The Law And The Noise Over Assets Declaration | Independent Newspapers Limited
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The Law And The Noise Over Assets Declaration

Posted: Sep 10, 2015 at 12:12 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Following the public declarations of their assets exactly 48 hours to their 100th day in office last Thursday, both President Muhammadu Buhari and his Vice, Yemi Osinbajo made good their promise of making their assets public within 100 days of their administration. But lawyers are divided over compliance or violation of the law governing assets declaration. ADAM ADEDIMEJI examines the issue

asset-declarationWhen President Muhammadu Buhari promised during the campaign leading to the March 28 general elections to make his assets declaration public and encourage all his appointees to do same as a pre-condition for appointment, the two-time Nigerian leader may never have imagined how seriously 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 and among them was a declaration of 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, who argued that such 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 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 former President Umaru Yar’Adua, who on assumption of office in 2007 published his asset declaration for all to see.

Buhari and Osinbajo’s assets

In fulfillment of his campaing promise, President Buhari last Thursday through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu declared about N30m with Union Bank account (the only account owned by the president), a total of seven houses, comprising two mud houses and a standard house in Daura, two homes in Kaduna, one in Kano and one in Abuja.

Buhari also own two undeveloped plots of land in Kano and Port Harcourt, an orchard and a ranch in Daura with 270 head of cattle, 25 sheep, five horses, a variety of birds and a number of economic trees.

Buhari also has several cars, two of which he said were bought with his savings, while the others were supplied to him by the Federal Government in his capacity as a former Head of State, the statement added.

Assets of the Vice President, according to Shehu are a 4-bedroom residence at Victoria Garden City in Lagos, a 3-bedroom flat in Ikoyi, Lagos; 2- bedroom flat at the Redemption Camp, and a 2-bedroom mortgage property in Bedford, England.

Osinbajo is a Professor of law, former Attorney General and Commissioner of justice, Lagos State and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria operates his SimmonsCooper law firm, which is based in Lagos and has shares in MTN Nigeria, Octogenerium Ltd., Windsor Grant Ltd., Tarapolsa Vistorion Ltd., and Aviva Ltd., all of which are based in Lagos.

Among Osinbajo’s cars are one Infinity 4-Wheel Drive SUV, one Mercedes Benz and a Prado Jeep.

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 maker. 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, many public officers have gone ‘public’ on their assets declaration. This has in turn put pressure on others 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.

Lawyers’ positions

Lawyers are however divided over the manner in which President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo carried out the declaration.

Debo Adeniran, Chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders said while the step taken by the President and his deputy was commendable, it was expected that they would declare the assets of their spouses and their children as stipulated by law.

“We expected that they would declare the asset of their spouses and other immediate relatives, so that we will be able to take it as a true benchmark, from where they start at the point of entry to when they get to the point of exit. This is because they have to go beyond the ordinary as both the President and the Vice President have a larger than life integrity rating. So they should go beyond the ordinary to convince the whole world that they have nothing to hide. It is easy for somebody to purchase property in the name of spouses, children or siblings. We are not asking for the asset declaration of their siblings, however, their immediate nuclear family’s assets should be publicly declared so as to come to equity with fair hands,” says Adeniran.

Perhaps many others share Adeniran’s opinion that certain key items were missing in the assets declared by Buhari and Osinbajo. These items include, assets of wife/wives and children; annual income on the assets as well as total value of assets declared.

Section j (a) and (b) of the CCB form requires the President and the Vice President to declare “details of assets/property of (a) wife/wives (b) children, if not public officers, liable to asset declaration”.

This omission notwithstanding, Adetokunbo Mumuni, of Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project SARAP commended Buhari and Osinbajo for the public show of transparency in declaration of their assets.

  “All that the President and the Vice President need to do is to follow the requirement of the Code of Conduct Bureau and whoever now discovers that they have not done what they should do according to the Code of Conduct, let the person bring the information to the public domain, so that we can start talking about it. I am not for submissions without evidential or legal basis,” Mumuni said.

He challenged those who might not be comfortable with the declaration made by the duo to bring forward evidence showing that some things had been hidden.

On his part, Fred Agbaje, Social critic and Lagos-based lawyer said the president and his vice’s actions are right steps in the fight against corruption.

“It is commendable that the President and the Vice President have declared their assets and have made it public. That is the first step in the fight against corruption. Instead of keeping Nigerians in the dark, we now know what they have. We must commend them. How many past Presidents have done what they did? We need, therefore, to encourage them; at least they have started the war against corruption on a right footing by declaring to the public what they have. And now that we know what they have, we can now encourage them to go ahead to battle all the thieves that have looted our treasury,” Agbaje said.