Why public office holders must declare their assets


Just less than a month to handover,  the President, Vice President, Senate President and his vice, Speaker House of Representatives, Governors and their five will exit their portfolios. In tandem with the laws they are supposed to declare their assets as to be compared at what they had declared will taking the oath of such offices.

The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) should collaborate with other sister agencies to ensure a proper declaration of assets by the public Office holders in order to curb corruption in the system.

The amended 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria seeks to prevent corruption, and abuse of office through its provisions on the declaration of assets by pubic officers.

According to the law, public officers are to declare only those Assets/Liabilities they actually own at the material time of filling the form. All properties/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 doesn’t compel a public officer to declare his or her assets public, the spirit and the intent of the law on asset declaration was created to make room for public scrutiny of assets declared by public officials.

This is clearly expressed but with some shortfalls in the provision of the paragraph 3 (c) of the Third Schedule, Part 1 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, which provides that the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) shall make assets declarations of public officers available for inspection by any citizen of Nigeria only on terms and conditions prescribed by the National Assembly. However, Lagos based rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), recently stirred up the hornets’ nest, when it demanded that President Muhummadu Buhari, Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, and the 36 States’ governors publish their assets. SERAP in a suit filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja, urged the court to compel President Buhari, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, 36 governors and their deputies to “make public details of their assets, specifically property and income, contained in their asset declaration forms submitted to the CCB since assuming office.”

The suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/65/2020, the group sought for “an order for leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus to direct and/or compel President Buhari, Vice-President Osinbajo, 36 state governors and their deputies to make public their summary of assets; disclose whether they have had any reason to review and update their asset declarations submitted to the CCB, and if the declarations have been made as constitutionally and statutorily required.”

It also sought “an order to compel President Buhari, Vice-President Osinbajo, 36 state governors and their deputies to disclose whether they have received any confirmation of the verification of their asset declarations by the CCB and to disclose whether they have taken any steps to encourage members of their cabinet to also submit their asset declarations to the CCB, and to make such declarations public.” The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information (FoI) requests dated January 3, 2020, expressing concern that: “The non-public disclosure by public officials of their summary of assets undermines the effectiveness and integrity of the constitutional and statutory obligations to submit asset declarations, especially given that declarations are designed to curb grand corruption, and weakens the public trust in the asset declaration regimes.” According to SERAP, only two states, Lagos and Niger responded to its FoI requests, they however, declined the requests to make public the assets of their governors and deputies, on the ground that “the FoI Act is inapplicable to state governments, their agencies and officials, and that only houses of assembly of states are constitutionally empowered to make laws on public records of states.”

Reacting to SERAP’s FoI request to President Buhari, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina said, “SERAP asking the president to declare publicly, on the basis of what law? The president will do what the law requires of him and what the law requires is that he should declare his asset, which he has done.”

Declaring publicly is not in our laws; it can only be a voluntary thing.  Although, a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos had on Monday, May 11, 2020, dismissed the application filed by SERAP seeking “an order of mandamus to direct and compel the CCB to make available to the public specific details of asset declarations submitted to it by successive presidents, vice-presidents, senate presidents, speakers of House of Representatives, state governors and their deputies since 1999.”

Trial judge, Justice Muslim Hassan, who declined the prayers, held: “I agree with the CCB that the duty to make the asset declaration form of public officers available is dependent upon the terms and conditions to be proscribed by the National Assembly. The terms and conditions must be specific and related to asset declaration of public officers and not legislation of general nature such as, the Freedom of Information Act.”

Pertinently, to ensure accountability the CCB should hold every elected office holders to ransom by ensuring that they declare their assets when occupying and leaving offices.