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Politics Of Asset Declaration

Posted: Jun 20, 2015 at 1:53 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Adam Adedimeji and Augustine Adah


When President Muhammadu Buhari promised during the campaign to make his assets declaration public and encourage all his appointees to do the same as a pre-condition for appointment, the now two-time Nigerian leader never imagined how seriously many Nigerians would take his words.

In a document on his plan of action, the president said what he would do within the first 100 days; among them was that he would declare his assets publicly. When he however carried out the declaration before the Code of Conduct Bureau in compliance with the Nigerian Constitution as contained in Chapter VI Section 140, it was viewed by many as inadequate, believing it fell short of their expectations.

To many, public declaration goes beyond submission of assets form with the Code of Conduct Bureau. A great number of Nigerian understands public declaration to mean making the form available to the general public through publication and distribution of the contents for public perusal.

To this group of people (and they are in majority), public disclosure of assets will give the general public a true picture of the assets of the President, his Vice and other government appointees and will send a powerful message that it is not going to be business as usual with his government. According to them, this will also follow the best practice set by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, who on assumption of office in 2007 published his asset declaration for all to see.

Contrary to that, however, many public officers including state governors are not making their asset declaration public.  Some Nigerians have expressed disappointment with the level   of assets disclosure among governors and their commissioners which they described as not encouraging.

Till date, it is alleged that only former governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, has publicly declared his assets that totaled N750 million in November 2010. He was joined by his late deputy, Funmi Olayinka, who filed a N1.2 billion declaration.

In the present dispensation, governors who have already declared their assets refused to make them public. In Sokoto State, Gov. Aminu Tambuwal and his deputy Ahmed Aliyu who declared their assets before the May 29 handing over date, did not make them public.

The situation has become worrisome to civil society organizations that some of them have threatened to take a legal action against public officers because it is meant to perpetuate corruption in the polity. National President, Citizen Liberation Advocacy Initiative (CLAI) Prince Adebola Adeniji-Adele told Daily Independent that it is wrong for governors and other public officers to make their asset declaration secret.

“The practice is wrong and it is meant to perpetuate corruption in the system,” he said. Adeniji-Adele who has been in the vanguard of educating citizens about their rights during elections vowed to take the matter to court. “We are waiting for them, if they fail to make their asset declaration public after 100 days in office, we would go to court.”

Also, the Executive Chairman, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), Comrade Debo Adeniran, expressed disappointment with the present politicians who are running from public declaration of their assets. He stated that President Muhamamdu Buhari who promised to fight corruption before it kill the country must live by example in making his assets declaration public.

However, the senator from Kogi-West Senatorial District, Dino Melaye, said he was totally in support of members of the National Assembly declaring their assets publicly because it would serve as caution, while members of their constituencies would monitor their investment after office. Melaye who has been pioneering campaign against corrupt public officers is one of the senators that supported reduction in the wardrobe and other allowances of National Assembly members.


Constitutional Provisions On Assets Declaration:

Section 140, (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 provides thus: “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 the Oath of Allegiance and the oath of office prescribed in the Seventh Schedule to this Constitution.”

Also Section 4 of the Freedom of Information FoI Act 2011 states: “A public institution shall ensure that information referred to in this section is widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources, and at the offices of such public institutions.”

Looking into the wordings of the above quoted section of the constitution, one cannot fail to notice the inexplicit nature of the provision. Apart from the fact that the section only speaks of the office of the President alone, there is no mention of how and where the declaration will take place. Not only that, the declaration was silent on whether such declaration should be announced or published by the person making the declaration.

This lacuna inadvertently is what gave room to different interpretations by different people on the issue. Although they are not obligated by law to do so, there is the need public officers to go ‘public’ with their assets declaration. This is seemingly is what is putting pressure on them to do so.

Reading through the provisions, it is discovered that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) and the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act only give the bureau powers to receive assets declarations, verify, examine, keep in custody and enforce compliance when there is a breach. The act of going public with it is laid bare leaving the ordinary Nigerian in quandary as to the benefit of such declaration.

Like Nigeria, there are an ever-growing number of countries who have adopted ethics and anti-corruption laws that require public officials to declare their assets and income and, increasingly, the assets and income of their spouses and dependent children. The officials who are required to declare, and the amount of detail required, vary significantly from country to country. While the requirement to declare income and assets generally is imposed by anti-corruption laws, these laws generally do not require that all of the declared information be made public and indeed most laws only require disclosure to a public agency.

The principal goal of income and asset disclosure systems is to combat corruption. In a growing number of cases, information published in asset declarations has led to the exposure of substantial unjust enrichment. Several countries with detailed disclosure requirements have experienced a decline in corruption. Among other benefits, asset disclosure programs enhance the legitimacy of government in the eyes of the public and stimulate foreign direct investment. There is now a growing trend toward requiring financial disclosure by government officials, including publication of asset declarations, in order to combat corruption, foster public confidence in government, and encourage foreign investment.