Between assets disclosure and assets forfeiture
Sir: An Asset disclosure is one of the laws governing the conduct of public officials.” It is an instrument utilised by the government to prevent corruption and to ensure transparency and accountability in public office. The 1999 Constitution mandates all public officers to declare their assets including that of their unmarried children within three months of assuming office and after every four years. Assets are also to be declared immediately after leaving office. The Code of Conduct Bureau is mandated to verify all assets declared to ensure that the dilatants have not under-declared or over declared their assets.
However, public officials who intend to enrich themselves illegally while in office over-declare or under-declare their assets. When assets are under-declared, it is done to cover traces of illegally accumulated wealth. On the other hand, over declaration of assets is done with the plan to later acquire the assets through stolen funds after assumption of office.
Nigeria established the Asset Tracing Recovery and Management Unit (ARMU) (2019) with the sole objective to investigate illegally acquired assets and proceeds of crime. It is also expected to trace, seize and dispose of assets and proceeds of crime where such assets and proceeds of crime have been provided to be subject to forfeiture, under the provisions of an enabling act. A proper asset tracing, recovery and forfeiture regime serves as a disincentive to commit crime. (Oxford Dictionary, 1997) describes forfeiture as the surrender or loss of property or rights without compensation. It imposes a loss by taking away some pre-existing valid right, without compensation (Black’s Law Dictionary.1990).
With the existence of the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Asset Recovery and Management Unit, illegal accumulation of wealth by public officers is supposed to be a thing of the past. Unfortunately, this is not the case as there is litany of illegally accumulated wealth owned by public officers littered in and outside Nigeria. This is obvious evidence to some missing links between the Asset Declaration Systems and the Asset Tracing and Recovery regimes. On the Part of the Bureau, one of the missing links is the lack of capacity of the CCB to enforce the laws on asset declaration amongst all public servants.
Victor Emejuiwe wrote from Abuja.
The capacity deficit could be traced to the opaque system of declaration which denies the public, access to information of those who have declared their assets or those who are yet to declare. The Bureau, on its own accord, might not be able to enforce compliance on more than seven million public servants, who are expected to declare their assets nation-wide.
Secondly, the level of opacity can also affect the Bureau’s capacity to verify assets declared as there might be information within the public domain that the Bureau might not be privy to. On the part of the ARMU, recent events on the activities of the ARMU show that the ARMU is more reactionary than preventive. The ARMU is seen to only respond to suspected cases of corruption rather than work to prevent the illegal accumulation of wealth from taking place. The Code of Conduct Bureau and the Asset Recovery and Management Unit must work together to prevent illegal accumulation of wealth amongst public servants. This can be made possible through information sharing between both agencies. It is shocking to note that the act establishing the ARMU did not make room for the CCB as one of the recognised stakeholders involved for the actualisation of tracing, disposal and management of forfeited asset.
In conclusion, it is only when assets declared are made available for public inspection that the public can help both the ARMU and CCB with information on false declaration of assets as well as illegal acquisition of assets. The CCB should speed up the process for online declaration of asset and make it public.
Victor Emejuiwe wrote from Abuja.
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