Since his assumption of office, one of the most oft-repeated demands from President Buhari is his assets declaration form. Asset declaration form is a document which shows the possessions of any office holder in the country. The document is a requirement of the Constitution and the Code of Conduct Bureau is the government department in charge of verifying and keeping such. The purpose(s) of the document can be summed up as follows: (1) to bring about transparency and secure the trust of the citizenry in any given dispensation. This is because the form will help disclose information about assets of elected officials and civil servants that claim that they truly have no intention of going into office to plunder the commonwealth. (2) It also helps heads of public institutions prevent conflict of interests amongst all government staff and promote integrity. (3) It is also aimed at monitoring wealth variations of individual politicians and civil servants in order to dissuade them from financial improprieties while in office and even protect them from false accusations. Declaring assets is also capable of clarifying the full scope of illicit enrichment, or other illegal activities, by providing additional evidence to prosecutors where suspicion of official malfeasance may arise. Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that Nigerians are clamouring for President Buhari to declare his assets, after all, he was propelled into office on his self-proclaimed integrity and a deep-seated hatred for corrupt activities and elements. The president campaigned with a promise to follow the Constitution and declare his assets once he is voted into office. He also went further to say he would release a copy of his assets declaration form to the general public thus as to properly assess his personal possessions in and out of office.
“If Nigerians elect me, I will publicly declare my assets and encourage all my potential appointees to do the same,” Candidate Buhari said in one of his campaign flyers. To his credit, the president obeyed the Constitution and declared his assets with the CCB on May 28, a day before his assumption of office. His deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, also did the same and on the same day.
But, following several allegations that political and civil servants colluded with politicians to change content of a secretly declared assets form, Nigerians have come to accept a publicly declared assets as the only acceptable practice. After he took the Oath of Office on May 29, Nigerians listed the public declaration of assets as part of the first actions they expected the president to take, even as many of them were quick to add that they will give him time to do so.
But less than a week into the administration, presidential media aide, Garba Shehu, released a statement to the media claiming that the president and his vice have not only declared their assets publicly on May 28 but also fulfilled the promise to make it public. Nigerians wasted no time in coming down hard on the administration for what they termed as a mischievous attempt to obfuscate an unequivocal promise the president made during the campaign.
“The president must publicly declare his assets as he promised” was the chorus amongst Nigerians on every end of the political aisle. The next day, the president’s media team walked back the claim that he had fulfilled his promised as regards open declaration of assets and confirmed that the president has promised to openly declare his assets once the documents he and his vice president submitted to the CCB have been properly verified. The team also added that verification will take about 30 days and urged Nigerians to be patient until it is released, as anything short of this will amount to official misconduct.
The issue was extensively debated and it stayed on the front burner for over two weeks after which it naturally went thin. But as Buhari’s 100 days commotion approaches and Buhari’s integrity comes under intense scrutiny, the media team found it pertinent to bring the issue of assets declaration back on the front burner. This time, Garba Shehu reignited the assets declaration issue with anessay about what the president and his vice declared with CCB. Shehu said the president, as at May 29 when he became president, had about N30M cash in the bank, 5 houses that spread across the country, over 250 cattle herds, ranches, an orchard and a host of economic trees.
Again, this should not have caused much controversy but for the claim Shehu made in the essay that his principal has now publicly declared his assets even while he acknowledged in the same piece that the CCB has yet to complete verification of both Buhari’s and Osinbajo’s assets. Nigerians have acquainted themselves with what a standard assets declaration form looks like since President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua became the first to publicly declare his assets in 2007. Then, the president declared his assets with CCB and thereafter sent a copy of the document to the general public. He also declared that of his wife and prevailed on then reluctant Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to do the same. In 2010, former Governor Kayode Fayemi followed Yar’Adua’s precedent and declared his assets publicly in Ekiti State. He also encouraged his wife to do so.
In these two instances, the individuals declared their total net worth and liabilities. The late Yar’Adua disclosed N88M in liability. Also, since the administration said it was waiting for the CCB to conclude verification before making declared assets public, why the rush to give us a glimpse of the document? If Mr. Buhari has a brief understanding of public relations, he would have declared his assets publicly long before Nigerians would ask for it, because he should have known that Nigerians are understandably wary. A basic component of assets declaration is “value,” amongst other specifics. Liquidities and equities must be declared with accurate precision. The media should not take the bait of Mr. Buhari’s desperate attempt to obfuscate a honest step that should have been a cakewalk for him until an average Nigerian is able to say precisely what his net worth truly is. Because Nigerians expect better from this administration than the Broadway theatre-type entertainment that it is currently offering. Napoleon Bonaparte said, “If you set to take Vienna, take Vienna.” President Buhari should either release a copy of his assets declaration form to Nigerians or tell us he doesn’t “give a damn”. Luckily for him, he won’t be the first leader to say so.