Buhari, Osinbajo will make asset declaration public, says Shittu
Many Nigerians, especially the vocal civil society organisations last week expressed disappointment with President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo for not declaring their assets publicly as was done by the late president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Their resentment and criticisms are understandable. Both leaders rode on the back of integrity, transparency and openness to gain power. In this interview with JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, human rights activist and faculty of law University of Lagos teacher, Wahab Shittu said they would surely make the declaration public, beyond what the law says. He also spoke on corruption, insecurity and other topical issues.
Unpublicized asset declaration by the president and his vice
We must proceed from the premise of what the law stipulates, which is to the effect that they are expectred to declare their assets. The law did not stipulate that those assets should be publicised, the assumption being that once its declared, it is in the public domain. Who ever is interested should go and apply for a certified true copy from the code of conduct bureau. But in the light of the present circumstance, on the strength of the integrity and antecedent of Mr. President and his vice who rode to power on the integrity ticket, with the well known incorruptible posturing of both men who have zero-tolerance for corruption, my expectation is that they should take a step further by causing their asset declaration to be made public. My view is that they are going to do that. I am 100 percent optimistic that they would cause the asset declared to be published.
My optimism arises from my knowledge of the personalties invloved, particularly the vice president, who has a record of integrity in public service and values his reputation. I would implore the civil society organisations to be patient with the new leadership because they are just settling down and there are a lot of issues to be grappled with. Let us see what is going to happen in their first 100 days, because they have said within this period, they are going to make their asset declaration public. I think we should not stampede them and invest faith in their credibility and integrity.
Why wait for a later date for the public declaration?
They have done what is required of them, legally speaking. They cannot publicly declare such assets without complying with the formalities prescribed by law, which is what they have done now. Having declared and submitted their forms to the code of conduct bureau, let us wait for further policy pronouncements of what they intend to do. I believe it is rather premature to think that they are trying to shy away from declaring their assets publicly. I happened to be in a public function, where the vice president assured that beyond what the law stipulates, such asset declarations would be published in major national newspapers. I know he is a man of his words. So, those criticising them should keep their gun powder dry and lets wait for few more weeks.
On fight against corruption
I am quite optimistic that the present leadership, particularly number and one and two appreciate the collasal damage that corruption has done to our national life. You recall that their campaign was anchored mainly on this aside the issue of security. One way we can demonstrate their commitment to zero-tolerance to corruption in my view is leadership by example. That also includes what we have discussed before – declaring assets and publishing same in major newspapers. It would be a state direction in actualising the objective of leadeship by example. If people are aware that number one citizen is not stealing, they are likely to take a cue from him. Secondly, you found corrutpion being pervasive in any society when there are no consequences. That is why we need to strengthen our laws and the efficacy of our systems and institutions in other to order consequencies. When people realise that there are sanctions when you engage in corruption, it would serve as a major source of deterrent. We must also put in place mechanism that must limit opportunity for corruption. And that is also critical.
When it becomes no longer fashionable for people to indulge in corrupt practices, either because most of the loopholes are blocked; you don’t have leakages in the system, it reduces the avenues for corruption in terms of opportunities. The war against corruption is likely to be successful. Again, you realises that corruption is not something that can be fought by investing faith on the security agencies alone. It is a collective fight and the best way to appreciate that is to derive the origin of corruptio itself. Corruption is derived from the latin verb – corruptus, which means a breakdown. So when there is a breakdown in systems, institutions, societal traditions, ethical and moral values of the society and personal behaviours, it is corruption. So it is more important to emphasise not only the reactive measures of dealing with the issue of corruption but the also the preventive measures. What we need to do, particularly all categories of public office holders is to put in place a code of conduct to uphold the political, moral as well as ethical conduct of political office holders. We need a code of conduct.
You think we don’t have it now?
We don’t seem to have that as a matter of policy.
What of implementation of existing laws?
In line with philosophy of leadership by example, we need to have that kind of code of conduct.
Do you think the present government is poised to fighting corruption while ignoring the call to probe Jonathan’s ministers?
I think that the president is trying to be diplomatic. I am convinced that president Mohammadu Buhari would fight corruption to a standstill. And my optimism is based on his antecedents. You don’t begin to unveil your plans for tackling a major monster like corruption when you have not succeded in gaining the rein of power because corruption also has the capacity to fight back. By the time you start proclaiming that you are going to probe this and that when you have not settled into governance, those who are in the other side of the bargain can regroup and frustrate your efforts. I think it is important to gain power and then determine what to do with it. That is what he is doing. If you recall, he made it clear in his inaugural speech, where he said he is for nobody and for everybody too.
The most striking thing in the inaugural speech.
That is the most striking thing for me – I am for everybody and I am for nobody. That shows that he intends to run an inclusive government. That he is committed not to allow partisan, ethnic, religious and other premordial sentiments to influence his policy pronouncement and actions. It is also indicative of the fact that he is not prepared to be the stooge of anybody. So, if you are among those making insinuations that those who funded his campaign or elements within his party would influence him from the part he has chosen, those people would be disaapointed. But beyond that, I think the inaugural speech was also significant in the sense that he said he was going to move the military command centre to Borno State, the theater of action. A revolution of whatever kind is never fought miles away from the scene of action. That for me is a very strong resolve. It would allow the military top brass to have a first class information on what is happening. It will also assist much more effective and efficient planning. It will also ensure that directive handed down by the top military brass is effectively complied with.
Closely tied to that is the desire by the president to commission a sociological study to determine the origin of Boko Haram insurgency, the sponsors, the root causes as well as finding solutions to prevent future occurence. The fact that the president also alluded to that is indicative of the fact that he realises that the Boko Haram insurgency is motivated by several factors outside what we are meant to believe and that except those studies are taking, it would be futile. That demonstrates to me clearly that is a president who does not want to jump into conclusions without verifications. It is also very significance in his acknowledging the contributions of our founding fathers across the geopolitical zones. That statement itself is a reunifying factor.
Terrorism today is the single most potent monster against our developmental aspirations. I want to take it that the law enforcement agencies would be strengthened in terms of training, capacity, equipment, logistics and other prerequisites that would enable them to deliver. That also is part of the package. But terrorism is far more serious. You cannot underestimate the threat posed by terrorism to the Nigerian state and restiveness in the Niger Delta. Law and order is central to the devlopemental aspiration of any government. We must seek and obtain international cooperations, including non state actors if we want to win the war against terrorism.
The international standard and best practices recommends about five major measures in combating terrorism. You must put in place counter-terrorism measures for dealing with acts relating to the prevention and preparation of terrorism acts. In other words, what are the factors that could lead to the upsurge of terrorism act? When you relate this to Nigeria, you can mention marginalisation, disease, ignorance, illiteracy, poverty, agitation for resource control, fiscal federation and ignorance.
Two, you must put up measures that deals with financing of terrorism act.
Thirdly, there must be measures that will ensure stiff penalties for dealing on terrorism act. Four, you must also sustain international corporation and collaboration in other to effectively deal with terrorism and fifth one is that there must be a mechanism for periodic reviews of actions that have been taken in combating terrorism. And we need a counter terrorism task force in all the security services that would specialise mainly in researching and deploying new techniques to combat terrorism. If we align our counter terrorism measures to be in line with international standard and best practices, we are likely to effective because terrorism is perceived and seen under international law as crime against humanity.
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