Each time I see the Minister of Interior, Mr. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo on TV, he comes across as a man with a split personality. Half of him is an image of a hard-working and dedicated public official who wants to record measurable achievements and impacts. He has cleared backlogs of passport applications and is working on introducing a portal through which Nigerians can apply for passports and have them delivered to them at home. Tunji-Ojo speaks fast, talks smoothly and appears quite beguiling. The other part of him is behind the façade, and it’s a man in love with the lucre. He likes to make money through contracts and sleazy deals from the same government he serves.
His conduct is a clear case of conflict of interest, a violation of the code of conduct for public officials and the oath of office which he swore to.
A company he founded in 2009, New Planet Project Limited, was awarded a contract worth N438.1 million by the suspended Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Ms Betta Edu, to verify the social register that was to be used for conditional cash transfers. But Tunji-Ojo claims that he had resigned as a director of the company long before he became a minister last August, although he is still a majority shareholder and that his wife is the managing director. A minister who presents an image of a high-performing officer of the government, but is, indirectly through his wife and the company he owns, soliciting and benefitting from contracts from the same government, is a duplicitous fellow; and his excuse that he had resigned his directorship is simply dubious, specious and flimsy. He has fallen below the basic moral standards required of the office he occupies.
His conduct is a clear case of conflict of interest, a violation of the code of conduct for public officials and the oath of office which he swore. It’s heartening to note that the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) which is statutorily mandated by the Constitution (Third Schedule, Part 1, 3(e) has launched an investigation into this matter. The inquiry should look into the qualification and competence of the company to do the verification of the social register. What specifically was the company set up to do and what are its competencies in data verification? How was the bidding done? Did the government earn value for money and did the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) approve this contract?
I urge CCB to go as far back as four or five years ago when Tunji-Ojo was the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on NDDC. He also benefited enormously from NDDC contracts worth billions of Naira. I recall that Tunji-Ojo was at the centre of the storm during the ‘’Minister off your mic’’ scandal at the National Assembly.
The Code of Conduct for public officers as enshrined in the Constitution specifically states that ‘’A public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities’’. Section 6 of the Code of Conduct also states that ‘’a public officer shall not ask for or accept property or benefits of any kind for himself or any other person on account of anything done or omitted to be done by him in discharge of his duties’’. In the oath he swore to as a minister on August 21, 2023, Tunji-Ojo said, in part, with a Bible in his hand, ‘’I will not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct or my official decision’’. As a shareholder in the company that benefited from contracts from NDDC and the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, Tunji-Ojo has flouted his oath of office and the provisions of the Code of Conduct. He should be prosecuted, and this will not only serve as a deterrence to others, it will give an indication of the administration’s seriousness in the war against corruption.
For now, Tunji-Ojo, a lawyer, is trying hard to put up a bold face and present a slick image. At every opportunity, he flaunts his innovative skills and patriotic credentials. The other week, he attended the 2024 National Summit of the NBA’s Young Lawyers Forum and gave a rousing speech. ‘’We are ready to take the lead and I want to plead with you as young lawyers; please join me in making sure that the Nigeria we will be handing over to our children would be greater than the one we inherited from our parents’’, he told his audience. But some are asking: Is he for real? Can we trust him? Who is the real Tunji-Ojo?
The minister may not be the only public official benefitting from inappropriate and illegal transactions within the government. Across the country and at various levels of government, public officials are either awarding contracts to themselves, their relatives or cronies; or are engaging in warrant bribery and kickbacks. In fact, several of Tunji-Ojo’s colleagues at FEC were undergoing EFCC investigations or were indicted before they were appointed ministers. It is now up to the President and the anti-graft agencies to deal decisively with the stench.
Successful countries maintain very high standards for their public officials because corruption and immoral actions are detrimental to good governance. President Tinubu came into office with very modest anti-graft credentials. Fighting corruption and keeping high moral standards were never his forte. But now, the President seems determined to prove us wrong. Receiving a delegation from the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) last week, the President assured the nation that he will not relent in fighting corruption. Nigerians are waiting to see how well he would do on that. Betta Edu and Tunji-Ojo are the first test cases for him to prove his point.