Candidate's bid knows no borders

City lawyer faces hurdles in Nigeria presidential run

August 21, 2006|By JULIE BYKOWICZ | JULIE BYKOWICZ,SUN REPORTER

Those of a political bent would probably acknowledge that Godson M. Nnaka has a few stumbling blocks to overcome in his campaign to become the next president of Nigeria.

No. 1: He lives in the Baltimore area and has for the past 20 years.

No. 2: As an attorney, he has a few blemishes on his professional record. Several times, judges have found his work sloppy.

No. 3: He was arrested last month and charged with sexual solicitation of a minor, allegedly offering a client a discount in return for sexual favors.

Needless to say, these are not talking points that find their way onto Nnaka's campaign Web site. Instead, he is described there as "an international super-figure who has gained the admiration of friendly countries."

The current president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, is due to leave office next spring. There is no apparent successor, and Nigerians fear a political breakdown in their nation - Africa's most populous and one of the world's most corrupt.

"Many people are genuinely worried about the quality of the presidential aspirants," columnist Ujudud Shariff wrote this month in an Abuja, Nigeria, newspaper.

A short, meticulously dressed lawyer, Nnaka hustled into the Eastside District Courthouse on Tuesday for a preliminary hearing in his sexual solicitation case. His trial has been set for Sept. 28. Nnaka is pleading not guilty.

Nnaka declined to be interviewed for this article. One of his lawyers, Jerry Tarud, who works down the hall from Nnaka, says he is "a person beyond reproach."

"He's professional at all times, and he has a high level of integrity," Tarud says. "He has excellent moral character."

At 43, Nnaka has been a member of the Maryland bar since 1995. He handles mostly civil litigation and divorce cases, court records show. He and his wife divorced in 1987, and he lives in an apartment in Cockeysville. He owns three city houses.

Web sites for his presidential campaign and his law firm tend toward the verbose.

An excerpt from one of his opening statements, as posted on his firm Web site, says: "I will tell you the truth. I realize when we say the truth, we are rejected; when we say the truth, we are punished; when we say the truth, we are banished ... ."

Nnaka announced his presidential run this summer on a Web site, nnakafornigeria.org. It says "his formal entry to the presidential race has long been a subject of intense speculation."

Although the presidential election is expected to take place in April, the country's electoral commission has yet to set a date.

Candidates become official if they are nominated by one of the country's 41 political parties about six months before the election, says Mobolaji E. Alukoz, a Howard University chemical engineering professor. Aluko is president of the Nigerian Democratic Movement, a pro-democracy Washington-based organization founded in 1993.

"A lot of people want to be president of Nigeria," says Aluko, who thinks there could be 100 or more presidential hopefuls out there.

Aluko says he's aware of Nnaka's campaign. He laughs. "Anybody who wants to run and has money will probably be able to be nominated by a party," he says.

He says of Nnaka, whom he knows casually, "He seems to be successful and well-spoken, but he's just too sudden."

Like Aluko, Nnaka has remained active in his native country's affairs from afar.

Public records show Nnaka has chartered several organizations: the African American Foundation, the Nigeria Policy Group and Pro-Health International. All are based in Baltimore.

Nnaka was among the Nigerian expatriates who sent a letter in the spring urging the current president not to extend his term.

On his campaign Web site, Nnaka sets goals for his presidency that are as great as they are for himself. The mission: "To build and maintain the greatest, most successful and prosperous black nation on earth."

"Who is Dr. Nnaka?" reads one of the pages on the Web site. Some of the answers are revealed, but far from all. For instance, what is he a doctor of?

The Web site says Nnaka began his American career in business, working as a manager at Maryland National Bank, now a part of Bank of America. He became a vice president at Sygnort Corp., "a diversified international corporation," the Web site says. Documents suggest Sygnort was a cosmetics company.

Public records show that Sygnort was registered in Maryland in 1989, but by 1994 it was listed as forfeited. In 1998, a Dallas judge ruled that Nnaka had defrauded fellow Nigerian Obinna Duruji by persuading him to invest $10,000 in Sygnort. After mediation, Nnaka agreed to pay $7,500, which he did this May, Duruji says.

Nnaka's Web site does not say where or when he went to law school, but it does note he completed a graduate diploma program in international and comparative law at Oxford University under the sponsorship of the University of San Diego School of Law.

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