4 February 2013

Nigeria: The Oby Ezekwesili's Challenge


Nigeria's former Senior Special Assistant to the President on Due Process Office, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili last week challenged the federal government to a public debate of the facts raised in her recent 42nd Convocation lecture at University of Nigeria Nsukka that has elicited angry riposte from the government. Such public discourse is healthy for the country's image that has suffered so much battering as corrupt and directionless. It might also increase international goodwill for the country's leadership if it accepts this challenge and face the former minister with raw facts about how it has acquitted itself.

At the lecture, the former vice president of the World Bank had accused the government of frittering away the $67billion reserves inherited from the administration of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007. But the government disagreed. Both the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku and the President's Senior Special Assistant of Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, have raised issues putting a lie to Ezekwesili's submissions and 'slothful' allusions. Rather than addressing the issues, however, the president's spin doctors have accused the former minister of "collecting" N458 billion from the federal treasury without justifying its expenditure.

Whatever the claims or counter-claims, we hope the federal government's team would accept Ezekwesili's challenge in the interest of the rights to own opinion and justify its signature of the Freedom of Information Act (2011). Such an open debate of facts and figures of oil revenue since 2007 would help situate public accountability as the centrepoint of our democracy. In accepting to publicly debate the questions raised, the Federal Government would model the democratic culture of responding to citizens' demands for accountability especially at a time when the general public is eager for improvements in the good governance records of the administration.

Ezekwesili in a statement has said that she remained "resolute in demanding full disclosure and accountability by the Federal Government on the issues of poor management of oil revenues- especially the Excess Crude Account and the Foreign Reserve Account. The recent reaction by the spokesperson of the administration failed to respond responsibly to my demand for accountability." That's true but inconclusive until she's faced fact-for-fact on what the present administration has unearthed about her years in government and she defends herself publicly too. The diplomatic community, development agencies, non-governmental organisations, the media - local and international - should embrace this opportunity and enrich the debate by not only sponsoring it, but documenting and popularising it for posterity.

It will also be on record that some public officers still hold dear the principles of transparency and accountability in the discharge of their public trust. No one would believe that this kind of openness exists among Nigeria's ruling class. As an organisation, our commitment to open discourse and full disclosure of how our commonweal has been managed will make us compulsory partner for the debate. Only then can this government justify all the tirade heaped on the woman who believes her "my integrity and transparent record in public office can never be tarnished by baseless allegations regarding my ten months as Minister of Education."

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