Democratic Options

by E. Terfa Ula-Lisa Esq

In a democracy, there are power blocks called Parties and even within the official power blocks are interest groups who jostle for dominance. All the positioning, however, must be within the law to ensure fairness and equality because the democratic system is a rule of law and not of men. The issue of the Rule of Law in Nigeria as a concept is a topic for a future treatise. There have been Presidents who were known to abuse their powers by doing things unethical and thereby compromising the office and laws they swore to protect. The classical example that comes to mind is the Watergate Scandal of the Nixon Presidency in the United States of America.

“Nixon’s tapes of his office and telephone conversations left an irrefutable historical record that the president abused government power for political purposes, obstructed justice and ordered his aides to do so as well. Watergate ended with unusual clarity and unusual closure because Nixon Resigned. The scandal left a series of questions… Could another president be a criminal? Did presidents talk and plot in private like Nixon? Would another president have to resign?”


When Nixon saw that he had compromised his Presidency, lost credibility and could not any more in good conscience command the moral authority to govern, he resigned. He did not wait to be impeached although it was an option. He was more patriotic, not wishing to drag the issue and the American people through the inevitable hearings in congress. Putting Nixon’s scandal in perspective is President Obansanjo’s friend and ideological soul-mate (a born again President himself) while campaigning as a candidate:

“When people throughout the country, particularly young people, see Richard Nixon cheating, lying and leaving the highest office in disgrace…when you see the head of the FBI break a little law and stay there, it gives everybody the sense that crime must be okay. If the big shots in Washington can get away with it, well so can I.”

Substitute “OBJ” for “Richard Nixon”; “Chris Uba” for “the head of FBI” and “Abuja” for “Washington” and you would get a sense of what Carter was talking about; official corruption from the highest office of the land. President Obasanjo, like Carter, had made the issue of cleaning the polity from the pollution caused by corruption.

“I am very aware of the widespread cynicism and total lack of confidence in government arising from the bad faith, deceit and evil actions of recent administrations. Where official pronouncements are repeatedly made and not matched by action, government forfeits the confidence of the people and their trust. One of the immediate acts of this administration will be to implement quickly and decisively, measures that would restore confidence in governance. These measures will help to create the auspicious atmosphere necessary for the reforms and the difficult decisions and the hard work required to put the country back on the path of development and growth.

The issue of crime requires as much attention and seriousness as the issue of corruption.”

Inaugural speech by His Excellency, President Olusegun Obasanjo May 29, 1999.

While continuing with the comparisons, in the midst of the energy crisis in America, on July 15th, 65 million Americans tuned in to watch President Carter suggest that his administration had failed, two days later, Carter asked for the resignation of all his Cabinet and senior White House Staff. “This summary action created its own crisis of confidence in Carter’s leadership and was widely viewed as a purge of those who seemed disloyal.” “Carter regularly broke his most basic promise made when he campaigned for the presidency. He did not always tell the truth.” Remind you of someone who promised no sacred cows? What law empowers Chris Uba, a businessman, not a Public Servant, travel with police escort? Could that be akin to corruption or abuse of power?
Please read it at

Code of Conduct

Section 172 of the Constitution reads: “A person in the public service of the Federation shall observe and conform to the Code of Conduct.” One of the promises which this present government implemented was the institution of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, relevant portions of which read:


Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

To ASSIST us in upholding these principles and the provisions contained in the Code of Conduct for Public Officers contained on Part V of the Constitution, AND IN VIEW of the special responsibilities with which we, as Ministers and Special Advisers of the Federation, are entrusted.

WE NOW ADOPT for ourselves and for our successors in office as Ministers and Special Advisers, the following Code of Conduct for Ministers and Special Advisers to which we shall all faithfully comply, in both spirit and to the letter:

1. Ethical Standards

We shall at all times act with honesty, whether in public or in private affairs, and uphold the highest ethical standards so that the public confidence and trust in the integrity objective and impartially of government are conserved and enhance.

2. Accountability and Transparency

We have a responsibility to the public interest, which requires that we put to one side all personal, sectoral and regional interest. We are accountable for our decisions and actions to the public and are prepared to be open to scrutiny by them. To facilitate and inform this process, we shall to the extent possible be open and transparent in the discharge of our public duties and encourage those whom we are responsible to follow our example.

3. Decision-making

In fulfilling official duties and responsibilities, we shall put to one side both personal and sectional interests and shall make decisions in the public interest and with regard to the merits of each case without discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, sex, religion or origin other than when acting in furtherance of objectives laid down in the Constitution.

4. Private Interests

We shall perform our official duties and arrange our private affairs in a manner that will bear the closest public interest, an obligation that is not fully discharged simply by acting within the law but which must also be within the law’s spirit. We shall not have private interests, other than those permitted pursuant to the Code and to the Code of Conduct for Public Officers provided by Constitution, that would be affected particularly or significantly by government actions in which we participate.

5. Public Interests

On appointment to office and thereafter, we shall arrange our private affairs in a manner that will prevent real, potential or apparent conflicts of interest from arising but if such a conflict does arise between the private interests of a Minister or Special Adviser or his or her close relations and the official duties and responsibilities of that Minister of Special Adviser, the conflict shall be resolved in favour of the public interest.

6. Conflict of Interests

We shall not exercise an official power or perform an official duty or function in the execution of our office and at the same time know that in the performance of the duty or function or in the exercise of the power, there is the opportunity to further our private interest or those of our friends and relatives over and above the benefits this gives to the wider community. We shall not exercise an official power of perform an official duty or function if we have a conflict of interest or an apparent conflict of interest.

A Minister or Special Adviser has an apparent conflict of interest if there is a reasonable perception, which a reasonably well informed person could properly have, that the Minister’s or Special Adviser’s ability to exercise an official power or perform an official duty or function must have been affected by his or her private interest or those of his or her friends or relatives.

7. Influence

We shall not use our office to seek to influence a decision, to be made by another person, to further our private interest or those of our friends and relatives.

The question is; is President Obasanjo a holder of public office? If the answer is in the affirmative, then he ought to be bound by the Code of Conduct which he made his ministers sign. Corollary, whether or not he is bound by his own document, the country has an honest expectation that its leader is not a hypocrite. Would a reasonable man, knowing what the President knew about the two Election Robbers say that they have violated the constitution of Nigeria? If they have violated the constitution, did President Obasanjo compound their felony? Did President Obasanjo act in the public interest or did he let his selfish interest rule his decision? What steps did President Obasanjo take to bring the confessed Election Robbers to face the law as the Number One Law officer under the Constitution? Did he fail or omit to act as a result of conflict of interest? Is President Obasanjo violating his own Code of Conduct?

Impeachment Option

Under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a person shall not be qualified for election to the office of President if (among others)…”he has been found guilty of the contravention of the Code of Conduct [S.137 (1)(e)]. That means that if you contravene the Code of Conduct, you are disqualified from contesting for President of Nigeria. The Constitution therefore frowns at all those who violate the Code of Conduct. Section 143.(1)(b) states that a President or Vice-President may be removed from office whenever a written Notice of allegation that the President or Vice-President giving particulars of “gross misconduct” in the performance or functions of his office if backed by the votes of one-third or more of the National Assembly presented to the President of the Senate. The section further defines “gross misconduct” as “a grave violation or breach of the provision of this Constitution or a misconduct of such a nature as amounts in the opinion of the National Assembly to gross misconduct”.

Is President Obasanjo and his PDP stalwarts committing acts of gross misconduct? Is this government practicing the much avowed Transparency and Accountability in the conduct of business? Does being a Brother-in-law to the President make you above the law and Constitution?

1) Woodward, Bob Shadow Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate 1999 New York, Simon & Schuster
2) Woodward, p.32
3) ibid p.86
4) ibid p.87

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1 comment

Isaac May 1, 2005 - 10:22 pm

Interesting and academical, excellent.


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