At last, President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, have fulfilled an earlier promise of disclosing to the public, the details of their assets which they had privately declared to the Code of Conduct Bureau as required by the constitution before their inauguration into office.
It is a welcome development that both officers of government submitted their asset declaration forms to the CCB before they began to perform their official functions as required by the Nigerian Constitution under Chapter VI Section 140 (as amended) even though the same law does not specify or require them to publicly disclose the contents of the submitted forms.
The idea behind this constitutional provision is to create a public trail of the assets owned by public officers while they are in active service. Apart from the President and Vice President, other officers listed include the Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Speaker and Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Speakers of state Houses of Assembly, members and staff of legislative houses, governors and deputy governors of states, justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and Court of Appeal, ministers, commissioners, permanent secretaries, directors-general, chairmen and members of local councils, military, police, among others.
The renewed call by Nigerians that they (Buhari and Osinbajo) should make details of their assets public was in tandem with a pledge by Buhari during his electioneering campaigns to do so. Hence, the agitation for the President to publicly declare his assets was hinged on his earlier promise. It would be recalled that while publicly declaring his assets in 2007 – when it was barely a month after his inauguration as President – the late Umar Yar’Adua, who is said to be the only Nigerian President to have publicly declared his assets, made public photocopies of his filled asset declaration form that was submitted to the CCB to the public.
However, the announcement of Buhari’s public declaration has both been greeted with an applause as well as criticism. Those who laud the initiative believe that with the action, transparency was at its peak while those not excited are of the opinion that it was already a belated exercise. Better still, not a few others have commended the President for the ‘modest’ assets possessed by him (someone who had served as a top military officer and later Head of State) while others have described the declaration as a sham because they felt that the information provided was scanty and not detailed enough because the submitted CCB form did not include the following key items: First, the President and the Vice President were expected to state in the forms, the value sum of the assets they had declared but this did not happen. Secondly, they did not release the details of their annual income.
No matter what anybody says, Buhari for me, has joined the league of leaders that have set new standards of ethical conduct for their countries. This singular action would not only assist inputting leaders at other layers of governance on their toes, it would also avail the citizenry an opportunity for them to know the possessions of their leaders both on assumption and expiration of office. By so doing, they would be able to say if the leaders have served them transparently or simply used the public service to amass wealth.
Nigerians are apparently lot more conscious of the fact that governance will no longer be as it used to be. That is why restricting the declaration of assets by public office holders to only the CCB should be reviewed to amend the relevant sections of the constitution and enact a law that will compel public servants in general to make public disclosure of their assets compulsory because those who engage in corrupt enrichment are not limited to the officers listed under the purview of the CCB. Considering Nigeria’s ugly experience with corruption, the game of business as usual and merely complying with the provisions of the law on submission of assets forms to CCB is no longer enough and acceptable.
With the good example shown by the declaration by President and his deputy, other public office holders should take a cue from this. They should be made to realise that for their personal interests not to conflict with responsibilities of governance, it is imperative for them to relentlessly declare their assets. If before now they did not see any reason for them to make the details of their assets known, by virtue of their elections, the people are now demanding for such declaration.
Nigerians, who are persuaded that not only the President and the Vice President should make details of their assets public, may decide to explore other options by invoking the Freedom of Information Act to get the required information from the CCB. This is legitimate and a right course of action for them. The electorate deserve accountability and the re-assurance from their leaders that they have not made a wrong choice. Therefore, public declaration of assets by public servants at this point in the life of the nation has become a necessity and there is no basis to politicise the issue.
Meanwhile, the information that Buhari has declared his assets four times in the course of his public career is impressive, considering the reality that many public officers often evade this constitutional requirement. It is also worth mentioning that the obscure manner in which assets’ declarations are still being conducted in the country could largely be blamed for the rot in the system as it prevents members of the public from ascertaining the true worth of public officers. This should no longer be encouraged and allowed.
With the Buhari and Osinbajo example, other public officials in the country should follow-suit and make details of their assets known. There is no crime in being rich. People can actually be rich through prudence, hard work, creativity, honesty and being industrious. What is bad and unacceptable is becoming wealthy without any verifiable means or under questionable circumstance. That is why it is in order for all public officers to declare their assets.