(Vanguard of Sunday, August 21, 2005)
I know the group of Nigerians who go by the name of Patriots. The most respected names in the professions belong in there. But they are not my concern today. Every Nigerian should have the love of country embedded in his innermost being. But who is the patriot? Or better, who is not a patriot? Any Nigerian who assumes office and subscribes to the Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of Office has sworn to be a patriot. We can know therefore who among our public officeholders are patriots and those who are not.
Let us look at the oaths our public office-holders take that should make them the patriots they should be or the traitors they may have turned themselves into. The two oaths constitute the seventh schedule to the constitution. Taking both oaths together, the deponents swear to do seven things.
These are that they as public officers are faithful and bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria; that they will perform their functions in law-making, law execution and law-interpretation honestly and faithfully in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and the laws of the land; that they will abide by the rules settled for doing their work; that they will perform their duties always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity well-being and prosperity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; that they will strive to preserve the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy contained in the Constitution; that they will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution; and that they will abide by the Code of Conduct contained in the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.
The duties assigned can be found in chapter two of the Constitution which I have come to regard as our fundamental duties and which should be performed if we must qualify to lay claim to the fundamental rights in chapter four.
There is another demand on every citizen who wants to lay claim to patriotism. Section 24 of the Constitution demands that we, all of us, from the President to the akara seller in Jattu market, abide by the Constitution; respect the ideals of the Constitution; respect our National Institutions, the National Flag, the National Anthem, the National Pledge and Legitimate authorities; help to enhance the power, prestige and good name of Nigeria; respect the dignity of other citizens; respect the rights and legitimate interests of others; live in unity and harmony and in the spirit of common brotherhood; make positive and useful contributions to the advancement; progress and well-being of the community where we live; render assistance to appropriate and lawful agencies in the maintenance of law and order; declare our incomes honestly to appropriate and lawful agencies; and pay taxes promptly.
Because the press has an obligation to monitor governance and so must hold the government responsible to our people whose mandate they hold and exercise, public officers must recognize that they have a common mission with the media and that is, to serve the people of Nigeria and be seen to be doing so.
Where the media and the legislature fall out, it is because the duties imposed are not performed or have been subverted through the incursion of vested interests.
There is yet one demand on public officers that should define how patriotic they are. The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution provides a code of behaviour for them.
The schedule is in two parts. Part I provides for, among others, conflict of interest with duty; restriction on specified officers; prohibition of foreign accounts; gifts or benefits in kind; bribery of public officers; abuse of powers; and declaration of assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau. Part I of the Schedule also provides for a Code of Conduct Tribunal which is empowered to punish infringements of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers. By Section 18(2) of the Schedule, the Tribunal can impose punishments including: vacation of office or seat in the legislative house; disqualification from membership of a legislative house and from holding of any public office for a period not exceeding 10 years; and seizure and forfeiture to the state of any property acquired in abuse or corruption of office.
Part Two of the Schedule defines who a public officer is and item 3 lists as public officers, the President of the country and the Vice President, The President and Deputy President of the Senate, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives; the Governor and his deputy; all other elected men and women; The judges, from the Chief Justice of the Federation to the magistrate are also included.
With so much demanded of public officers, and such restrictions imposed on them, what are their powers and functions; and what are the limitations? We need not go into details here, but suffice it to say that their powers are defined in the document that created their offices, that is the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The limitations are also settled therein. There can therefore be no inherent powers anyone can lay claim to in doing what he does.
Since May 29, 1999 we have worked the Constitution we adopted or that was promulgated on our behalf or that was imposed on us by the departing military. Whatever impression you may have about it, it is the document that moderates what we do. It is the referee of the matches we play at the Federal, State and Local Government levels.
How have we behaved as members of the different teams? Have we kept the rules or we have tackled roughly and have broken bones? We will look at only a few areas of our performance over the years to know whether we can confidently accept that we are patriots or, in shame, don the toga of the traitor, repent and work for a great Nigeria that is going through the birth-pains that will usher in an era which will look back to today and honour the patriots and write the names of the traitors in records of shame.
(Published in Vol. 2 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 19 – 22; Lagos, 2008).