Perhaps, late President Umaru Yar’Adua must have set a wrong precedence for being the first President to publish his assets when he did so after 30 days of taking oath of office. The idea of using this as a convention is against the Supreme Law of the land.
The 2015 elections may be over but the battle for the soul of Nigeria has just begun with the promise of change constantly re-echoing in the sub-conscious of those who voted for or against it. President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) deserves to be congratulated for winning the elections but the real job before him is to deliver on the promise of change.
The president has taken two major decisions since assuming office on May 29, which offer clues about his priorities and style. First, the decision to move the Military Command headquarters to Borno State because of the spate of terror attacks coming from the North-East is laudable in the fight against terror. The Military Command is the engine room of the Nigerian Armed Forces, including the Army, Navy and Air force. The Command includes a hub for tactical combat and surveillance planning and control. The Nigerian combat and surveillance drone is controlled from there. Buhari may be setting new standards with this practice and it is a welcome development, as none of the G8 countries has ever taken such a decision.
There is a moral and legal burden hanging on the neck of PMB to publish his assets. The moral burden is the duty to keep his word…The legal burden is the duty of proactive disclosure, according to Section 2 of the Freedom of Information Act.
The second is the submission of his assets form to the Code of Conduct Bureau, which the President’s spokespersons sought to pass off as compliance with his campaign promise to make his assets public. This does not represent the change that the President promised Nigerians during his campaign.
In 2012, former President Goodluck Jonathan (GEJ) told the world that he did not give a damn about the clamour for the publication of his declared assets. Today, GEJ and PMB seem to be bedfellows in the business of not giving a damn. What’s wrong with us?
There is a moral and legal burden hanging on the neck of PMB to publish his assets. The moral burden is the duty to keep his word. For a president elected on a platform of integrity, this is important. The legal burden is the duty of proactive disclosure, according to Section 2 of the Freedom of Information Act. Both reinforce the President’s mission of change. For the avoidance of doubt, the importance of assets declaration is to prevent public officials from corrupt enrichment while in office. This is why it is important for them to also declare their assets while leaving office, so that, what they declared when they took office can be compared with what they have on leaving office.
The legal and moral burden of public knowledge of assets and liabilities declaration is rather on the public official than it is on CCB.
Section 140 of the 1999 Constitution requires that 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 the constitution. Under the same constitution, the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) is the institution explicitly empowered to administer assets declaration.
The letters of the constitution are clear and unambiguous on this.
What is expected of PMB is to make public his assets and then send a copy of the publication to the CCB. Framers of the constitution saddled the CCB with the responsibility of retention of the declared assets for the purpose of verification. However, even if they claim the contrary, it is clear that the President and his Vice have not declared their assets as they said they would. The word ‘declaration’ means exactly what it is. If you must declare something, it must be to the hearing of the people because they ought to stand as witnesses to what was declared. Today, what was submitted is just between the CCB and the Presidency. It’s as if the President has so quickly forgotten the people who invested their votes and trust in him because they believed him to be a man of his words.
Some people have argued that the President has 30 days within which he has to declare his assets. I have searched through the entire laws of the land but found nothing of such. Perhaps, late President Umaru Yar’Adua must have set a wrong precedence for being the first President to publish his assets when he did so after 30 days of taking oath of office. The idea of using this as a convention is against the Supreme Law of the land.
The legal and moral burden of public knowledge of assets and liabilities declaration is rather on the public official than it is on CCB. It is too early for the President to start expending his political capital, especially as he has promised to publicly declare his assets during the campaign.
Former Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi and Former President Umaru Yar’Adua, both declared their assets after they had assumed office and started performing public functions.
As it stands, the only public official who has set the right precedent on asset declaration is Professor Chidi Odinkalu, who declared his assets publicly according to the provision of the Constitution in February 2012, long before he was inaugurated as the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission in November 2012.
On this one, the President has failed to lead change or even pretend to care about change. The effort to declare assets is defeated when it is done after public officials have started performing their functions.
Nigerians are watching. PMB must not take us for a ride because as the old adage goes, “the same broom that was used in chasing the first wife from the house to pave way for the second wife is still around the corner.”
Mbasekei Martin Obono is Executive Director of Cybercrimes and Fraud Prevention Foundation.