Assets declaration, the governors and Buhari’s example
However, much as fighting corruption is not just a fang-baring exercise or a mere cudgel wielding on the filthy wealthy, the signals, which Buhari sends around the corridors of power and public service, are very salutary. They suggest that the proclivity for corrupt practices is not so much cast in the characters of people as in the enabling environment. Corrupt politicians and public officers are motivated by the convenience provided by the environment.
What this translates to is that had another person, who is lax about the state of corruption in the polity, been at the helm of affairs, it would be business as usual. It seems, therefore, that the value attached to moral probity in public service is dependent on the moral whims of the leadership.
Given the frantic reaction of the governors, and knowing the tricks Nigerian public officers are wont to play on matters such as this, it is clear that what is going on is probably anticipatory declaration. It is anticipatory in that the government worker declares assets which he or she has not yet acquired, but which he or she intends to acquire while in office, under the pretext that he or she owns so much. Besides the fact of the incriminating mendacity of such a declaration, it also undermines the control of the conduct of public officers, which the bureau envisages, and mocks the anti-corruption agenda of any regime.
It is for the reasons of this manner of asset declaration and the implication it has on the polity, that the Code of Conduct Bureau should cause declaration of assets to be public. A public declaration, augmented by judicious investigation to ascertain whether what is declared corresponds with what exists in reality, is one of the clearest demonstrations of accountability and transparency. Being in the service of the public, a government worker or a politician must be able to account for what has been reposed in his custody. A truly public declaration of assets commands the people’s trust, discourages the public officer from being attracted to public funds and instills probity in the system. In other words, to serve the public one must be able to subject oneself to proper public asset declaration.
Notwithstanding, a public declaration of asset does not end with the ritual of the public exercise. The public must also be enjoined to be the watchers of their funds. They should be educated to observe the lifestyle of not only politicians who represent them in government but also become critical inquirers into the activities of those who serve in public institutions. They should show keen interest in, and demand, public declaration of asset of persons in government to such an extent that, anybody who knows anything contrary to what a public officer has declared, should be motivated and empowered to come out with such information.
If Nigerians must walk the talk of change, then this government would need to set things in motion in the proper way. As it concerns a proper declaration of assets, authorities and institutions charged with the procurement of data must put their act together to ensure proper management and continuous update of data relevant to public officers. In this regard, the Department of State Services (DSS) should harness the harvest of data on asset declaration from public officers, closely monitor the lifestyle of public officers and embark on a periodic update of such officers.
To do this effectively, there should be a timetable, perhaps, a yearly one that would compel a public officer to come and declare his or her assets publicly. Whilst critics may find this ritual taxing and time wasting, it is nonetheless essential in addressing the problem of financial impropriety and unjustified enrichment among public officers.
For Nigeria to change for the better, ways must change.