KWENU: Our Culture, Our Future
THE IMPARTIAL OBSERVER
Sunday 13 May 2012
The excuse that a minister has an engagement with the President is vacuous and will always be.
Perhaps, ministers need to hear that directly for the SGF
or from the president himself.
Nigerian public officials like to hide under the cover of our nascent democracy, when they err. Conveniently, their excuse is always the same: We are learning the ways of democracy. But one must ask, for how long?
For the umpteenth time, the Nigerian media has been awash with senior public officials in appointed positions, dodging summons from the National Assembly, with little or no consequence. The polite ones wait until several hours to the time they are due to appear, and then send a letter of apology for their inevitable absence. The late arrival of the letter is supposed to convey an emergency and unforeseen development.
Unfortunately, the legislative arm has been complicit by tolerating this development and not reining in the erring officials or imposing stiff sanctions. This, surely, is not the way to learn or underpin our democracy. Rather, we erode its foundation.
The Executive arm has been equally complicit. Summonses are summonses. Subpoenas are orders. And yes, when serving ministers gets one of those, they must respond with all alacrity. It is in the nature of their job to do so; to be at the beck and call of the elected officials and they must, as those who are paid with taxpayers’ money or at least, oil money from the commonweal comply.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) must wield the cudgel on behalf of the president and remind all appointed federal officials, that they strain the relations between the two arms of government and do great disservice to the president and our democracy, when they become near scofflaws, by ignoring legislative summonses.
One understands that at times, some and the frequency of the summonses border on frivolity. But it is what it is! Summonses from the legislature are part of the due process and an imperative and integral component of any democracy. Those who detest what they see as distractions and legislative comeuppance may have justifiable grouses. I have previously addressed such concerns (see, Nigeria’s March Madness and Governance by Summons). Still, it behooves anyone worth his or her office as a minister, to understand that as public servants, they must answer when called and that they are on duty, 24/7. Otherwise, they should return from whence they came.
Moreover, it is utter indiscipline to not respond to a legislative or judicial summons. This is not the stuff of egos, be they large or brittle. When a minister fails to show up after being summoned, there is only one explanation: contempt! Yes, contempt for his or her office; for the summoning authority; for the president who appointed them and above all, for the Constitution and the people of Nigeria. Such action also undermines the checks and balances that ground any functional and purposeful democracy.
Nigerian public officials should endeavor to borrow a leaf from the renowned and iconic Nelson Mandela, who despite his revered public status, appeared before commissions, courts and the legislative branch to testify or respond to issues he was privy to, even as a serving president.
In case they do not sense it, the Nigeria ministers should understand that it smacks of cover-up and having something to hide; or perhaps, of the fear of self-incrimination, when public functionaries engage in artful dodging of public hearings as was the case recently, with some ministers and also some heads of parastatals and quasi-government institutions. Those who have nothing to hide would naturally have no urge to dodge.
Let it be said clearly; enough is enough! Yes Minister, you were summoned. It would not do to appear before legislative oversight bodies when canvassing for confirmation of appointment, institutional funding and passage of pertinent institutional support bills; only to refuse to appear before the same body to account for your stewardship or how resources within your purview were spent or being spent.
And yes, Honorable Minister, you have a responsibility to show up, rain or shine. Please do the honorable thing. The excuse that a minister has an engagement with the President is vacuous and will always be. Perhaps, ministers need to hear that directly for the SGF or from the president himself.
Yes, Minister, you were summoned. Period!
With neither anger nor partiality, until next time, keep the law, stay impartial, and observe closely.
Hank Eso is a columnist for Kwenu.com. His observations on Nigerian, African and global politics and related issues, has appeared in various print media, journals and internet-based sites.
© Hank Eso, 13 May 2012. Email: email@example.com
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