Civil society groups and activists on Sunday faulted the failure by President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to publicly declare their assets as promised by them during their electioneering.
They have therefore demanded that the assets be made public in the best interest of transparency and accountability.
The groups and the activists are the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, the Civil Societies Legislative and Advocacy Centre, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa and Smart Ajaja.
A statement by the head of Buhari’s media team, Garba Shehu, on Saturday had indicated that the President and the Vice-President had submitted their assets declaration forms separately to the Code of Conduct Bureau on Thursday. The contents of the forms wetre however not disclosed.
Shehu’s statement immediately sparked controversy over the willingness of the President and the Vice-President to make their assets known to the public. The statement had indicated that by the submission of their forms to the CCB, they had fulfilled their electoral promise.
According to the statement, the CCB, through its Chairman, Sam Saba, had on Friday acknowledged the receipt of the forms.
Buhari’s declaration identity number was given as “President: 000001/2015.”
The statement had read in part, “By declaring their assets, President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo may have not only fulfilled the requirements of the Nigerian Constitution, but also fulfilled the first of their many campaign promises.
“While seeking election into the highest office in the land, the President had promised Nigerians that he would publicly declare his assets as soon as he took over government.”
But SERAP, in a statement by its Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, argued that the “declaration before the CCB alone fell short of the commitment to publicly declare their assets.”
It said, “SERAP recalls that the President had said before the election that he would publicly declare his assets and liabilities, and encourage all his appointees to publicly declare their assets and liabilities as a pre-condition for appointment.
“We now expect the President to fulfil this promise to the Nigerian people. We trust that the President and Vice President will move swiftly to publicly declare their assets and to publish widely the information on a dedicated website.
“Public disclosure of assets will give the general public a true picture of the assets of the President and Vice President and will send a powerful message that it is not going to be business as usual with this government.
“This will also follow the best practice by former President Umaru Yar’Adua, boost this government’s fight against corruption and impunity of perpetrators.’’
The group maintained that the public disclosure of assets was crucial for ensuring that public officials’ personal interests, including that of the President and Vice President did not conflict with their duties and responsibilities.
It stated that public disclosure provided a baseline and means for comparison to identify assets that might have been corruptly acquired and that a public official might legitimately be asked to account for.
SERAP also “urged the President to urgently take measures to seek amendment to the law relating to declaration of assets to include the requirement of public disclosure so as to bring it in line with international standards and best practices such as the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.”
Also, CISLAC said Nigerians were requesting that President and the Vice President make public their asset declarations to increase transparency.
Its Executive Director , Awual Musa, said even though the two top government functionaries had fulfilled the constitutional requirement of submitting their asset declaration forms, they needed to take it a step further by making it public.
Musa added, “Nigerians appreciate the fact that they have complied with the constitutional requirement of asset declaration.
‘What Nigerians are saying now is that making it public will take it a step further because when they make their declaration public, other public officers will have no excuse not to follow suit.
“It will go a long way to mark a departure from the past by improving citizens participation because the CCB does not have the manpower and resources to investigate the over 10,000 public officers we have. Citizens can assist.”
Ajaja, a United States -based activist, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said, “ This act must be made public for all Nigerians to see, in order that they may be taken seriously, going by what they stand for and their campaign promises.
“Public service is a moral and spiritual call to duty only designed for those with the hunger to serve and make names for their people and themselves, and certainly not for those who are driven by the inordinate ambitions to loot the people’s commonwealth to amass ill gotten wealth at their expense and at the detriment of the state and its future.”
Another human rights activist, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, said that it was unfortunate that the assets were not made public.
“Government is run on trust and integrity; and this was one of the selling points for Buhari during his campaign, when he made a solemn covenant with Nigerians. There is no reason to turn away from that path of honour which he has promised Nigerians,” he added.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Norrison Quakers and Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Fred Agbaje , said the President and his vice had done all that the constitution required by submitting their asset declaration forms to the CCB.
They added that any citizen, with sufficient locus standi could apply for them under the Freedom of Information Act.
Agbaje said, “It is a no issue, and as far as I am concerned they have complied with the constitution. But the problem is if Buhari had made it a campaign promise that he is going to publicly declare his assets, he must keep to his words because we all respect him as a man of honour. So, it is too early in the day to act contrary to his campaign promises.
“But any citizen of this country who has sufficient locus standi can go to court and compel that that information be made public, but I must warn that the court does not write the constitution, all that the court does is to interprete the constitution. So if you go to court under the FOI Act, can you ask the court to compel him to declare his assets publicly? There is no such provision in the constitution and the court cannot under the guise of interpretation expand the law. The court can only expound on the law.”
Quakers said, “The most important thing is that the asset has been declared, even though he had said earlier that his assets would be declared publicly. Now public declaration simply means that the information made available to the CCB can also be made available to the public.
“Whether he declared it publicly or not is not relevant. The most relevant thing to me is that the information is now in the custody of a public institution and this can be obtained by any individual who is interested.
“Any Nigerian who is interested in the assets that have been declared by the President can request for it from the Code of Conduct Bureau under the Freedom of Information Act; you can request for it, it is a public document.”
It was however gathered in Abuja that Buhari and Osinbajo had not foreclosed public declaration of their assets.
A source close to the new administration said in Abuja that the two leaders might declare their assets publicly within the first 100 days as they promised during their electioneering.
The source said, “Don’t forget they promised to declare their assets publicly within 100 days. What they have done so far is to comply with the provisions of the law and within three days they told that to the public.
“They promised to publicly declare the assets within 100 days and I can assure you that they will do so.”
Buhari had during his campaign released a document in which he outlined what he would do at the start of his administration.
The document titled, “My 100 Days Covenant With Nigerians” read, “I pledge to publicly declare my assets and liabilities.
“Encourage all my appointees to publicly declare their assets and liabilities as a pre-condition for appointment. All political appointees will only earn the salaries and allowances determined by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Allocation Commission.”
Buhari, who also pledged to inaugurate the National Council on Procurement as stipulated in the Procurement Act, said he would review and implement audit recommendations by Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, including those on remittances and remediation.
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