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Opinion: Declaration of Assets By Nigerian Public Officials

By Prof R. A. Ipinyomi, University of Ilorin, Nigeria

BALTIMORE, MD (AFRICAN EXAMINER) – The 1999 Nigeria Constitution, or its ammendments, is very clear on assets declaration by public officials. Declaration of assets by public officers in Nigeria is not a voluntary exercise. Rather they are mandated by the law to do so before and after occupying public offices. Since 1999 every public official have been required to freely declare their assets and the Nigerian public, who actually need to know how much of their money has always been used by public office holders for personal asset acquisition, has always been kept out of the entire exercise. Part of our demand for access to public information ought to have guaranteed that the public, who are major stakeholders, be in a position to bring their representatives into book; both before and after office tenure. The exercise to verify, ascertain, or disagree with any asset declaration may not be used on selective bases or to bring down a none complying, uncomforming, or errant opponents. This ought not be so. Rather we think it should be part of a robust corruption checking mechanism in a free democratic setting we all envisage. 

Section 140, sub-section 1 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states, “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 142, sub-section 2 states, “The provisions of this Part of this Chapter relating to qualification for election, tenure of office, disqualification, declaration of assets and liabilities and oaths of President shall apply in relation to the office of Vice-President as if references to President were references to Vice-President.” This section addresses the President and the Vice President, the State Governors and the Deputy Governors. If by now any State Governor is still unable to declare their assets for verification we guess by law they have failed to qualify to continue in office technically.

 The Constitution in Section 172 also states, “A person in the public service of the Federation shall observe and conform to the Code of Conduct.” Also, Paragraph 11 of the Code of Conduct (Ethics of Work for Public Officers) stipulates that, “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, every public officer shall within three months after the coming into force of this Code of Conduct or immediately after taking office and thereafter:(a) at the end of every four years; and (b) at the end of the term of office; submit to the Code of Conduct Bureau a written declaration of all his properties, assets and liabilities and those of his unmarried children under the age of 18 years. And that Any statement in such declaration that is found to be false by any authority or person authorised in that behalf to verify it shall be deemed to be a breach of this Code. Any property or assets acquired by a public officer after any declaration required under this Constitution and which is not fairly attributable to income, gift or loan approved by this Code shall be deemed to have been acquired in breach of this Code unless the contrary is proved.”

We are to understand the spirit if the Nigeria Constitution and interpreting it’s contexts likewise. The blind Constitution doesn’t know nor can predict an individual official who would convert public properties or assets to self, the one who would acquire properties and assets with public funds nor the one who would make anticipatory declarations. The public and the various constituencies are supposed to know. Hence public declaration of assets is best recommended so that both the Code of Conduct Board (CCB) together with it’s Tribunal (CCT) and the general public may work in consonant. The CCT may be genuine in its pursuits but clever official can easily weep up ethnic, political or religious sentiments into a case he or she is guilty of simply because of the type of society we have. Secondly, once the CCB or CCT has commenced investigation on an official‘s perceived false declaration it demands on the Board that all other officials must equally be similarly visited. We therefore forsee a situation where CCT will be in Nigeria public eyes henceforth if they were to investigate at least 20% of our presumed false declaration for which they have remained silent since 1999.

A seating government may use any legal means to get at its perceived opponents but must equally be advised not to throw stones around in a glass house where they live together. I make this statement that only very few Nigerians believe that the Politicians have truth as part of their ethnics. In fact majority of those who are not supposed to be in politics in Nigeria are in the arts simply because of their births (children of so and so), accidents (military politicians who accidentally shot their way to fame), wealth (godfatherism who came across money from all sources including mainly illegally and sponsoring their agents). The second point is that the first class brains that could have been driving and organising the Nigeria society either couldn’t afford the price of politicking or couldn’t afford the risks. Once in a while seating Nigerian governments have been found bringing in one or two excellent technocrats (see we may see in Buhari‘s lust) into their corruption infected class. No sooner they come they too become worst, because in the University we have found that first class students are more likely to cheat in examination than lower grade students, probably because of their knowledge.

Hence false assets declaration in Nigeria politics is just the tip of the iceberg, as they say, the real can of worms is yet to be opened. Is there any government of the truth, ruling by the truth and upholding the truth for its people any where? What we shall see from a Buhari’s government that is unfolding is attempting to preach truth and less corruption but using any tactics to get the answer he wants. This too is a wrong approach.

Unfortunately the ruling party APC is very different from the person of Gen Muhammad Buhari who they used to throw out a strong incumbent. Up till now PDP has not given up as it continues to campaign and throwing it’s weights, not as an opponent, but as a partaker. This poses more dangers both for democracy and for the party PDP, but more dangers for the Nigeria politics it is meant to develop. In the context of asset declaration the offenders from 1999 to date are likely to be more of PDP, similarly in other areas. When a PDP, or any party at all, faces a humiliation of such a national proportion the best for PDP is to allow it’s affected individuals fall rather than the party. In our calculation the existence of PDP is now at the mercy of only three people in Nigeria, namely, President Buhari, Asiwaju Tinubu of Lagos and Nasir Ahmed El Rufai of Kaduna State. Why do we say so? Because some PDP leaders want relevance in office rather than relevance in democracy building, and these three can pay their price at the cost of their party (PDP). It is like Esau that is hungry whereas Jacob is eyeing a birth right.

Therefore, while we encourage both CCB and CCT to make Nigeria proud in every episode it may encounter, we would similarly encourage Nigerian lawyers to be more professional and less monetary, more professional and depending less on ordinary technicalities. All our students are learning and we should teach them the correct lessons so as to be found worthy both in learning and in character. Afterwards what do you really want in life, sex, money, fame or a honest and peaceful life? Hence the focus of a defence is upholding the truth” or also fighting to reduce the penalties of clients (who confess and repent). I have some lawyers in my family including my PhD (Law) daughter. I have been emphasising to her that we need to go on specialisation and also fame building in our different professions. Nigerian politicians, who always find it easy to break our laws while contributing nothing to our law education development, must not be provided with any soft landing even at any price at the courts. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) should come together and faction up an acceptable ethnic for both the nation and the Law profession. The Buhari government will need this both as a source of genuine ethical building and to “checkmate a dictator” (from the presidency) a weak Nigeria Senate arm of government can easily become. We don’t expect any under carpet sweeping but in the new regime we must understand that the news media and indeed the entire international community is watching every episode to seeing where it leads or ends.

 Prof R. A. Ipinyomi writes from University of Ilorin, Kwara State 

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