We urge President Buhari and members of the National Assembly to strengthen the procedure of assets declaration as part of the anti-corruption war. It is a good weapon against theft by public office holders
Ordinarily, public declaration of assets by those going into public office is not expected to be celebrated in the media as a major event as was the case recently when President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo took those steps.
In the more developed political cultures of the East and West, public declaration of assets is a routine requirement that must be complied with by those going into or leaving public offices.
In Nigeria, it is far from being the case. Public office holders are only required under the Nigerian Constitution to just complete assets declaration forms which they submit to the Code of Conduct Bureau.
They are not under any obligation to make details of what they declare known to the general public. The Bureau can only release such documents to a third party under terms and conditions that are extremely stringent and difficult to fulfil.
In fact, it is not on record that any Nigerian has been availed of such information by the Bureau in the past on request. That was the reason the recent public declaration of assets by President Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo made headlines in the news media.
Even some sections of the foreign media reported it generously, highlighting the fact that Buhari came into office with surprisingly modest material acquisitions.
The late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the first Nigerian President to make public declaration of his assets on assumption of office announced figures that were several times higher. But the figure declared were not the focus of attention then.
What mattered most then and even now was the fact that they went beyond what the Nigerian Constitution demanded and made public their assets. The Buhari and Osinbajo assets declaration has raised some dust, especially in the political opposition camp.
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has launched a campaign which seeks to impress on the nation that the two men have not been honest with the details of their assets as released to the public. The burden of prove to that effect is on the PDP and other groups and individual with information that run contrary to what were declared.
For now, the two leaders deserve commendation for doing what Nigerians wanted and have demanded for over the years, even though they were not under any constitutional obligation to do so. We salute their courage.
But while doing so, we would like to also suggest that this very laudable step of public declaration of assets they have taken be extended to other appointees in the three tiers of government under this administration. The National Assembly members should follow up this trend with an amendment of the Constitution which will make public declaration of assets mandatory and as a precondition for the administration of the oath of office on all such appointees now and henceforth.
Such category of officers should also be required to re-declare their assets on their way out of office. This step is crucial to the need to make our leaders accountable. Public declaration of assets is too crucial to the war against corruption and good governance to be left as a loose requirement and only subject to the dictates of the conscience of individuals.
The requirement should be made a lot more comprehensive and to cover some members of the immediate families of public office holders required under the law to declare their assets. These include their wives and children. In addition, information provided on every items being declared should be detailed and unambiguous.
Details of bank accounts should be accompanied by current statements of accounts. Houses and other properties being declared should also be accompanied by such vital information on their location, monetary value and all other associated liabilities.
There should also be a clear policy on ownership and operation of foreign accounts by public office holders. This is desirable in view of the colossal damage being done to the nation’s economy by the siphoning of stolen public funds into foreign bank accounts owned by our public office holders.
We urge President Buhari and members of the National Assembly to strengthen the procedure of assets declaration as part of the anti-corruption war. It is a good weapon against theft by public office holders.
If all escape routes for looted funds are blocked and public office holders are closely monitored to ensure that they own no properties far in excess of their legitimate earnings, corruption would be drastically reduced.
The job of safeguarding public resources from being recklessly plundered cannot be left to government alone. Individual Nigerians must play a role by supporting steps being taken by government to achieve this allimportant goal of making public servants accountable. This they can do by alerting appropriate government agencies of known cases of financial abuse on the part of public office holders.