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Of Blind & Citizens’ Trust – Tola Adenle

December 23, 2013

Old Magazine/Newspaper essays


[With President Jonathan’s public disclosure of his assets – and those of his wife – still pending, here is an essay from President Obasanjo era that shows the total disregard by Nigerian rulers to public opinion of the citizens they supposedly serve. While Obasanjo might have declared his assets at the beginning when he supposedly had under N50,000 to his name, he left office a very rich man with assets in education, manufacturing (cement), etcetera. I am not aware of another public declaration when he left office.

Meanwhile, like his political godson, Jonathan, makes a mantra of probity and transparency in government and war on corruption which has reportedly seen him set up a World Bank office inside Aso Rock while paradoxically, he has refused to follow the constitutional directive to publicly declare his assets. To read the story of the soul-numbing confirmation of the president’s handing over of the running of the economy to the World Bank and donor agencies, please visit the Punch at:

http://www.punchng.com/editorial/glamour-of-world-bank-desk-in-the-presidency/http://www.punchng.com/editorial/glamour-of-world-bank-desk-in-the-presidency/.

Above is the intro when the following essay first appeared in The Nation on Sunday, October 29, 2006, and on this blog in March 2012.

OF BLIND & CITIZENS’ TRUSTS
by Tola Adenle

The press was awash with news of President Obasanjo’s purchase and fully-paid for 200 million shares in Transcorp Nigeria, a modern-day engulf-and-devour corporation that is buying up juicy public assets although as I’m writing this at the end of August, I have not come across a denial or otherwise of this incredible story. As most Nigerians know, many shareholders of Transcorp are individuals who work for government agencies or parastatals e.g. Mrs. Okereke, Director General of the Stock Exchange, etcetera – and now, we are told, the President. Their initial investment, we are told is one Naira each, an amount that would not pay 10% of a motorcycle ride even in the rural areas.

I’ve also read reports in which the President’s action was described as being “in conformity with best practice in other parts of the world.” Well, in checking various sources on the web, I could not find references to “other parts of the world” except the USA where‘Blind Trusts’ originated as a direct result of the availability of possible means to vast wealth often available to public office seekers.

There are various definitions of ‘Blind Trusts’, two of which I find particularly explanatory: trust set up by a settlor who reserves the right to terminate the trust but agrees to assert no power over the trust (which is administered without account to the beneficiary/settlor) or to retain any other measure of control over the trust’s administration. For example, it is common for government officials to vest all their investment property to a blind trust to avoid any conflict of interest.

There is also: An investment account managed by a third party where the owner has no knowledge of the assets being held. http://www.freebuck.com/reference/glossary/b.htm

I also searched far and wide to see if this American practice has ever had any US officials create a ‘Blind Trust’ AFTER being elected to office, or acquiring businesses, including stocks while in office but found none. The general practice seems to be that an official puts assets he/she owned before being elected into such investment accounts.

About a year ago, there was uproar over the US Senate Majority Leader’s supposed ‘Blind Trust’which investigations revealed seemed not to be ‘blind’ after all. Here is an excerpt from “Frist Stock Sale Raises Questions on Timing” written by Washington Post Staff Writers, R. Jeffrey Smith and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum in the September 22, 2005 edition of that newspaper: The excerpt includes opinions by ethics and legal experts as well as watchdogs:

I’m skipping the part about US Senator Frist but you can read the whole old essay at:
https://emotanafricana.com/2012/03/05/of-blind-and-citizens-trusts-2/

Now, back to the definitions of ‘blind trusts’ and its application to Obasanjo Holdings, Transcorp shares, etcetera. I have no idea whether the laws of this land are compatible with a ‘blind trust’ but while like most Nigerians I tend to believe that the President would not be preaching transparency in government while he is involved in transactions that would not do justice to the image of a crusader, three questions are baffling:

• Does the President indeed own two hundred million shares in Transcorp? I am not that concerned whether his shares are paid for because I do not know what the President had in assets before May 1999?
• If yes, is the President unaware of this huge investment which, to go by one of the definitions of a ‘blind trust’ is supposed to be “managed by a third party where the owner has no knowledge of the assets being held”?
• Can elected officials continue to engage in huge personal business activities while in office?

Most Nigerians believe that the President is a honest man who just happens to belong to a party perceived to be peopled by members whose raiment are less than clean. I have wondered often how Officer Bode George can still be holding important PDP national office in spite of the several allegations against him by presidential panels. Pending conclusion of findings, should not such a person step down in line with a President’s war on corruption and transparency?

Finally, here are other troubling subjects that make citizens wonder at the genuineness of the President’s stand on good governance: the EFCC’s selective investigations; EFCC and INEC acting as police, prosecutors, judges and executioners.
And wouldn’t it have been better if the President had prevented the formation of Transcorp as presently constituted, and also avoided the public launch of a university, supposedly his, to which public corporations and state governments had to donate generously?

MONDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2013.

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