ON Monday, July 20, 2020, Olubunmi Tunji Ojo, the former Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee probing the alleged financial malfeasance in the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, set what should be the gold standard in all cases of alleged involvement in misconducts involving public finance.
At the venue of the probe, Ojo was frontally accused of corruption by the embattled Acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Prof. Daniel Pondei, who promptly led his team to stage a walkout. In spite of the fact that members of the Committee reaffirmed their confidence on him, Ojo still recused himself and allowed a new Chair to take over the proceedings “to give everybody fair hearing”.
We commend Ojo for doing the right thing and bringing honour to the Akoko North West Federal Constituency of Ondo State by his action. We, however, still look forward to his exonerating himself from the accusation by ensuring that Pondei proffers evidence to support the attack on his personal character.
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It is shocking that many public officials whose doings being investigated are still hugging their exalted seats while answering to the grievous allegations levelled against them. This is more so in a regime that makes the war on corruption a priority.
One way that the Muhammadu Buhari administration should have shown its zero tolerance to corruption is to ask any public officer facing a probe by the National Assembly, a presidential panel or the security agencies to temporarily step aside until they have cleared every shadow of doubt concerning the allegations. This is because probe panels are usually set up based on prima facie evidences that such officials have cases to answer.
When an official under probe steps aside, the person next in rank in that office should hold the fort until the case is done with. If such an accused officer successfully exonerates himself or herself, they should be able to resume office with unblemished record. A replacement should only be appointed when it is clear that such an official is not returning to the office.
When an accused officer is made to step aside, it is not an indictment. Rather, it opens the way for them to clear their names and protect the sanctity of their offices from being sullied.
Public office belongs to the Nigerian people. It does not belong to the president or his ruling party. They are not at liberty to desecrate it at will. It is sacrosanct. Staying put enables crooked officials to falsify or conceal records in attempts to escape justice.
We hold it unacceptable for public servants to stay put in office while under probe. Forthwith, all public officials facing a probe must step aside pending their exoneration from culpability.