By Samuel Ogundipe
The announcement by the Buhari media team yesterday that the new president and his vice have submitted their assets declaration forms to the Code of Conduct Tribunal on May 28 has sparked heated exchanges across Nigerian blogosphere early Sunday.
“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,” a statement signed by Mr. Garba Shehu, head of Buhari’s media team, read.
“President Buhari’s Declarant ID was given as: ‘President: 000001/2015′”.
The above statement brought down an avalanche of criticism from the new administration’s online critics, especially those loyal to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party.
While all of them acknowledge that Buhari and his VP have met the requirement of the Constitution in declaring their assets with the public ethics watchdog, they condemn the decision of the politicians who failed to make available copies of their assets declaration forms to the public.
Mr. Buhari repeatedly promised during the campaign that he will publicly declare his assets upon his election into office. His campaign also distributed flyers affirming that the candidate will declare his assets and encourage all his appointees to do so as a precondition for employment in his government.
“I pledge to publicly declare my assets and liabilities, encourage all my appointees to publicity declare their assets and liabilities as a pre-condition for appointment.”
But when the news broke on Saturday that the assets declaration forms of Buhari and Osinbajo, both sworn in on Friday, have been accepted and certified to have met constitutional requirement by the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Sam Saba, the copies that were supposed to go to the media weren’t forthcoming.
By Sunday morning, Buhari’s failure to publicly declare his assets has become the most discussed topic amongst Nigerians on the Web.
“Dear President Buhari, your covenant with Nigeria stated you’d declare your assets publicly. No word games please,” tweeted Mukhtar Dan’Iyan, a pro-PDP social media expert, with resounding emphasis on ‘publicly.’
But Dan’Iyan offered a less vociferous version of that criticism not long after.
“President Buhari’s Media Team, you do him a disservice when you are not in alignment with his intentions and thus diminish his gravitas by misrepresenting him in the media,” he noted in an apparently believe that Buhari has an intention of mailing a copy of his assets declaration form to the media, but the alleged incompetence of his media team is responsible for the public backlash.
Another tweeter, Kayode Jason, wrote: “Buhari hasn’t done anything differently from what (President) Jonathan did,” in an apparent reference to the immediate-past president who did not publicly declare his assets upon assumption of office in 2011 but, like Buhari, declared it in secret with the CCB.
But APC supporters disagree, claiming Buhari and his VP have not yet failed to declare their assets publicly. They said the CCB needs time to ensure that the assets declared are properly vetted after which it will revert to the president and his vice. They said it’s only after this process, which they argue takes at least a month, can the politicians copy the media.
According to Henry Okelue, who tweets under the handle ‘@4eyedmonk’, “President Buhari can not release the content of what he submitted to CCB until CCB affirms that they (sic) have done due diligence and certify that they (sic) can confirm the assets he has declared.”
“Anything before that will be breach of process,” he added.
But many in the opposition quickly debunked this and referred Okelue and other Buhari supporters to 2007 when new president Yar’Adua became the first Nigerian president to publicly declare his assets.
When Yar’Adua submitted his assets declaration form to the bureau in June 2007, he copied the media immediately. Copies of assets declaration forms of Yar’Adua’s three wives and then VP, Jonathan, as submitted to the CCB, were also sent to the press for immediate publication.
Other APC supporters said the matter is a non-issue, they said anyone who needs the documents can access them through a Freedom of Information request. How feasible this is is still moot, because the CCB rebuffed all attempts to get Jonathan’s assets papers through FoI. The CCB is a public department, but it’s not clear if some documents in its possession are exempted from FoI or ordinary court subpoenas.
Legal practitioner, Yusuf Ali, SAN, said “Buhari should stay true to his words and make the declaration public.”
He also added that he’s currently leading an effort to push for an amendment to the Constitution which will make it mandatory for all assets declarations to be publicly made.
The commotion Buhari’s assets declaration has generated has more to do with moral juxtaposition with past admin than legal concerns. The president and his vice have met the requirement of the law, but in the spirit of the much touted change that was at the core of their campaign, many believe they must make public their financial and material worths in order to send the signal that they’re ready to do things different from the way Jonathan, who was voted out in March, treated accountably matters.