Assets: Pressure on Buhari, others to declare liabilities
President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had, upon assumption of office, tendered the required documents containing information about their assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) for scrutiny and promised to make the contents public, as pledged during the 2015 presidential election campaigns.
While, through the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Alhaji Shehu Garba, Buhari announced less than N30 million in his personal account with Union Bank Plc, company shares, 270 cattle, cars and houses, among others, his vice, disclosed his own assets as N94million, $900,000, £19,000, houses and others.
But an elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, and some legal practitioners are arguing that if the figures reeled out last week are representative of the contents of the documents the two leaders lodged with the CCB, they might have come short of fulfilling the provision of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
Section 140, sub-section 1 of the 1999 Constitution as amended states: “A person elected to the office of President shall not begin to perform the functions of that office until he has declared his assets and liabilities as prescribed in this Constitution and he has taken and subscribed to the Oath of Allegiance and the oath of office prescribed in the Seventh Schedule to this Constitution.”
At separate interviews with The Guardian yesterday, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Norrison Quakers, and Yakassai, a former Presidential Adviser in the Second Republic, drew the attention of the Presidency to what they described as a breach of the constitution if the liabilities of the two leaders are not also disclosed.
Quakers said declaring the liabilities, which, according to him, often goes with the assets declaration is “very important”, and that the president and his vice “cannot be seen to have totally complied with the provision of the constitution; otherwise, being in government becomes a means to an end, to pay up your debts or liabilities. “Everybody you have been exposed to (owe) – both good and bad – should be made public, Quakers said, citing Sections 140, sub-section 1; and 142, sub-section 2 of the Constitution.
Section 142, sub-section 2 of the constitution specifically compels the vice president to declare his own assets and liabilities. Similarly, Section 172 also provides for declaration of assets and liabilities by ‘public office holders, who shall conform to the code of conduct.”
The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, according to Quakers, sets out “what everyone holding political office must do or not do,” which, by extension, compels compliance with the code of conduct as provided for by the statutory books. The senior lawyer emphasised that public office holders, including ministers and special advisers, must disclose gifts which should also be kept for the office and not for personal use.
Why assets and liabilities?
The constitutional lawyer said the need for the president, his vice and other public office holders to declare their assets together with their liabilities is underscored by the higher need for transparency and accountability in governance. “It is to checkmate political office holders from being subjected to graft. This is why there is the issue of conflict of interest; you cannot declare assets and not declare liabilities,” he insisted.
Quakers argued that since section 140 of the constitution compels declaration of assets and liabilities by political office holders, Nigerians should “see the other segment in terms of liabilities,” especially as the public declaration by the president and his vice has become a moral, not a legal, issue.
According to the senior advocate, “if the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) decides to follow the path of the president, then the governors should follow suit.” He recalled that a non-governmental organization had taken the issue of asset declaration of a president to the CCB and the bureau allegedly refused to disclose the information, an action Quakers described as illegal.
We must now begin to have responsible governance and governments, he told The Guardian, insisting that the President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and others must be made to follow suit
Yakassai, an astute politician and presidential adviser to President Shehu Shagari between 1979 and 1982, corroborated Quakers’ position, saying asset declaration by federal public officers is not only a good idea but mandatory because “it is the position of the law.”
He, however, observed that doing so publicly would only become morally compulsory if it was part of campaign promises of the President as is the case with Buhari. Saying that “the whole idea is to confirm probity,” Yakassai stressed that the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua declared his own assets together with those of his wife, a path he wishes the current administration toed.
“Yar’Adua declared his own assets and that of his wife, but Buhari did not do so; so, the whole idea is to confirm probity.”
Yakassai recalled the story of a governor of Northern Nigeria in 1967, Hassan Usman Katsina, who was said to have applied for land allocation that was turned down by the permanent secretary on the ground that it would amount to abuse of office. The permanent secretary’s attention was, however, drawn to the fact that the governor had applied for the allocation before his assumption of office.
According to Yakassai, ministers and special advisers working with the president are also expected to declare their assets and liabilities as well as those of their spouses. The reason, he said, is to guard against presumptive and preemptive acquisition of wealth while in office.
“The sooner we pressurize governors and their commissioners to also declare assets and liabilities the better for us,” Yakassai had said in an interview with the Channels Television earlier yesterday.
Another lawyer, Olukayode Ajulo, who is the Founder/Chairman, Egalitarian Mission, Africa and National Secretary, Labour Party (LP), alleged that the asset declaration by Buhari and Osinbajo as presented by Garba Shehu, is apparently fraudulent not only to hoodwink Nigerians but to further use same to cover serial violations of their covenant with Nigerians.
According to him, asset declaration must be done in prescribed form with particulars to ensure clarity and certainty, what was declared is vague, in bad faith and totally unacceptable.
“Particulars and full description of the asset has to be given for proper identification and verification. It is also incomplete as the spouses of the two politicians did not declare theirs with their husbands, it is the law that where any spouse of the declarant is not a civil servant/public servant such spouse should make the declaration with the better half.”
Buhari team should go one step further by making their assets truly public with sincerity of purpose; and it is pretty much simple.