Burden of proof: Much ado about Tinubu’s asset declaration
Barely two months to May 29 inauguration, the President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, faces a burden –to declare or not to declare his assets in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and the Code of Conduct Bureau.
Provisions on the declaration of assets by all public officers in Nigeria are entrenched in the Code of Conduct for public officers, which are contained in Part I of the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
Public officers affected by the Code include the President and Vice president, president and deputy-president of the Senate, and the Speaker and deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, among others.
The code was introduced to the Constitution in 1979, mainly to prevent corruption, abuse of office, and to ensure transparency among public officers.
For the incoming President, one major reason many Nigerians are interested in his asset declaration, including those of his wife and children, is the web of controversies around his sources of wealth.
As such, it is believed that by declaring his assets correctly, Tinubu will put to rest many insinuations that give verve to policies his government may adopt to fight corruption.
The 1999 Constitution, as amended, seeks to prevent corruption and abuse of office through its provisions on the declaration of assets by public officers.
According to the law, public officers are to declare only those assets or liabilities they actually own at the time of filling the form. All properties or assets acquired outside Nigeria must be stated clearly with the value of the said assets in the currency of the country, where the property is situated.
Although the public declaration law didn’t compel a public officer to declare his or her assets publicly, the spirit and the intent of the law on asset declaration were created to make room for public scrutiny of assets declared by public officials.
Recall that in 2012 under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, the Federal Government brought Tinubu before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for false declaration of assets and for operating foreign accounts. He was discharged and acquitted by the commission.
Similarly, there were claims that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) made moves to investigate two bullion vans allegedly stashed with cash driving into the residence of the Tinubus at Bourdillon, Ikoyi, Lagos, on the eve of the February 2019 presidential election.
Aside from that, it was also insinuated that Tinubu had issues with the management of Lagos taxes through Alpha Beta Company, a tax management outfit allegedly owned by him.
Considering the varied perceptions around the true state of Tinubu’s wealth, some stakeholders have expressed the belief that true declaration of his assets, along with those of his wife and children, would put a stop to wild speculations, and allow him to focus on governance.
A chieftain of APC, Farouk Aliyu, had, before the presidential election, assured Nigerians that Tinubu would declare his assets if he wins the contest. Now that he has won and his inauguration is drawing near, the onus is on him to lead by example.
Farouk had disclosed during his television interview that investigations about Tinubu’s source of wealth and educational background had been carried out and nothing incriminating was found in his assets.
Also, before the presidential election, a coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) harped on the need for Tinubu and other presidential candidates, and other political office seekers to declare their assets.
The CSOs, which include Accountability Lab Nigeria, Connected Development (CODE), Socio-Economic Rights And Accountability Project (SERAP), Budgit, Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), PLSI, Yiaga Africa, and Enough is Enough (EIE), said the call became imperative to ensure politicians would not enrich themselves and their cronies while holding public offices.
The Executive Director of CODE, Hamzat Lawal, who spoke for the coalition, said there was need for all the presidential candidates, government, and critical stakeholders to prioritise accountability issues in government processes, and fiscal transparency.
He said: “Despite the existence of a legal framework for asset declaration for political office holders, the level of compliance is unknown, as data on asset declaration for office holders is not available to the public.
“The lack of public data on the assets of potential political aspirants provides an avenue for opacity and a lack of accountability, thereby fuelling political corruption.”
Lawal pointed out that the present administration failed in setting a standard as far as public declaration of assets by political office holders was concerned.
He said: “President Muhammadu Buhari failed in declaring his assets. We don’t want a situation whereby politicians will go into public offices and enrich themselves and cronies.”
Against this background, some stakeholders told The Guardian that this is the best opportunity for the President-elect, to win more sympathy and confidence of Nigerians, if he can make his assets declaration public before taking office.
In his reaction, a university don and International Director of Studies at the European Centre of Advanced Professional Studies, Prof. Anthony Kila, said the need for any elected or appointed public officers to declare their wealth is not just for their personal good, but for the good of the general society.
“My view on this issue is not personal; I am not saying whatever I said because of any individual but for the commonwealth of the country. It is important that anybody we elect to manage our commonwealth should make the declaration of his or her assets open and public for the purpose of clearing any doubts in the minds of the people about their assets.
“On many occasions, people say a public officer suddenly becomes rich after he or she was elected or appointed into public office, whereas it often doesn’t follow. Several elected or appointed people are already very rich and have acquired a lot of assets before they got into public offices.
“Another reason asset declaration is important is the issue of transparency. This does not necessarily concern the person elected, and or appointed into public office. It is for the good of the person and for all of us.”
He added that someone, whose source of wealth is not transparent, could not be dealing or managing our commonwealth; whereas on the other hand, a society that is not transparent should not expect a transparent individual to lead it. “We need to know in detail who we are dealing with, and he also must understand that we know him.”
Kila also said the third reason asset declaration of public officers is important is that the country has a lot to address on the problem of corruption.
“This has always been a subject of discussion among public officers. As long as we all know that corruption is prevalent, one of the areas to check is by making public officers declare their assets before taking office.
“Let me give an example, there is this belief that public office holders do enrich themselves through corruption, and also acquire inordinate wealth and property when on seat. But if we already know what the person is worth before he/she steps into public office, the issue of corruption would be minimal.
“This will also reduce unnecessary rumour about the assets of public officers. To give an example, there was a particular public officer, who was accused of owning a restaurant. The rumour had spread until the person came out publicly to say the restaurant does not belong to him. If his assets were properly declared, such would not have happened.”
However, a lawyer and former leader of Igbo Think Tank, Goddy Uwazurike, said he didn’t expect Tinubu to declare his assets following examples set by previous leaders.
He said: “The problem of getting Tinubu to declare his assets, and that of his wife, and his children, would be difficult because he must also dictate the source and the exact location.
“Right now, the winners of the last elections, whether the results have been contested or not, are supposed to have started declaring their assets but nothing like that is happening. So far, I am not aware of any, who has done so or is trying to do so. The CCB should let the public know. In the same vein, those who are leaving office are also expected to have started declaring their assets because there is a time limit.
“To me, those who are expecting Tinubu to declare his assets are merely wasting their time. During the elections the same issue came up many times, and then we were given answers.
“I am not sure Tinubu and his deputy, Kashim Shettima, will declare their assets.”
The Chairman, Kaduna State Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Joseph Hayab, said declaration of assets is actually a requirement for all political officeholders, but he lamented that the CCB, the agency in charge, has been politicised. He said the politicking became so glaring, especially during the era of the former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who was tried by the CCT.
“The CCB actually went too low and became partisan then, such that when there is traceable information that shows failure of people in government to declare their assets, nothing concrete comes out of it. The CCB is supposed to have no respect for anybody. If we look back, in the last 18 years or take it back to1999, you will discover that the issue of asset declaration has been seriously politicised with nothing transparent about it. Some leaders even publicly declared that it is not necessary to declare his assets,” he said.
But Hayab said his candid advice for Tinubu to clarify controversies surrounding his age, source of wealth, and others by seizing the declaration opportunity to tell Nigerians that stories about him are not true.
“He should just declare his assets. If he can do it properly now, the President-elect will silence so many negative perceptions about his reputation. It will put to rest all the controversies around him. If he will take this advice, he will do well.
“I will also urge the President-elect to be firm about security and be determined to squarely face anybody who breaches the security of the country.”
A former Director of the Central Bank and stalwarts of APC, Bashorun Olorunfunmi, said he believed Tinubu and every other elected person would declare their assets since that is a requirement of the Constitution.
“It is a routine exercise, which he (Tinubu) must do unless he doesn’t want to be President. Those who are leaving office(s) have started declaring their assets and the CCB is doing its job. I don’t think Tinubu needs anybody to advise him on the need to declare his assets unless he wants to do otherwise. He cannot be sworn into power without doing it. He has been out of government since 2007 and since then he has been working. I am not defending him but he knows what to do,” says Olorunfunmi.
But a former National Vice Chairman Southwest zone of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Eddy Olafeso, said Nigeria and its democracy have evolved beyond what any body can avoid to declare his or her assets.
As for Tinubu, the erstwhile PDP national vice chairman said: “The beginning of accountability is for the world to know where Tinubu stands so that in the final analysis, he (Tinubu) can be projected as to how he has been able to manage himself with dignity, respect and probity.
“Assets declaration is a constitutional provision and nobody can escape it. Even those that escaped it in the past may find it very difficult to do so now because our country and democracy are evolving.”
“I don’t see Tinubu running away from declaring his assets. The president-elect and other elected officers would be compelled to declare their assets. I do not see any of the elected officers and or the one to be appointed later running away from declaring their assets. Our society has changed and the shenanigans of the past cannot be repeated now.”
In another reaction, Wale Okuniyi, a human rights activist and stalwart of National Consultative Front (NCFront), also said elected officers are bound to declare their assets. He noted that failure to do so or attempts to cover up would not succeed because the society is wiser and more informed now.