22 January 2013

Nigeria: Orubebe - Reassessing a Minister's Comments


Public office is a trust. I think this explains why a public officer must essentially be guided with the fact that he must at all times not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities. As Nigerians therefore, we expect our public servants to serve the public interest with uttermost sense of responsibility. And for unelected public servants like ministers and advisers, there should be a more conscious effort to constantly refrain from words and actions that are considered condescending and patronizing.

Under the current administration, either due to President Goodluck Jonathan's liberal disposition or the inordinate ambitions of some of his ministers, we have been witnesses to very unsavoury comments and actions from ministers who seem unperturbed about the damage their comments bring to their principal. For me, it is disrespectful and disloyal for a minister to drag the president's name into a personal fight with another public officer. Being a minister is a rare privilege and I think the time has come for these appointees to be reminded of the need to be civil and responsible in their utterances.

Last Wednesday, Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State had expressed dissatisfaction over the slow pace of work on the crucial East West Road which is a major gateway to the entire South-South states. The governor was obviously irked by a recent tanker explosion on the road which claimed about 14 lives. Like most South-South citizens, Amaechi believes that if the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs under the watch of Elder Godsday Orubebe had been alive to its duties, these needless losses of lives would have been averted. As a way out of the shame on this vital road, the governor had pledged to mobilize other governors within the zone to see to the urgent completion of the road.

This, to my mind, should not have inspired any malice if Orubebe had no intention to ruffle feathers and engage the governor in an open and unnecessary fight. Sadly, the engagement strayed from the real issues (the urgent need to address the decrepit infrastructure in Nigeria's richest zone) to Amaechi's purported disloyalty and disrespect to President Jonathan and the office of the president. This is what logical philosophers call Ignorantio Elenchi, a deliberate act of evading the real issues and drawing conclusions that are irrelevant to the issue at stake.

Laughable also, is the reference to Governor Amaechi as a "bribe giver", an allegation that he cannot substantiate. Curiously, Orubebe also chose Uyo, capital of Akwa-Ibom State as venue of this unwarranted assault on a governor who is being disparaged for speaking in favour of a better South-South.

David Iyofor, Amaechi's spokesman has already issued a fitting press statement on this matter but it will be imperative to state some facts here for emphasis. The Rivers State governor is respected and appreciated by his people for his radical approach to government business. In the last six years, Amaechi has recorded giant strides in infrastructural development and other areas such as education, security, health care, power generation, empowerment, urban renewal and more.

Among his peers, Amaechi also commands respect and strong following. As chairman of Nigeria's Governors Forum, he remains a model, having earned the respect and admiration of his colleagues. Only recently, Senator Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State, an Action Congress (ACN) governor visited Rivers State and expressed satisfaction with the pace of development after inspecting some projects. Other international visitors and world leaders have also at various times, attested to the governor's efficiency and strong leadership qualities. Therefore, the minister has no business evaluating a governor because he is neither an elected officer nor an indigene of Rivers State. He should rather dissipate his energy on the challenge of delivering democracy dividends to his people through the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.

More so, one would have expected the minister to avoid this diversionary tactics by concentrating on the plethora of allegations rocking his tenure in the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. For instance, Orubebe spent the better part of last quarter of last year explaining his role in a multi-billion naira mansion allegedly built and handed to him by SETRACO, a construction firm and one of the contractors handling the abandoned East West Road.

It will be recalled that the House of Representatives had last year also ordered an investigation into this multi-billion naira mansion at Mabushi in the Federal Capital Territory following a motion sponsored by Hon. Odeneye Kehinde. According to Kehinde, "this motion is brought against the backdrop of mounting disclosures of corrupt practices levelled against a sitting minister by some anti-corruption outfits in the country". He added that the controversial property had been one of the issues dominating discussions in the country. The lawmaker noted that he was surprised that there was no evidence that the minister declared the house in his asset declaration with the Code of Conduct Bureau.

This is the portrait of a man who has now turned himself into a watchdog for governors. Routinely, he evaluates them and determines who deserves to be scored high. As a mind reader, he has also taken up the task of periodically briefing the president and Nigerians on the loyalty quotients of these governors, particularly in his region, the South-South. But Orubebe must be reminded that he is not the president's spokesman and so does not have the right to comment on issues around the presidency. And being minister of Niger Delta Affairs does not confer on him the power to determine who supports or opposes the president, these he must be told in unambiguous terms. The least Nigerians and Niger Deltans in particular expect of him at the moment is to resign and present himself for investigation and prosecution, that is if he has any modicum of integrity to his name.

-Saturday is of the Anti-Corruption Network.

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