By Inibehe Effiong
Lately, the media, especially the social media, has been inundated with commentaries and debates on the secret declaration of assets by President Muhammadu Buhari and his vice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo contrary to the former’s pre-election promise to do so publicly.
In a statement issued to the media on Saturday May 30, 2015 by Garba Shehu for the Buhari Media Team, it was stated that President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo have declared their assets in line with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The statement said that the Code of Conduct Bureau had on Friday May 29, acknowledged the submission of the two leaders’ assets declaration forms. The forms, the statement said, were submitted separately on May 28 and signed for by the organization’s Chairman, Sam Saba. It said: “President Buhari’s Declarant ID was given as: ‘President: 000001/2015′.
It is in the light of the foregoing that this opinion is offered, not necessarily as a reprimand, but as a conscientious attempt by a devoted believer in the change campaign, not as an anti- Buhari element but as a passionate supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari who gave his modest support to his candidacy. This point is essential because the undying support given to Buhari by us: ‘’the collective children of anger” which resulted in his historic victory at the March 28, 2015 presidential election was conditional. I will return to this issue later.
It is pertinent to state clearly that there is no constitutional or legal obligation on president Buhari, his vice or any other public officer to disclose or declare their assets to the public.
Section 140 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides that the president shall not begin to perform the functions of his office until he subscribes to the oath of office and allegiance, and declares his assets. The implication is that declaration of assets is not only a condition precedent to the performance of constitutional functions by elected public officers but a mandatory requirement.
It is therefore utterly mischievous for Mr. Garba Shehu to have said in the press statement that by declaring his assets, the president has fulfilled his campaign promise to Nigerians. The truth of the matter is that Buhari had no choice than to declare his assets as required of him by the Constitution. He didn’t do anyone any favour by doing so. In the real sense, his promise was that he will declare his assets PUBLICLY.
Paragraph 11 of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution enshrines the details on declaration of assets by public officers. For clarity, the provisions are reproduced below:
11. (1) 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 his 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 eighteen years.
(2) Any statement in such declaration that is found to be false by any authority or person authorized in that behalf to verify it shall be deemed to be a breach of this Code.
(3) 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.
A careful perusal of the above provisions leads to the irresistible conclusion that the issue of whether or not declaration of assets and liabilities should be publicized is left solely to the discretion and volition of individual public officers. The constitutional forum for asset declaration is exclusively the Code of Conduct Bureau.
Since the assets declared by public officers to the Code of Conduct Bureau is accessible to the public, those wishing to know the asset declared by public officers are at liberty to apply for same.
However, the issue at stake is that the President had made a solemn promise to the Nigerian people before the election that he will not only make his assets public but that he will equally encourage those working with him to do the same as a way of encouraging accountability, probity and transparency. By not publishing his assets, Mr. President has breached his promise to the Nigerian people.
We didn’t vote for change for things to remain the same or become worse. We voted for change because President Buhari had persuaded us that he is of a different cast of mind. We voted for change so that things may indeed be done differently. Our patience has exhausted, we are no longer willing to indulge needless excuses, pointless prevarication and nauseating presidential shenanigans. The era when the president could lie, renege on solemn promises and capitulate on sacred undertakings with reckless abandon has ended.
President Buhari needs to wake up to the reality and appreciate the urgency of now. He needs to come to terms with the historical significance of his election immediately before it is too late. Buhari needs to muster the required political will to isolate whatever or whoever is standing as a barrier to the actualization of his plans for the nation.
It is pertinent to say that failure to abide by promises accounted, among other reasons, for the rejection of former president Goodluck Jonathan at the polls. Therefore, we will not tolerate any act of treachery from this government. Our condition for electing Buhari was that he will salvage our country, no matter the prize or cost.
Nigerians did not vote for a return to the days of the locusts, they voted for change. The impact that the public declaration of assets will have on the polity and the perception of the citizenry are enormous. Firstly, it will reinvigorate the oasis of hope that remains of that very elusive concept called “the Nigerian spirit”. Secondly, it will demonstrate that we now have a president whose words are his bond. Thirdly, it will erase the growing apprehensions and fears about the sincerity of the new government’s change mantra.
If Buhari has more assets, properties or liabilities than we thought, he should be bold enough to let us know. There is no need leaving the issue in the realm of conjecture. Even if one cow and a pair of shoe is all that he owns, Nigerians still deserve to know. It is just too early in the life of a change driven administration for this sort of treachery.
There is really nothing spiritual about publicizing one’s worth, it is a sign of responsibility. The late Yar’Adua had set a precedent of public declaration of assets. Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, the firebrand Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) publicly declared his assets on February 21, 2012 following his appointment by the then president, Goodluck Jonathan. Therefore, it is unpardonable for Buhari of ‘all people’ to do otherwise more so when he had vowed to publish same.
I call on President Buhari to rise above any primordial consideration that may hamper the fulfillment of his campaign promises. The President has no choice but to abide by his oath of office. Buhari should publish his assets in the media without further delay. Nigerians will be more critical of his administration than that of his predecessor.
The equitable and jurisprudential concept of promissory estoppel as espoused for several decades implies that failure to keep to a promise made by one person to another which alters the position of the other person is actionable. Since the remedy for Nigerians in this instance lies not in the court, Buhari should be prepared for whatever backlash, opprobrium and lacerations that may be occasioned by this infidelity to his electoral promise.
We have had enough of deceits and irresponsible governance in this country, it is time for change, so let the change begin.
Inibehe Effiong is the Convener of the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COHRD).
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