

The implication of Mr. President’s blatant refusal to declare his asset is that he is not ready to lead by example and by extension, that the supposed ongoing fight against corruption is at best only being waged by words of mouth.

With the president being so adamant about declaring his assets, is it any wonder that in one year under his watch, the fuel subsidy amount went from just over N200 Million to almost two trillion naira? Is it any wonder that Nigeria’s corruption industry keeps flourishing while we can hardly get any other thing to work? Is it any wonder that no really big fish has been convicted of corruption under his watch? Is it any wonder that the Attorney-General of the Federation is better known for freeing big criminals as opposed to prosecuting them? Is it any wonder that in the 3rd consecutive Presidential media chat, Nigerians were not able to ask the president questions through the phone numbers provided and nothing will happen to those responsible for making the phone lines work?

The residents of Lagos who have presence on twitter and facebook can now, all thanks to a young (?) man (?) who calls himself Gidi_Traffic avoid trouble spots and traffic and therefore minimise the time and energy spent in traffic. Gidi_Traffic led the way by devoting his time and energy to keeping people informed about traffic on Lagos roads and now, not only is his (?) the account to follow on twitter, a lot of people also provide helpful information through his account about the routes that are free and those that are gridlocked. That is leadership by example. I am in fact almost positive that Gidi_Traffic set the example that led to Lagos State government’s creation of 96.1 Traffic radio.

Mr. President said his refusal to declare his assets is a matter of principle. Somebody should please ask him, what manner of principle is it that can only further deepen the corruption tendencies of the people in a country has been held under for so long by corruption?