Activism And Government Appointments/Personal Interest

By Ben Ikari
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Recently I read a report on Facebook and other social media platforms that Brother Celestine Akpobari, who is or was the coordinator of Ogoni Solidarity Forum (OSF), was appointed to be the Special Adviser on Projects to the new Chairman of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

Sometimes or years ago he was also appointed Caretaker Chairman of Khana Local Government Council in Ogoni. This was under the auspices of the party APC. Indeed Brother Akpobari is known to be a stalwart of APC. And these appoints were reportedly brought about by Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. Mr. Amaechi is a former Governor of Rivers State and Minister of Transportation; a close associate to Mr. Muhammadu Buhari. His maneuver on the latter, as was reported by Sahara Reporters on January 28, 2019, caused the dissolution of previous NDDC management.

In addition, Brother Legborsi Pyagbara, former MOSOP president also reportedly nominated himself as one of the Ogoni representatives on the Nigeria's Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration/Remediation Project (HYPREP) management board. This is while he was the MOSOP president until late last year when he was pushed out and new elections conducted. Of course, his two-year term was over and he did not want to leave office like his trainer, Brother Ledum Mitee, whose positions on UNEP report and few other Ogoni issues recently I admire.

You may recall that Mitee, who also took government positions from Mr. Amaechi while the latter was Rivers State governor, also refused to leave office thus overstayed for nearly 16 years instead of four ( two terms of two years each then) as constitutionally provided by MOSOP to prevent power abuse and corruption, which became the case in MOSOP under Mitee and Pyagbara.

Meanwhile, it is not wrong thus within the right of any Ogoni to accept appointment in Nigeria or elsewhere, including political appointments or offices, whether linked to political affiliation or not. There is, however, something wrong when such persons as those mentioned above are in non-governmental and civil society----human and environmental rights, justice organizations or movements. Obviously there is conflict of interest where senior or executive officers/presidents of such civil society organizations take up government positions at the same time.

Those who developed the wisdom that says you can not effectively and honorably serve two masters at the same time, especially masters of opposite or competing interests as with governmental and civil society organizations, even when they can sometimes work on the things they agree, were absolutely correct.

All enlightened societies and entities, nations, even corporations which understands and believes in the dignity, morality and integrity work hard to practice ethical and professional behavior. They respect and promote the separation of governmental and non-governmental, civil society organizations---as also with the separation of power. They separate government agencies saddled with boosting and protecting government interests from being the oversight agencies regulating government and private public interest companies such as $hell Oil and NNPC/NPDC which generate revenue for the government.

They encourage prompt resignation of anyone in these categories who have the interest to crossover from one entity to another for new positions or appointments. Such resignation is warranted to avoid conflict of interest. Allowing government executives to take positions in non-governmental and civil society organizations which serves to check government activities on behalf of the people is like permitting a judge to sit over a case, be it criminal or civil, that he or she is a defendant or plaintiff.

Simply put, when at the head of a civil society organization and also have government or corporate appointment the likelihood is higher that those who appointed you will attempt and actually persuade and influence, pressure you to overlook certain things that will benefit them and will be to the detriment of society or the group you represent. While few, if any may be able to resist such temptation to be compromised most would not be able to do so particularly in a corruption-infested and lawless country such as Nigeria.

In some cases, those who accept such appoints are already compromised or bought over before being granted the appointment. The new appointments are traded with their compromise. Such discussion, acceptance and traded interest or gifts is often called quid pro quo. This is, of course, not good for the civil society organizations such persons represent nor is it fair to the general population.

That is why Ken Saro-Wiwa and those who work on MOSOP Constitution with him included the CONFLICT OF INTEREST CLAUSE, and clearly states that those who have such government interest should dutifully resign MOSOP positions and proceed with their dreams. As a result late Dr. Garrick B. Leton and Chief Edward Kobani resigned dutifully and respectfully in 1993, to join late Chief M.K.O Abiola's bid for president, as then SDP stalwarts.

It is also the reason former President Barack Obama, on realizing during the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spills that the agency of the American government that was regulating the oil industry had cozy relationship with the industry decided to reassign the regulatory responsibility to the environment body. That is also why in the UNEP report it is recommended that the Nigerian government reassign regulatory duties from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to the environment ministry (or other independent body). See UNEP report Pages 218 to 220, and others for more.These recommendations like the ones on page 217 which is aimed at strengthening the Nigerian regulatory framework, and most others may not have been implemented by Buhari and his regime.

Therefore, although Brothers Akpobari and Pyagbara, despite their personal interest may mean well for Ogoni, and could use the current position they hold to assist Ogoni and other communities, they remain vulnerable to penetration by the government and oil companies, as tools against Ogoni cause. We can see how they both accepted HYPREP from Buhari instead of Ogoni Environmental Restoration Authority (OERA) recommended by UNEP to localize and cause the concentration needed for the effectiveness and efficiency of the cleanup and restoration project.

We also see how the broad mandate and nationalization of HYPREP has caused multiple interest, including greed, hence resulting in unnecessary bureaucracy and confusion. This anti-report recommendations' broad mandate has caused deceit, manipulation and influence which resulting in the unwillingness of the Nigerian government, $hell and others to raise adequate fund totaling One Billion Dollars recommended for the first five years. The acceptance of the polluters: $hell Oil and NNPC, other firms as management, decision-making members of HYPREP is responsible for the current setback HYPREP faces.

These oil companies were responsible for decades of reckless and abandoned pollution and degradation in Ogoni. Why would they not hijack the project to suit them and protect their interest when allowed on the boards to become judges in their own criminal case? Obviously, the reckless and repeated pollution, degradation of Ogoni for decades and lies, cover-ups and bribery, lack of compensation and alternative livelihoods is criminal. Why let them sit on the management team? We know these companies control the Nigerian government, but why did MOSOP and OSF, other negotiators accept such proposal if they were not compromised?

Giving therefore the wisdom, merits and precedent of Constitutions, policies and procedures guiding and discouraging conflict of interest in government and non-governmental organizations, the evidence of such entanglement and the issues/danger they pose, it is imperative that senior and executive officers of governmental and non-governmental----nonprofit and civil society organizations declare their interest and resign. They have a moral and civic duty to resign their positions before accepting governmental and corporate, or non-governmental positions, respectively. Laws could also be enacted to prohibit such corporate inclusion on management boards of agencies such as HYPREP. There is need for legislations prohibiting employment and political appointments' crossover while still serving a governmental or non-governmental, civil society organizations, in order to prevent these issues linking conflict of interest.

This will serve these organizations, the people they represent, general populace and government entities well. In short, such issues may not be raised if the proper things, including prompt resignation are done. Those who respect and support these groups of senior and executive officers, presidents of organizations such as MOSOP and OSF, and the young people who are working to be like them will not have mixed messages.

The youths and others will know what to expect and do in such situations. If a clear standard and positive message prohibiting and rejecting such dual appointments hence conflict of interest is not created and implemented, the young ones who views organizational heads as role models will find whatever they do as appropriate and follow suit. This will set a dangerous and destructive precedent for our people as we have seen in the unwillingness of the last two MOSOP presidents to leave office when constitutionally due.

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