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Jonathan’s ‘richest’ listing

The publication roiled the Presidency with Jonathan’s spokesperson threatening that legal action would be considered unless the magazine retracted references to the president. The spokesperson,…

The publication roiled the Presidency with Jonathan’s spokesperson threatening that legal action would be considered unless the magazine retracted references to the president. The spokesperson, Reuben Abati, released a statement asserting that the publication “lacked factual basis”. “As is well known, President Jonathan has never been a businessman or entrepreneur, but a lifelong public servant”, Abati’s statement noted, detailing Jonathan’s public office career since 1999 and pointing out that the president had no personal income other than his official remuneration as deputy governor, governor, vice president, and president.
 The statement suggested that the publication was an attempt to portray Jonathan as a corrupt leader and incite public disaffection against him, but did not answer the crucial question on people’s lips: how much is Jonathan worth?  However, the umbrage appeared to work because the website altered the details, omitting Jonathan’s name from the list.
The publishers defended their action, saying that the list was based on evaluation of Jonathan’s worth gleaned from information and statistics in another publication, and was “thoroughly researched”.  While Jonathan’s name was removed from the publication, the original source, a publication called Celebrity Net Worth retained it. Under normal circumstances, such sensational details from an obscure publication would not gain traction and almost certainly be ignored. But President Jonathan has been criticised several times because he has adamantly refusal to publicly declare his assets. He was once quoted as saying “the issue of public asset declaration is a matter of personal principle. That is the way I see it and I don’t give a damn about it, even if you criticize me from heaven”. Such obtuse reaction to a subject of intense public interest has characterised the conduct of his administration since.
 Upon taking office in 2007, late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua openly declared his assets. At the time, then Vice President Jonathan declared his at N295,304,420, making the point that the bulk was made up of “gifts in kind”. At the time, his media assistant acknowledged that Jonathan was reticent about publicly declaring his assets, but said that “there comes a time when even the law must take second place and the public mood must define our actions”. Of course, the law does not require the president or vice president to publicly declare their assets, and the Code of Conduct Bureau has claimed that Jonathan declared his assets in accordance with its rules. But public access to the details, which the law allows, is routinely blocked by the Bureau.  In these days of information explosion, the prudent way to prevent disinformation is to officially disclose information. The refusal of Nigerian public officials to publicly declare their assets, particularly Jonathan’s aversion to public disclosure, has been pointed to as one of the major reasons Nigeria was denied membership of the Open Government Partnership, a global anti-corruption initiative launched in 2011 to enhance transparency in government, empower citizens, and fight graft. The Code of Conduct Bureau has no valid reason not to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and accept requests from members of the public to obtain access to asset declarations of public officers, including the president’s.
The Jonathan administration has faltered on many levels in the fight against the corrupt practices that pervade public services. With the virtual emasculation of the Economic and financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) the situation is getting worse. The issue is not one to be resolved by threats of litigation; only an open and unfettered access to what is after all public information regarding the conduct of public officers will address suspicions that the president and those around him have amassed stupendous wealth at the expense of the nation an citizens.

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