Episode 105 Blog – 13th April 2022
Ebun Adegboruwa SAN on the IDEAs issues in remaining in office as an aspirant
With the President directing “all ministers, Heads and Members of Extra-Ministerial Departments, Agencies, Parastatals of Government, Ambassadors as well as political appointees who desire to contest for elective offices” to resign before Monday 16th May, IDEAs radio, which is concerned with Integrity, Ethics and Accountability in our Democracy, was honoured to have Ebun Olu Adegboruwa SAN as our guest to discuss the issues involved.
Ebun said that Ethics involved public trust and how people in public positions use public property for the common good rather than for their personal aims. The issue of Ministers, Commissioners, Special Advisers and such raises issues of Ethics because they want to contest election which is a personal interest, and that may raise a conflict of interest, for example during political horse-trading and the risk of sacrificing the public good or sensitive information in pursuit of personal interest. Such a person should not be in such a position. He also said that the cost of nomination forms and the cost of campaign for someone occupying a public position earning a certain salary also raised issues of Integrity and Ethics and that it was better for such a person pursuing their personal ambition to be out of office. Lastly, Ebun mentioned the issue of time: collecting salary as a public servant with responsibilities to execute, but devoting one’s time to running for political office.
This left the public at a loss as to commitment to the duties of office, as to financial issues and confidential information. So even without a law, individuals should be guided by certain morals and if they find themselves in circumstances that involve conflict with official responsibilities, they should resign and pursue their personal ambition for elective office, or decide whether to remain in the appointed office and forgo the elective office ambition.
Ayo noted that only one of the President’s Ministers had what it took to resign before the President’s directive. She then asked Ebun whether it might not be more practical for aspirants who are in office to wait and see whether they become candidates before resigning? Was the timing of the President’s directive in this light proper, was it driven by the decision of the Court of Appeal on section 84 of the Electoral Act, or even by wanting to get all the money from the sale of forms in first?
Ebun said that the decision to seek elective office could not be a sudden one, but must be taken after consultation with family, friends and colleagues. The Minister of State for Education must have done that and taken the voluntary decision to resign and seek elective office. He was of the view that waiting to see whether one became a candidate showed that one is not in it for public service, but for personal ambition.
Ayo asked whether seeing a desire to attain high political office as a selfish personal ambition was reinforcing the idea that there is no place for Ethics and Integrity in politics and that people were not going into politics to be able to implement their ideas, but just for themselves?
When Ebun suggested that that that idea may apply in Britain or the US, Ayo interrupted to say that those countries were no longer the flagbearers for Democracy, Ethics or Integrity …
Ebun said that the President ought not to have needed to wait for the prompting of Nigerians, and that the order was belated, coming after Nigerians had raised objection and after the Court of Appeal decision. He said that Ethics should be intrinsic, and not need the prompting of others.
Ayo said that attention has focused in particular on two of the potential aspirants for office. First is the Attorney-General of the Federation who has resigned because he wishes to contest for the office of Governor of Kebbi State. Noting that the Attorney-General of the Federation is the President’s chief lawyer who would have been advising him. She referred to the stance of the Federal Government on the litigation over the constitutionality of Section 84(1) of the Electoral Act, and wondered whether we could look forward to something disinterested from the government now.
Ebun cautioned that it was not certain that the AGF had resigned, as his nomination forms for the Kebbi governorship race could not be found. However, if he had indeed done so, it reinforced the point that the President’s chief legal adviser should canvass positions that would enhance understanding of what the legal position should be. The AGF became conflicted because he had a personal ambition to pursue, although the President should take the blame for that because he could have consulted the several other SANs in his administration for disinterested advice.
Ayo then turned to the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, saying that despite his forthright disclaimer of forms purchased in his name, it turned out that he had in fact gone to court for a declaration that he was entitled to join the contest for the Presidency without resigning. She also referred to the fact that election materials are kept in the custody of the CBN, noting that the President can not by himself sack the CBN Governor, he can only suspend him.
Ebun referred to the enormous powers of the Governor of the CBN as the custodian of the nation’s finances and as a man who can sack the board of a bank, saying that such a person should not display any partisan interest in political matters at all. He cited section 9 of the CBN Act which requires the Governor to obtain the consent of the CBN Board before going into active partisan politics. saying that the failure to obtain that consent may be why an order had to be sought from a court in Delta State to prevent the CBN from removing him from office. He also noted that the Delta State case was almost contemporaneous with the one in Abuja before filing which an affidavit that he had no other matter on the same subject pending would have had to be sworn, although the Delta State case was not in his name.
Ayo asked whether, irrespective of whether or not the CBN Governor was an aspirant or candidate, given the important position the CBN occupies with regard to election materials, the denial of interest while he had litigation ongoing, should non-APC parties feel confident about the impartiality of the CBN if the same person remains at the helm of the CBN.
Ebun said that the fact that the CBN Governor was a card carrying member of the CBN Governor was enough for him to resign and that it was too late in the day to be able to guarantee his neutrality after he had thrown himself into controversy. Filing the FHC case alone betrayed hopes and ambitions that he would ordinarily want to pursue, and that was sufficient notice to Nigerians that he was no longer neutral and might have considerations other than the national interest when designing the nation’s economic policies. Ayo was surprised when Ebun said that most of those indebted to AMCON were political office holders, and that this might affect the exercise of his discretion. He agreed with Ayo that the appearance was as important as the reality.
Before closing, Ebun said that ethically, a person holding public office with a political ambition under any of the political parties, PDP, APGA etc. should, as a matter of Ethics and Accountability, be able to resign without prompting even if they were not affected by the President’s directive and their State Governors had not followed the President’s lead, because the judgment of the Court of Appeal made it so clear what such people should do, as it would be taking a risk …
Ayo cut in to ask whether it wasn’t the political party that was taking the risk if it fielded a candidate who was ultimately shown to be not qualified and Ebun agreed, recalling that APC had had some bitter experiences in that regard in Zamfara and Rivers State.
As usual, we’d love to have your views. Should a person remain in office despite seeking political office? Are there some public offices where neutral and disinterested positions are required?