Politics And Unending Debate On Asset Declaration | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Politics And Unending Debate On Asset Declaration

Posted: Sep 13, 2015 at 12:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)


Critics of President Buhari may well be raising vital concerns regarding what has become much-ado about the hue and cry of asset declaration in Nigeria. Nevertheless, no one, in good conscience, can deny the Daura born statesman his rightful place as a standard bearer of moderation that should serve as good example in and out of political office. Buhari earns respect as an incorruptible Nigerian simply because his life largely reflects the simplicity and frugality that is uncommon amongst his peers. Notwithstanding, his declared assets cannot but be open to debate given public knowledge of his past as minister of petroleum resources and chairman of the defunct petroleum trust fund in the days of General Sani Abacha. Nigerians are often not victims of collective amnesia when it comes to scrutiny of public office holders and it should therefore not be strange if the 2.8 billion Naira saga of NNPC in the 70s as well as the probe of PTF era become reference points in the ongoing debate on asset declaration.

As a former head of state, President Buhari’s lifestyle bare eloquent testimony to the uniqueness that is rare amongst the aristocratic political class whose penchant for primitive accumulation has become awkwardly sickening. But beyond Buhari’s asset declaration, a public officer in Nigeria could hardly be adjudged on the basis of what he or she declared as assets for reasons that are too obvious. Given the intricacies of political power and wealth accumulation, it is doubtful if asset declaration and incorruptibility amounts to one and the same thing; otherwise most of the certified leeches around the political space would end up being celebrated as angels. However, it is left to those incline to contradict Buhari’s asset declaration to provide sufficient justification to the contrary.

Asset declaration has become such a huge political gambit that intending public and political office holders could exploit to maximum and inexorable advantage. It must be understood that asset declaration may not readily address the fears about people whose dominant preoccupation is to steal for and on behalf of those in government who prepare ahead to evade public scrutiny and sanctions in the future. Therefore asset declaration as presently designed may not capture the wealth of those who covet public heritage by proxy in the name of privatisation and commercialisation and whose political activities are financed by surrogates otherwise respected as captains and bigwigs of the business community.

No doubt, asset declaration is a right step in the right direction but there are more unhealthy issues that underpin and exacerbate corruption in the polity. By making his assets public following in the footstep of his kinsman late president Umaru Yar’Adua who set the standard upon assuming office in 2007, Buhari was only validating the long-held maxim that political office should be about public trust and, to a larger extent, that those with skeleton in their cupboards should stare clear of public office if averse to public scrutiny. Those who insist Buhari’s fulfilment of the pledge to make his asset public could not be sufficient enough to confirm that the soldier turned politician is saintly or altruistic may be missing the point after all. Buhari cannot claim to be saint just as no one could hardly affirm to be. Asset declaration should not be about altruism; but rather about a public officer subjecting his or her private assets to public scrutiny. By declaring mud houses as assets, Buhari was not, in anyway implying that those who could rightfully and in good conscience lay claim to ownership of mansions should not so declared. Beyond asset declaration, the issue remains how much of the wealth of a political office holder could be traceable to public scrutiny when business of government is not only shrouded in secrecy but determined by “our turn against their turn” political tenure-ship; a geo-ethnic persuasion fuelled and sustained by the nebulous arrangement of power rotation? Politics of asset declaration becomes even more intriguing when public office is defined by cronyism that sustained retinue of political patronage.

Notwithstanding, it only remains to be seen how asset declaration would amount to anything at the end of the day without enduring and efficient institutions in place to regulate and sanction the confines and latitude of conducts by political office holders; particularly the Nigerian Chief Executives in partnership with the thieving oligarchy of power. In conclusion, Buhari’s asset declaration raises two critical issues which remain outstanding and unfocussed and largely unaddressed in the ongoing debate which boils down to idolisation or vilification of Buhari; depending on where his supporters and opponents stand on the issue.

A critical unattended issue relates to the identities of Buhari’s political cronies both the long-term and the newly acquired. Who were the financials of Buhari’s political engagement and what are the assurances that the new order would not be about capitalism of the cronies? The focus should rather be on the likelihood of predatory activities of these allies in the new order more than whatever Buhari has declared as assets. The other critical issue has to do with the validity of the assets so declared. To what extent is the code of conduct bureau sufficiently detached from political interference in the verification and authentication of assets declared by political or public officials? What therefore should bother Nigerians is the assurance that nepotism and favouritism would take the back seat in the political and governance processes. There is therefore the need to effectively refocus the debate to sufficiently relate with politics of asset declaration.