Former Heads Of State As Businessmen– Guardian Editorial

Posted: November 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

The involvement of former heads of state – in collaboration with foreign interests – in the business of buying up national assets is improper and objectionable; some will go so far as consider it obscene. There can be no denying the constitutionally guaranteed right of any citizen to do any legitimate business of his or her choosing. That much is assured by the provisions of Chapter IV of the extant Constitution. But some things are legally permissible but not morally right. As an analogy to this in matters of faith, not everything permitted in exercise of freewill is right, or fair, or just. No. There are a number of reasons, therefore, against Nigeria’s former heads of state buying up inefficient public utilities.

In the final result of the bidding process for the concession of components of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) announced by the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) headed by the Vice President, two companies directly linked to two former heads of state of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are among those adjudged successful. Integrated Energy Distribution and Retail Marketing Limited has received approval from NCP, the highest decision-making body on the long- running, winding privatisation-cum commercialisation process, for its bid for two electricity distribution companies (DISCOs) at Ibadan and Yola. It had initially won four. Integrated Energy is chaired by General Abdusalam Abubakar (rtd) and will, according to reports, operate in partnership with Manila Electric of the Republic of the Philippines.

The North-South Powers Limited has also received approval of its offer for the Shiroro Hydro Power Plc. for a reported annual fee of US $23, 602, 484.87 and a commencement fee of US$ 111,654,543. North-South Powers is reportedly linked to a former military president.

Since these reports became public weeks ago, there has been no denial, which allows the reasonable assumption that they are true. First, it is not dignifying for former leaders to participate in the jostle for a piece of the privatisation action. Nigerians would rather look up to them as statesmen, as well as elders in the land; persons who have not only excelled in their calling but are ever at the service of their country. As statesmen, surely there are other ways to contribute to national development than dabble into the murky world of business in a country where the only serious business is government-related.

Second, former heads of state worth the title stand above and away from the myriad problems that bother – even threaten – their nation. Such vantage position enables deeper and farther perceptiveness with which they can both offer wise counsel and, with credibility, exert influence. Pray, how can a businessman primarily concerned with maximising returns on his investments sit in, say, the Council of State and disinterestedly ‘advise the President whenever requested to do so, on the maintenance of public order within the federation or any part thereof and on such other matters as the President may direct’ as stipulated in the Third Schedule, Part I (6) (b) of the Constitution? Distracted by private business interests, he cannot fulfill this obligation to the President, nor to the state. Such a man forfeits the moral high ground and trustworthiness to advise on or mediate in the problems that may afflict the nation. Third, at the level of former chiefs of state, it is doubtful that this is in tune with global best practices. Fourth, it saddens that citizens who have occupied the highest office in the land would hobnob with foreign interests in the name of business partnership. Is it for the money? This should be unlikely because the country’s former heads of state are evidentially well taken care of by the state – the very state which property some of them are now seeking to acquire.

Again, the moral question arises: Are not some things of higher value than money and material acquisition? Good name, respectability, integrity are indeed of far more worth than filthy lucre, especially for those who care about their place in history. Besides, it is dubitable that history remembers any one for merely being rich.

Some people think there should be a code of conduct for certain categories of holders of public office. This is agreeable, if the national interest in the widest sense will thus be better served. Political leadership preeminently demands moral leadership and former political leaders are especially challenged in this respect. In these trying times, Nigeria desperately needs leaders with moral authority. There is of course, the spirit of acquisitiveness raging in the land. But, for the simple reason that some things do not befit some people, all former heads of state should keep out of the murky world of business. There are less controversial, more dignified ways to contribute to the nation.

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