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Nigeria’s Public Officers And Code Of Conduct

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President Buhari

President Buhari

The emphasis given to
rules and regulations of a country draws attention to the issues of ethics, integrity and leadership. Against this general understanding of ethics as standards or principles of human conduct concerning moral or what is good or bad or what is right or wrong, it is obvious that government business cannot be conducted properly without a code of official behaviour.
These values are critical because policy decisions often have at the bottom line delicately balanced official issues such as whether to consider the general good, the public interest, or the narrower demands of self or clique. This is the underlying  reason morality must be established in our public life and why our actions and behaviour as public functionaries must conform to the highest standards of public morality and accountability. This explains why every public officer in government business, elected or appointed, is subjected to the code of conduct bureau.
The need for code of conduct for public officers in a democracy such as Nigeria cannot be questioned. This is viewed against the backdrop of large-scale fraud and corruption which has become prevalent in the civil and public service. The inimical effects of the twin evil on the economic and social development of the country cannot be glossed over. Nigerians have suffered physical deprivation and poverty directly as a result of corruption. As for our external corporate image, it is scarred beyond recognition, with Nigeria being rated as a highly corrupt country.
In a bid to fulfil a critical plank of their campaign pledge, President Muhammadu Buhari and his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo recently made declarations of their assets. Though they had said it would be made public after verification.
Though this is in line with the 1999 constitution, their initial pronouncement to do it publicly has elicited controversy. Recently, the Rivers State Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Davies Ikanya, called on Governor Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, to declare his assets and publicly too. It should be known that the basic mandate of the CCB ‘to establish and maintain a high standard of public morality in the conduct of government business and to ensure that the actions and behaviour of public officers conform to the highest standards of public morality and accountability’ did not stipulate that assets declarations must be done publicly. It stated that a public officer must fill or complete the assets declaration form, attach one recent passport- size photograph at the right hand corner of page, have it sworn-to before a High Court Judge (not Magistrate) and return to the code of conduct bureau on a date not exceeding 30 days of the receipt of the form.
The case of public declaration of assets can only be genuinely made if or when the constitution is amended to spell  it out. It  might be argued that the late President Umaru Yar’Adua made his publicly when he assumed office in 2007, it was his personal discretion to set a new pace for other leaders to follow if they don’t have anything to hide. The immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan kicked-off his administration in 2011 by declining to publicly declare his assets and the heavens did not fall, a though  there was righteous angst or anxiety and worry over that action by Nigerians.
It would be recalled that Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State between 2010 and 2014 publicly declared his assets of N750 million in November 2010 while his late deputy, Funmi Olayinka filed a N1.2 billion declaration.
The culture of graft, waste and impunity is particularly high among state governors, ministers, commissioners and even local government chairmen and their aides. The attitude of these categories of public officers towards assets disclosure is actually disappointing. The global best practices and norm among Nigerian political elite should be that top public officers declare their assets publicly if the war against corruption promised by the Buhari administration must be won. President Buhari and his deputy, Osinbajo should have led the way. As a matter of fact, the Nigerian public deserve the rght to demand from our ministers and governors as well as others to publicly declare their assets in order to bring sanity into governance because the sincerity and honesty of most Nigerians are in doubt.
For Nigeria to make progress in governance, public office should be made synonymous with high morality. For now, transparency and accountability are only observed in the breach by government officials, which should not continue that way. Political office holders are expected to familiarize themselves with  the rules and regulations regarding their behaviour while in office and abide by them. The Bureau may on its part expect the public to show wholesome commitment in the campaign against corruption by reporting such cases promptly but the public is uncertain about the seriousness of the Bureau in dealing with complaints or petitions. This accounts for the public’s hesitation in reporting cases of abuse of office to the bureau. The public is also fearful of revenge in the cause of reporting corrupt persons and mounting pressure on government and its agencies to sanction anyone found wanting.
The code of conduct should be seen as applicable to all public officers in Nigeria and  as the main spring for changing behavioural pattern of society as a whole for the better. The bureau should be strengthened to face the challenges before it in the crusade for integrity, competence, transparency, fair mindedness, discipline, honesty and accountability in public service.
The main reason for the culture of corruption today is the greed for wealth, no matter how acquired and the seeming connivance of silence by victims of corruption. People have, over the years, been so intimidated that they hardly speak out against corruption. Indiscipline has assured a high dimension and a greater percentage of Nigerians refusing to obey simple rules, regulations and codes of ethical behaviour. The code is an ethical standard, which requires moral strength and instills pride in the virtues of integrity, professionalism, efficiency, justice and fair play. It is an important tool in government business, just as public office is a trust, so the authority we exercise as public officers is delegated by the people and we must give an account of our stewardship.
We must put service above self by adopting an ethical process in official decision-making. If we see the job we do as a profession, career, customer service, political appointment, then we should approach it with the right attitude and righteousness, and an acceptable level of  expertise by working by the rules. Service is the bottomline for every public officer, so they must see themselves as servants of the people and make satisfaction their watchword. To meet the goal of satisfying the people, public office holders, especially governors, ministers, commissioners, local government chairmen, and so on, should observe the dos and don’ts which form a code for our conduct or behaviour. Corruption or improper conduct manifest  in various ways which are supposed to be addressed by the different provisions of the code.
The code of conduct is aimed to reduce incidents of corruption,  fraud and other malpractices, to reduce conflict of interest to enhance public trust and the credibility of government as well as enhance the loyalty of workers and the goodwill of the organization or agency, country, state and local government. The code prohibits public officers from operating foreign accounts, accepting gifts, loans or inducements from an outsider, that is, a supplier, contractor etc, to  influence him or her in the performance of official duties.
Also, a public officer shall not receive or be paid the emolument of any other office or engage or participate in the management or running of any private business or trade except when he or she is not employed on full-time basis. Nothing stops a public officer from engaging in farming or participating in the management or running of any farm. These and other rules bind public officers in the performance of their functions. The rule of law applies to all public officers who are involved in the administration and provision of services in the public interest. It must be mentioned here that the code abhors membership of secret society and lack of transparency by public officers.
The code provides that every public officer shall declare all his properties, assets and liabilities, including those of his spouse or unmarried children under the age of 18 years at the time of assuming office, at the end of every four years and at the end of his term of office. It stipulates that any statement in such declaration that is found to be false by any authority or person authorized in that behalf to verify shall be deemed to be a breach of the code.
Sometimes people ask whether declaration  of assets by public officers can be made to achieve its objectives or whether defaulters are ever given the requisite sanctions? This is because corrupt enrichment and ostentatious living have continually thrived among public officers in government business.
Such lifestyles are easily identified through the type and number of cars, houses owned and lived in the nature of holidays and educational facilities provided for their children, frequent overseas trips, jewelries, landed property, shares, machineries, amongst others. Asking public officers to declare their assets publicly is a good point but what is more important is the verification of the claims to ensure they are true.
The enforcement of the provisions of the Code of conduct Bureau and Tribunal Law is another significant aspect of the issue. The workability of the code revolves around its enforcement and making sure that the diehards in the game of corruption and fraud are adequately punished. Section 18 of the 5th schedule under the code of conduct Tribunal states that, where the  Code of Conduct Tribunal finds a public officer guilty of contravention of any of the provisions of this code, it shall impose upon that officer any of the  punishments specified such as removal from office.
This could be done through the vacation of the officer’s seat in any legislative house, disqualification from holding of any public office for a period not exceeding ten years and seizure and forfeiture to the state of any property acquired in abuse of office. Furthermore, though the law give right of appeal, the relevant section of the constitution states that the prerogative  of mercy shall not apply to any punishment imposed by the code of conduct Tribunal.
The Code of conduct for public officers is a condition precedent for any elected public office holder as contained in the oath of office, and as such a breach of the Code renders such an officer unworthy of continuing in public office. There is the need for effective and routine supervision to ensure that all rules and procedures are followed after the completion of the declaration of assets process with the required commitment of the top management who must not compromise.

 

Shedie Okpara

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Traders Protest FG’s Move To Restore Festac Town

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The move by the Federal Government to restore Festac Town in Lagos to its original status has sparked up protest among traders occupying Agboju Amuwo Planks and Building Materials Market.
The traders on Wednesday, protested at the FHA office in Festac Town against the demolition of their market, following the demolition of illegal structures by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) ahead of the restoration. 
The Tide recalls that there was a petition to the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, in 2020 about illegal structures that had taken over Festac Town.
Speaking at a stakeholders’ meeting on the restoration of Festac town organised by FHA, last year, its South-West Zonal Manager, Mr Akintola Olagbemiro, said, “This year, we commenced the restoration of Festac town, following the consent judgement from the court against illegal occupants of Festac land.
“Our action is to save the residents from the insecurity that has taken over the entire Festac town as a result of illegal structures everywhere”.
The chairman of allottees of First Gate to Third Gate, Mr Kole Olatunji, in his remarks at the meeting said the land from First Gate to Third Gate was allocated between 1985 and 1999, noting that with the consent judgment, original owners of the land as allocated should take over their plots.
But the chairman of plank market, Muhammed Bello, protested the seven-day notice given to traders to vacate the place without alternative arrangements.  
Bello said: “How do they expect us to remove our wares in seven days?
“What we want is that they should allow us to remain there and we will pay whatever amount they ask us to pay”.
Speaking in the same vein, the chairman of Cane Chair and Furniture Association, Emmanuel Okoye said: “We need freedom. Let them tell us where they want us to stay. That place was swampy. We filled the place with several millions of Naira which we got as loans.
“We also rely on loans to do our business. Whatever the government wants us to pay; we are ready to pay to remain there. We have been there for 27 years. What we lost to the demolition is over N300 million”.

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Fuel Tanker Explosion Kills Five, Injures Two In Ogun

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No fewer than five persons were on Wednesday burnt to death, while two others sustained first degree of injury in a fuel tanker explosion at Ajilete, along Owode-Idiroko road, in Yewa South local government area of Ogun State.
Eyewitness accounts revealed that a truck bearing 33,000 litres of petroleum product was descending the steep portion of the road when its tank suddenly detached from truck’s body and tumbled to the ground with a bang.
The explosion, the witnesses said, killed five persons on the spot, while two other persons were injured.
The Tide learnt that the seven victims were all residents of the area where the accident occurred.
Confirming the incident, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) Commander, Idiroko Unit, Akinwunmi Olaluwoye, said five deaths were recorded in the accident which occurred at about 8.15 am on Wednesday. 
According to him, the remains of the dead had been claimed by their families.
He disclosed that a bus and a motorcycle were also caught in a web of the explosion and razed.
He said, “no vehicle rammed into the tanker. The tank dropped off from the back of the tanker and exploded. The number of persons involved are seven; five dead, two injured.
“The driver had taken away the head of the truck as at the time we got there. But we have allowed the police to take charge and handle that aspect”.

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Travellers To Access $4,000  As CBN Boosts Forex Supplies

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Nigerians travelling abroad can now access a maximum amount of $4,000 foreign exchange from banks following the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) announcement to increase forex supplies.
The CBN had said in a recent statement that it had concluded plans to increase the amount of foreign exchange allocated to banks to meet legitimate needs.
This followed the warning by the CBN Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, to Deposit Money Banks to desist from denying customers the opportunity to purchase foreign exchange.
The purposes to access forex included Personal Travel Allowance, Basic Travel Allowance, tuition fees, and medical payments as well as Small and Medium Enterprises transactions or for the repatriation of Foreign Direct Investment proceeds, the CBN had stated.
Sources from some of the banks said those travelling on business trips could also access a maximum amount of $5,000 for each trip.
At a virtual Bankers’ Committee meeting last week, the bankers discussed how the CBN intended to assist with forex to ensure availability for the upcoming summer period and the return of students to school in September.
The CBN also said the BDCs would continue to have their weekly allocations.
The committee observed that the rates were going up.
It stated, “The CBN has said that all the banks must make availability at all times and anyone who wants to buy BTA, PTA, medical fees, student school fees and all the eligible invisible purchases to ensure that Nigerians are not forced to go and queue in the parallel market.
“So what the Central Bank is doing is to encourage all banks to make sure that there is available forex at all times, and that his information should be communicated on all our platforms.
“We are asking our customers to come to the branches and for BTA, for example, present the required documents, which are basically your international passport, your visa, your valid ticket and fill up the form in the bank.
“And what we have been instructed to do is ensure that we don’t turn anybody back and that we should request from the Central Bank once we exhaust the forex that we have.
“The idea is to have a hitch-free summer period and the resumption for children to go back to school. The idea is to ensure there is less pressure on the forex and then the rates will come down”.
Speaking during the virtual meeting, the Group Managing Director, Access Bank, Herbert Wigwe, said, “I think again as part of the Central Bank’s role in terms of price stability and the need to support small and medium enterprises, there was highlight of the need for banks to go and support SMEs who import small raw materials for them to set up their businesses”.
The Managing Director, Ecobank, Patrick Akinwuntan, said, “All banks are available to ensure forex need is met.”
Managing Director, Sterling Bank, Abubakar Suleiman, said the CBN had provided sufficient foreign exchange to meet the needs of all legitimate Nigerian travellers and therefore, the idea of going to any other market should not arise at all.

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