Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Barth Nnaji’s Resignation is Testament to the Need for Public Declaration of Asset

“No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and not improbably, corrupt his integrity. With equal, nay with greater reason, a body of men are unfit to be both judges and parties at the same time.”  -James Madison

Earlier this year, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, came out with a mind boggling argument on why he is not a big fan of asset declaration. In a widely published interview he asserts: “The issue of asset declaration is a matter of principle. I don’t give a damn about it, if you want to criticize me from heaven. The issue of public declaration I think is playing to the gallery. You don’t need to publicly declare any assets. If I am somebody who wants to hide it is what I tell you that you will even believe.” And now with the resignation of Professor Barth Nnaji as energy minister, over the issue of his conflict of interest in a power distribution company, we can conclusively say that the chicken is finally coming home to roost and the president may have committed what we Nigerians often calls “foot in the mouth disease”.

One can unmistakably surmise that Nnaji’s imbroglio would not have happened if he had been made to publicly declare his asset before his appointment as energy minister. Corruption is a big threat to democracy everywhere and anywhere; it hinders good governance, democratic processes, fair business and political competition. A recent joint report by Anti Corruption Network and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recommends that a public declaration of asset by politicians and political appointees will help: “ increase transparency and the trust of citizens in public administration, by disclosing information about assets of politicians and civil servants that shows they have nothing to hide; help heads of public institutions prevent conflicts of interest among their employees and to resolve such situations when they arise, in order to promote integrity within their institutions; help monitor wealth variations of individual politicians and civil servants, in order to dissuade them from misconduct and protect them from false accusations, and to help clarify the full scope of illicit enrichment or other illegal activity by providing additional evidence.”

Let me hasten to state here that Professor Nnaji has not been accused of any wrongdoing and may have actually acted above board in all his dealings as Nigeria’s power and energy minister, the problem here has little or nothing to do with impropriety but an appearance of such. For months, the workers and labor unions in his ministry have been making insinuations about his financial interest in some companies bidding to buy some of the assets of Power Holding Corporation of Nigeria. According to the Guardian newspapers, “Nnaji’s resignation may not be unconnected with revelations at last Friday’s meeting of the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) that companies allegedly owned or linked to the former minister made bids for the Afam Generation Company Limited and Enugu Distribution Company Limited.”

One can only rue what could have been, if the president and his ministers as well as all political appointees had been made to publicly declare their assets in an open and transparent manner. For one the general public would have known that the minister has an interest in a company bidding to purchase Afam power plant even though he has put his shares in what he called “a blind trust.” As one senatorial candidate from Massachusetts once quibbled “The blind trust is an age-old ruse.” In the United States of America where we drew the fountain of our constitution and democracy, the first elected official to use a blind trust was President Lyndon Johnson, he did this so he could hold on to his interest in a Texas television station, an industry heavily regulated by the Federal Communication Commission. Most of Johnson’s successors followed his lead, but only in 1978, with the passage of the Ethics in Government Act, did blind trusts become a formal option for executive-branch officers seeking to avoid conflicts of interest. The Act requires that trustees must be independent of the official, that such trust must be free of restrictions on sale or transfer of assets, and that the official is to receive no information except for quarterly updates on cash value and income or loss, needed to file income-tax returns. We do not have a similar legislation in Nigeria, the closest policy we have in Nigeria is the People’s Democratic Party’s “Manifesto, Programme and Policy Trust for 2011-2015” which commits the party and its members to “to ensure that its elected officials openly declare their assets.” We all know that all PDP officials, including the president flagrantly fouled this policy.

President Jonathan often allude to US president Obama as a good study on governance, in fact his entire campaign for Nigerian presidency seeks to mirror President Obama’s own campaign four years ago. His oft reference as a man without a shoe becoming the president of Nigeria is an attempt to draw parallel with Obama’s campaign of hope in a black man with foreign sounding name ascending to the presidency of the United States. It is not enough to campaign like Obama if you are not willing to follow his actions. As Todd S. Purdum argued in his article in Vanity Fair last month, “as a freshman senator, Barack Obama—whose wealth comes almost entirely from his book royalties—set up a blind trust but later that same year sold all of his stocks and closed the trust because he decided that even such an arrangement could not protect him from the appearance of a conflict. Most of his wealth is now invested in U.S. Treasury bonds and diversified funds—about the most transparent option available. What’s good for the country is good for Obama, and vice versa, to coin a phrase.” We can also say that what is good for Obama is good for Jonathan and his ministers.

Now is the time for the National Assembly of Nigeria to pass a comprehensive legislation similar to the US’s “Ethics in Government Act” which would make it mandatory that all executive, judicial and legislative office holders declare their assets openly and publicly before their swearing in. And as the OECD paper pointed out, a public declaration of asset without verification is meaningless, given the prevalence of corruption in our polity. It is imperative that the media and the public should have access to means for verification of such assets through the Freedom of Information Acts. Any public officials who may falsify their assets or hide assets in any way should be sanction in addition to the certain public opprobrium that would follow. Our democracy is too fragile to leave in the hands of politicians with skeletons in their cupboards.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Case for Obamacare: Opening Statement

John Bull, is not a decent hard-working citizen, he is not a shining example of the American Dream. John Bull is an all American worst example of a broken system. He is black, homeless, nameless, faceless derelicts that wander aimlessly through the streets of our country every day by the thousands. We step over them in doorways, we cross the street in order to avoid actually coming into contact with one of them. We look at them with a mixture of pity and contempt and fear. We don’t want them hanging around the sidewalks of our hospital, churches and places of worship, and yet people like John Bull fell sick just as you and I do and need to use the hospital or pray in churches. We choose not to see that under their ragged blankets and their filthy clothes, is a frightened, lost human being. Just like you and me.

John bull was not a hero, he is often weak and unable to walk because of a broken hip until few weeks ago when he finally got the attention of a kind surgeon who helped performed surgery to repair his hip. He often had to go to jail to get access to medical treatment. He also hear voices in his head some of which tells him to destroy himself as no one cares. We will show that John Bull lived in a world where a little attention by medical personnel make a world of difference between intense pain and emotional turmoil.

Testimony will show that in the afternoon of 11th of March 2012, Mr. Bull had been having intense pain at his hip for more than 1 to 2 months, he had tried to take to see a doctor to no avail. He tried to lessen the pain by drinking beer, when he couldn’t find any medication but the pain soon flood back with vengeance.

Testimony will show that he finally summoned enough energy to make it to the ER at Sacred Soul Medical Center. He requested to see a medical doctor about his hip but he was wheeled to the mental health area. Evidence will show that hospital staff then forcibly removed Mr. Bull and dropped him off at the sidewalk, where he laid in agony and pain.

Testimony will show that security staff repeatedly asked him to leave the sidewalk and he refused. Evidence will show that when police officer asked him to leave, he sat up and immediately laid back down due to pain on his hip. Officer then told him he would be arrested and take to jail and Mr. Bull sat up and immediately request to be taken to jail knowing that he will get the needed medical attention at Spokane County jail. He was then transported to jail without any incident.

When he was released from jail, he contacted New Port Radiology and they completed a scan of his hip where they found severe degeneration that requires surgery. That surgery was recently done and Mr. Bull is recovering.

And all the evidence and exhibits in this case will point you to the inevitable conclusion that Mr. Bull is NOT GUILTY, our state law allows the defense of necessity. He was commanded to leave the side walk of the hospital when he could not walk, he stood up but fall back down due to the excruciating pain on his hip, which also contributed largely to his inability to think clearly and follow instructions.

I am now ready to begin the trial. As you listen to the evidence I hope you will keep this in mind: You have the grave responsibility of deciding whether Mr. Bull is a criminal, because he could not walk away from the sidewalk, it is as simple as that, and I urge you to be careful in making that decision. In choosing you for this jury, this humble courtroom took on the status of the highest court in the land and from this moment forward becomes one of the most important in Mr. Bull’s life. In asking you to assume this burden, we have entrusted you to do the just and right thing, to render the only just verdict this evidence and exhibit allows: A verdict of NOT GUILTY

*this is a real life case but the opening statement has been prepared with helpful assist from Cher's character in the movie "Suspect". The real names of characters involved was also edicted to protect their privacy.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Is Goodluck Jonathan incompetent or just too scare to dare Nigerian tormentors?

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.”

― Albert Einstein