Thursday, 1 May 2008

Nigeria: Beyond Due Process

The dues of process

With a number of cases of supposed impropriety leading to the ousting of political officers, the resignation of ministers, the indictment of politicians or the accusation of public office holders, the revelation of each developing speculation might make us lose focus of the pertinent issues.

One phrase that has been bandied around the most on most of these matters is that of “due process”. It makes one ask, how much process is due process and when does due process become a bureaucratic ordeal that requires the vultures of the law to nitpick the minutiae?

Beyond due process

However, beyond the fa├žade of due process maybe we should review the issues of perception, appearance and transparency.

Some holders of public office would like to be considered honest, trustworthy and able; in return they expect to be respected and treated with some dignity whilst their authority and office is not impugned.

In those seemingly exceptional cases, it should not just be the letter of the law or guiding principles of rules of procedure that they should adhere to, they should endeavour to go the extra mile to ensure that nothing they do by commission or omission is construed to be suspect.

Separation from the detail

In the case of the threatened impeachment of the Speaker of the House Representative which lead to her resignation; there might have been reason to renovate the premises of those officers and the acquisition of vehicles for official duties, however, the Speaker should never have gotten directly involved in any of the contractual negotiations to the extent that she got implicated.

If there were rules about tendering, allocation of funds and execution of contracts, she should have ensured that her subordinates were aware of all that would make the activities transparent and above board whilst keeping her distance from matters that could create clamour about conflicts of interest, talk less of the whiff of corruption.

Obeying simple orders

The matter of the resignation of the ministers in the Ministry of Health is simple; the President gave an executive order to return unspent moneys to the treasury; it was disobeyed and then an elaborate scheme was hatched to distribute the said funds to senior staff whilst cheating the junior staff of their share of the loot.

I have no sympathy for the senior officials of that ministry; what they did was unforgivably corrupt and it should be punished after the necessary legal issues have ascertained guilt or innocence of the parties concerned.

Part of that distribution ended up in the Senate Committee for Health which has legislative oversight of the Ministry of Health and this was used to sponsor a retreat in Ghana.

Avoiding the conflict of interest

There are commentators who suggest that the Chairman of that committee, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello is a victim of a witch-hunt by reason of the fact that she is the daughter of the erstwhile President who is having his whole tenure discredited for all sorts of matters of due process.

I do not however subscribe to this idea of a witch-hunt; whilst a Senate committee is allowed to solicit funds for activities to help them fulfil their functions; it surely cannot be right for an oversight committee to solicit and accept funds from organisations over which it exercises the obligation of oversight.

Here, the chairman should have done the prudent thing, return the money to the ministry citing the possibility of conflict of interest and the perception that their clear and objective assessment of issues concerning the Ministry of Health could be compromised.

Asking for good character

Obviously, this is asking for a higher level of probity from participants in the governance of Nigeria, this kind of thinking has to start from the top for it to permeate through the fabric of our political system.

In the end, there is the matter of the spirit and letter of the law and procedures with the additional but unwritten aspects of perception that stems from the character and virtues of the people who hold high public office.

We should have in mind that this does not pertain to any religious affiliation of the people concerned, if they are not in and of themselves honest and trustworthy, no religious adherence would make them any better than they are – do not be badgered with the false witness of swearing to some potentate when you are seeking the truth about any matter.

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