Let us make this as basic as it comes and simply call it “The Aig-Imoukhuede epiphany “ or the eureka moment around oil politics and the ethics of public disclosure.
Wednesday last forthnight, as I ambled around my university in preparation for the new semester, which begins in August, a colleague of mine pulled me. He asked: what is the problem with Nigeria your country? I asked him what he meant. He offered a response”…smaller African countries will not do what you guys are doing… they are leaving you behind yet they do not have your resources…” Still I told him he has not said much. He became poignant and precise and said “… when will you guys stop your now congenital lack of transparency… I read what is happening about your so-called probe of those you guys call oil cabal…nothing will come out of it…”
I knew what he meant. Dr. Ngozi Iweala the coordinating minister for the economy has appointed Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede as head of technical committee on review of fuel subsidy payments. After that president Jonathan appointed him as Chairman of Special Committee on Subsidy Payment Verification and Reconciliation.
So when my colleague was now more forthcoming by asking what is to be gained by asking someone to review a case that involves his sibling, I knew where he was coming from and where he was going.
In modern societies the ethics of transparency is sacrosanct. And the ethics of public disclosures give lived meaning and practicality to transparency in the affairs and governance of modern societies and peoples. There is the story of a professor who was asked to be the chair of the dissertation committee of a PhD student’s dissertation in a western university. The professor demurred. Why? He disclosed publicly that he is in a relationship with the student. Therefore to ensure objectivity he argued that he would be unable to supervise her. That was the end of the story. The university accepted his position and another professor became the chair of the committee. It is about public ethics. It is about giving life and meaning to TRUST. It is about making TRUST and OBJECTIVITY visible as touchstones of governance.
Now Nigeria is presumably a state. If universities thrive on transparency why can’t Nigeria, which is a state with coercive powers to compel?
I am aware that some of us will see this as being far fetched, “too western”, “too American” the “ foreignness” of a Diaspora who has “lost touch” with the grass root voters as some commentators had unfortunately observed. But the point is that when the President of a state such as Nigeria votes against the ethics of public disclosure and transparency as has been done routinely, it is a vote for darkness, and a return to stone age even if members of our ruling class glide around on roads full of potholes, which are death traps in the latest jeeps that are not made in Nigeria.
Thus, some sponsored commentators have deliberately attempted to muddle the Aig-Imoukhuede issue. But let us state the facts. The fact is that President Jonathan asked Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede to review a case of alleged oil cabals who looted Nigeria dry in the so-called oil subsidy. Ice Energy is one of these alleged members of oil cabal. Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede’s sibling Mr. Aigbovbioise Aig-Imoukhuede owns 33.9% shares in Ice Energy. These are facts that potentially raise conflict of interest, which thus require public disclosures.
Let us look at the scope of the facts, as the public knows it. Fact 1: We do not know if Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede disclosed this potential conflict of interest to Dr. Iweala and President Jonathan. Fact 2: Just in case the three believe in the ethics of Public Disclosure, we do not know if Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede was asked to do this. Fact 3: If Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede was asked to do this, we do not know what he told both president Jonathan and Dr. Iweala. Fact 4: regardless of facts 1-3, what we know is that Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede has been asked to review a case that involves a company in which his sibling owns 33.9% shares.
In matters such as these nobody is interested in Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede ‘s face. That is the blunt fact. And neither are we interested in whether Ice Energy is guilty or not for you cannot pronounce guilt or innocence before facts are verified. However, the fact before us is that Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede faces a potential conflict of interest when he was asked and he accepted to head a panel to review a case his sibling’s company is involved in.
The honorable thing is not to accept that job or to resign after what he may decide to call an “error of omission or judgment.” But the point is: why did Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede fail to inform the minister and the president of this possible conflict of interest? If he did why did the minister and the president not inform Nigerians of this when he was being appointed?
Given that Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede heads Access bank, one is interested in knowing whether issues of ethics of public disclosures, transparency and avoidance of conflict of interest play any role in the professional development of his bank and his bank’s relationship with the International Banking system where ethics of public disclosure is taken as given, and where Nigeria will shop for foreign investment.
Whether he and Mr. president want to agree or not; beside our self inflicted genocide, Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede’s appointment to review a case his sibling Mr. Aigbovbioise Aig-Imoukhuede is involved in is one of the greatest self inflicted publicity coup of the week against foreign investment in Nigeria given that they both fail the test of the ethics of public disclosure, conflict of interest and transparency which are crucial to foreign investors. Foreign investment is about confidence.
A failure of test of ethics of transparency and public disclosure is a direct aggression against confidence and is a negation of the required confidence in an economy. The failure of this simple test is more untenable given that Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede is said to be a seasoned banker.
At the end of the day, Ice Energy may be innocent but must the brother of one of the owners of Ice Energy pronounce that innocence? In our state of anomie have we lost all standards, all language of respectability, objectivity and decency? Is it just decent for a brother to be asked to review a case his sibling is involved in? Are we living in a village where filial relation is the governing principle of policy? Does this morally fit our perceptual space?
I will end this with a scenario for those who are hired to garrulously defend and cover the track of the presidency and Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede. The scenario is a rape situation. Mr. R has allegedly raped Miss V. Mr. J has been asked by his brother judges to try the alleged rape case between Mr. R and Miss V. Either known or unknown to Mr. J ‘s brother judges and the public the trial judge Mr. J is a sibling of Mr. R the alleged rapist. Mr. J never told anyone that he is a brother to Mr. R the alleged rapist, and, yet he is going to try the rape case.
In view of this the following questions are legitimate. Can there be objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and equity in the trial? Can the public; the owners of public morality, receive moral balm from the community wound which rape represents? Can Miss V get justice? What kind of person is Mr. J, the judge? What kinds of persons are Mr. J’s brother judges? These are serious questions about public ethics and trust that should be of concern to President Jonathan and his presidency.
Adeolu Ademoyo of the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org