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Chidi Odinkalu: A Model For Public Service

As President Buhari prepares to appoint those who will work in his government, we urge him to search for men and women who have the attributes of Odinkalu to help steer the wheel of progress of the country

At a time like this when Nigeria needs men of honour and integrity to steer her ship of progress, Chidi Anselm Odinkalu stands out as one man whose personal and professional life should be emulated. Odinkalu, a seasoned law teacher and human rights crusader is chairman, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), a statutory body established by law to promote and protect human rights. His appointment as chairman, NHRC by former President Goodluck Jonathan has been commended both nationally and internationally.

Odinkalu lived up to expectation. He was the only public official appointed by the former president to publicly declare his assets. By so doing, he followed in the footsteps of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua who set precedence when he made public his assets immediately after his election as president in 2007. His then Vice President Jonathan also towed that path of honour.

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act makes it mandatory for public officials, both elected and appointed, to declare their assets and those of their spouses and dependent minors, and to deposit same with the Code of Conduct Bureau. The Code of Conduct Bureau is required by law to collect, verify and make available to the public the duly filled assets declaration forms of these public office holders. However, it is a well known fact that the Bureau tends to frustrate every attempt by the public, including the media, to access information regarding assets declared by public officials, thus making it possible for unscrupulous public office holders to corruptly enrich themselves. This is why we need to commend Odinkalu for being a good example for public office holders. His voluntary publication of his assets and liabilities has raised the bar in accountability, honesty and openness.

As the country embarks on a fresh democratic journey, Nigerians demand that those entrusted with power and authority should strive to live above board. The present regime should compel the Code of Conduct Bureau to fulfil its constitutional mandate by allowing the public, particularly the media and the civil society, access to all declarations of assets by public officials.

Any public official committed to accountability, transparency and faithful stewardship will definitely not shy away from declaring his assets publicly so that interested people can exercise their constitutional right to verify such declarations.

We call on public office holders to utilise the opportunity given to them to make a difference by raising the moral standards of leadership. We expect our leaders to demonstrate that they have no intention of corruptly enriching themselves in office at the expense of the people they are elected or appointed to serve. The country needs men of integrity like Odinkalu to provide effective and transformational leadership that Nigerians desire.

Since becoming its chairman, Odinkalu has transformed NHRC into a powerful and credible organisation that is truly committed to promoting, protecting and enforcing human rights in Nigeria. Before his chairmanship, the Commission was devoid of credibility and accountability due mainly to government control and interference. It also closed its eyes to official violations of human rights. But all that has changed because of the honest and courageous leadership provided by Odinkalu. He never allowed the government that offered him the appointment to interfere with the activities of the Commission.

It is on record that the Commission under him has fearlessly conducted various investigations against public institutions and officials thus helping to improve the human rights record of the country. He never allowed violations by law enforcement and security agencies to be swept under the carpet. In one case the Commission fined security agencies for indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians.

In March 2014, the Commission made a recommendation to the Minister of Justice demanding the prosecution of 41 senior politicians and election administrators alleged to have committed electoral malpractice arguing that the manipulation of election is a serious human rights violation.

His tireless fight against electoral impunity yielded fruit last year when the Independent National Electoral Commission identified and disciplined staff involved in electoral malpractice for the first time. This quiet, unassuming and tireless advocate of human rights, democracy and the rule of law was one of those who worked tirelessly to ensure the eventual passage of the Freedom of Information bill into law.

He lives an exemplary life that makes him a good study in humility,hard work, honesty and courage. Some countries in Africa and beyond have taken keen interest in Nigeria’s human rights institution because of the leadership style of Odinkalu.

As President Buhari prepares to appoint those who will work in his government, we urge him to search for men and women who have the attributes of Odinkalu to help steer the wheel of progress of the country. Nigeria can attain lofty heights in socio-economic and political developments if round pegs are put into round holes.

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