Nigerians frown at involvement of public officials in political campaigns

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Following the inclusion of some ministers and other holders of public office in President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign team announced on Friday, some Nigerians have expressed worry that the assignments they were appointed for would suffer as they channel their attention on campaigning for the president.

Key members of the president’s cabinet named as members of Mr. Jonathan’s re-election campaign are the Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; and the Minister of Special Duties, Taminu Turaki. Other notable holders of public offices are Tunde Adeniran, who is the Chairman of the board of West African Examination Council, WAEC; Comfort Obi, a member of the Police Service Commission; and Isa Tafida Mafindi, a member of the governing council of the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University.

The opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, is also not spared in the mounting criticisms. Some believe that the job of running River State has taken a back seat since the appointment of governor of the state, Rotimi Ameachi, as the Director General of the Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organisation.

Civil society members and lawyers that spoke to PREMIUM TIMES say though political parties may not have infringed on any law, the practice is distasteful.

In the United States system, which Nigeria’s democracy is fashioned after, public office holders are expected to resign their positions before accepting campaign roles. In 2011 Former Deputy Chief of Staff, Jim Messina, resigned before accepting to lead President Barack Obama re-election campaign. Ditto for David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s Senior Adviser, who became the communication chief of his re-election campaign.

The Chairman of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, CACOL, Debo Adeniran, says governance has actually been given a back seat for a while now.

“Everybody that is supposed to be in government among the members of the campaign team has abandoned issue of governance a very long time. Nobody is actually monitoring anything,” Mr. Adeniran said. “Even Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has not been monitoring what has been happening in the economic sector and has been feeding the public with fiction.”

For the head of Partners’ for Electoral Reform and Convener of Say No Campaign Nigeria, Ezenwa Nwagwu, this is a problem that cuts across tiers of government. He said even legislators have abandoned their jobs and are now in the habit of giving themselves endless breaks while drawing huge pay.

“Governance has completely stopped in Nigeria for a very long time. If you noticed even the members of the National Assembly have continued to give themselves break in spite of the fact that they are paid from the public coffers,” he said. “No lawmaking, and no oversight are taking place. The president himself who appoints these ministers for a very long time has been politicking and governance has taken the backseat.”

Mr. Nwagwu said it is “morally unjustifiable” that this is happening. He said public office holders first allegiance should be to the country and not their political party.

“I think morally speaking it is unjustifiable that you would be a minister of the Federal Republic, you’re not a minster of the APC or the PDP or whatever party appoints you. It is morally reprehensible that this is going on.”

However, Iste Sagay, a Professor of Law and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said the appointment of public office holders into campaign team does not infringe on any law of the country. But he admitted that governance has been allowed to suffer due to the practice. He suggests a review of the electoral law to stop such practices in the future.

“Our law is not the same as American law or political culture,” the don said. “As far as I know our law doesn’t say that those who are in public office cannot campaign for any contestant.”

“We may say that it is not desirable. There is no question that offices would suffer governance as most people are abandoning their work. We may need a specific law or amendment to the electoral law to change all that but as it is now, they are not breaching any law.”

The Co-founder of The Convention on Business Integrity, Soji Apampa, said the appointment of top ministers and public office holders to steer the campaign of both parties is a reflection of the intensity and enormity of the battle ahead.

He agreed with Mr. Sagay that our law is quiet on the appointment of officials on campaign team but added that it is in “bad taste for ministers to be involved in campaigns.”

“By the time you have ministers, governors and other involved in campaigns it just tells you that at the moment all that governance is about is either getting into office or trying to prevent themselves from being removed from office.

“It’s not really about the business of improving the standard of living of ordinary citizens like you and I. It is no longer about our security and welfare, it is really about their positions.

Especially with an incumbent if they are allowing their ministers to get side-tracked with running campaigns instead of running the country you wonder where their loyalty lie,” he said.

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