THE chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Mr. Danladi Umar, was recently captured in a video assaulting a young Nigerian. The CCT head threw caution to the wind and got physical with a security guard at Banex plaza in Abuja. His driver also assaulted the guard at his behest. Umar was reportedly angered by the young Nigerian’s ‘effrontery’ in asking to park his vehicle properly so as not to block other visitors to the plaza. Other than the simple advice for him to park his vehicle appropriately in a public place, the details of the exchange between the security man and the CCT chairman before the public affray ensued are yet unclear. But is there any circumstance under which a senior government official should raise his voice uncontrollably, let alone slapping a fellow citizen in a public place? For a person of Umar’s calibre in the society, and who ironically is charged with the responsibility of ensuring compliance with the code of conduct by public officials, his conduct was most unbecoming. It is a shame that someone who should be exemplary and of high standards in character and conduct is clearly pointing the direction of disorderliness and anarchy to others.
As a senior government official, a lawyer, and someone who by his calling superintends over the settlement of disputes, Umar was expected to have imbibed the culture of keeping his cool even under provocative circumstances, but that was not the case. Given the way the altercation quickly degenerated into fisticuffs, it is believed in some quarters that Umar probably had an axe to grind with the guards at the Banex plaza, and the official press release by his press officer which alleged that Biafran boys attacked his principal seems to have confirmed that fear.
The question may be asked as to who Biafran boys are. And why should any official of government refer to some Nigerian citizens as Biafran boys? Umar and his ilk are the ones that are unwittingly stoking the fire of disunity in the country and exacerbating the fissures in the country’s fault-lines with thoughtless, careless and provocative pronouncements. ‘Biafran boys’ which is a euphemism for young men of Igbo extraction was apparently deployed to stoke ethnic passions and tensions as if the ignoble and morally reprehensible conduct of a senior government official was all about dissension between two ethnic groups. The recourse to whipping up ethnic sentiments was to obfuscate the real issue which bordered on character flaw on the part of the CCT head which led him to engage in physical combat in public. Ironically, there are indications that the victim of Umar’s assault and battery, Clement Sargwak, is not even of Igbo extraction.
Many Nigerians have suggested that the matter be reported to the National Judicial Council (NJC) to deal decisively with the author of the egregious misconduct but the truth is that the CCT chairman is not a judicial officer or a judge in the strict sense envisaged by Section 318 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). The CCT head is a member of the executive arm, even though his duties approximate those of a judicial officer. And since he is not strictly a judicial officer, the aggrieved person or anyone can petition the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) of the Body of Benchers so that he can answer for his misconduct. In any case, it is gladdening that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has waded into the matter, indicating its intention to launch a painstaking inquiry into the actions of Umar; he is at least a lawyer.
In the words of the Publicity Secretary of the NBA, Dr. Nduka Rapulu, “as a member of the legal profession Danladi Yakubu Umar Esq. is expected by the extant rules that regulate the conduct of legal practitioners in Nigeria, to maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and not to engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of the legal profession. Prima facie evidence at the moment raises questions regarding whether such standards have been met.” But judging by recent precedent, the executive arm of government to which Umar belongs is most unlikely to investigate, let alone punish him for his misconduct. Thus, if there is any hope that the CCT chairman will be held to account for his behaviour in public, the NBA is perhaps the surest avenue through which that can be achieved.
We urge the NBA to follow through on its promise to investigate the matter and take appropriate action based on the outcome of its inquiry. It has become imperative that the code of conduct for public officials should not be about assets declaration alone and compliance with same; it should be all-encompassing, touching especially on the need for best practices in interpersonal relationships, decency and decorum. Mr. Danladi Umar, based on the video that has gone viral, clearly crossed the line; he was oppressive and tyrannical. He misrepresented who the average public officer ought to be and it is hoped that the appropriate authorities will caution and reprimand him.
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