from The Guardian

This is the second mention of Goodluck Jonathan in this column. Mr. Jonathan is Nigeria’s Vice-President. He should expect to get a lot of mention, here and elsewhere.

Public officials enjoyed being mentioned by the public, as long as it is “positive” mention. That is the genre of public relations that press officers love to bring to the attention of their bosses: stories about how handsome and successful and well-spoken the Big Man is.

This is one of those fascinating areas in public life: is an office an end, or a process? Is a position in government an award, or a trust? Quite often, a government official is upset because he feels that his position does not enjoy the acclaim it deserves. He points at the press and complains about how he is being disrespected because attention is on what he has not done, rather than the importance of his office. He resents opposing views that remind him of popular expectations, not self; of history, rather than this moment.

Hopefully, Vice-President Jonathan does not think this way. I do not know much about him, except that he is a key beneficiary of the avarice of his boss as Deputy Governor, Dipreye Alamieseigha, and last year’s collapse of Olusegun Obasanjo’s self-succession effort.

The first fell into the sewers of his own greed, opening the door for Mr. Jonathan to become governor, while the failure of the other to convert the nation to his personal estate led to the arrival of one Umaru Yar’Adua, and the luck of the lottery. Obviously, Mr. Jonathan is a very lucky man.

But what of this nation, Nigeria? Is Goodluck’s luck good for Nigeria?

So far, hardly. It searches for leadership, which he and President Yar’Adua has said they will provide. Nigeria hopes they will. They carry the burden of an apologetic leadership that is bogged down in the quicksand of their flawed election.

That is how it should be, and I am happy they subscribe to the rule of law and will allow the electoral tribunal to do its work. It is of the greatest importance that they defend their mandate according to the law.

It is at this point that we must remind Mr. Jonathan that while his mandate is very important, there is something that is even more important than a mandate.

That thing is character.

A mandate may be disputed, won, lost, or even stolen, but not character. That is why Mr. Yar’Adua’s recent declaration of his assets says a lot about him. It was not the first time he was making the point of declaring his assets, but it says something about him as a person.

It says he is not afraid. It asserts he is whom he says he is. It says he is a man of principle. It describes his character.

There are some loopholes in Mr. Yar’Adua’s declaration of assets, and some commentators have pointed them out. I do not think, however, that they detract from the significance of his action, or that they are loopholes he cannot correct.

In a country long on the proclamations and preachments of its leaders but short on commitment and action, what the President did was to set an example for every Nigerian, particularly those in public service. I hope that wherever he was, Vice-President Jonathan was one of those who rose and applauded the President, and did so sincerely.

If so, I applaud the Vice-President himself. But I must now remind him that there is one Nigerian, one particular Nigerian, for whom Mr. Yar’Adua’s example is of even greater significance. That person is Mr. Jonathan.

The example of Mr. Yar’Adua is an eloquent symbol that is capable of turning Nigeria around, whether the election tribunal overturns the election of last April or not. But if he and Mr. Jonathan remain in office, Mr. Yar’Adua’s example and sacrifice is a loud waste unless one other thing happens. Unless Mr. Jonathan also publicly declares his assets.

If the Vice-President does not declare his assets, it would be a signal to all other public officials that nothing has changed, and that the example of Mr. Yar’Adua should be ignored. Nigeria’s Number Two Citizen would be telling Nigeria that all of the talk about a new beginning is the President’s problem that has no meaning. Mr. Jonathan would be declaring war on the President’s objective of leading by example, beginning with himself.

I know there is no law in Nigeria requiring anyone to declare his assets in public. I have heard many commentators proclaim this, but they arwrong. If there was no law permitting public officials to loot the treasury, there ought to be no special requirement for anyone in public office stepping forward to pronounce his hands clean.

It is the voluntary nature of this effort that accords it history and respect. Such an act provides a strong testament to claims of a new Nigeria, a Nigeria led by the “independence generation,” by people who have come to serve, not to serve themselves. Such an act would enhance the optimism of the public that there may be substance to the statements of the President that he is here as a “servant-leader.”

Let me turn the coin over: if Mr. Jonathan does not declare his assets, or chooses to hide his “declaration” under a legal banana leaf, it is proof he has something to hide, and he must be considered to be subverting our hopes for the future. If he does not follow the example of the President and declare his assets publicly, Mr. Jonathan has an agenda that is suspicious, and should not be given the benefit of the doubt.

If he does not declare his assets, publicly and promptly, he forfeits the privilege of taking the respect of the people with him, because it must be assumed that having been the Governor of a State, he has pilfered from the people of that state, and is uncomfortable having to explain his wealth. If he does not declare his assets immediately, he must be regarded as working for himself and those in the government who oppose the action of the President.

I will go further. If Mr. Jonathan delays beyond July 29, 2007, two months after assuming office and one month after his boss’s bold move, before declaring his assets publicly, Nigerians must make it the first question they ask him every day he wakes up. And when he passes them anywhere on earth, they must raise their voices and shout: “D-Y-A, D-Y-A, D-Y-A! (Declare Your Assets!)

No, Mr. Jonathan, in our nation today, declaring your assets is no longer a privilege or a matter of the law. Nor is it a burden. It is a national duty.

Declare Your Assets, so that others may begin to know whom you are, or get out of the new way.

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