The Chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau, Mohammed Isah, has explained why the outfit will not release the asset details of President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, despite public requests.
He said this is because “the National Assembly has not set the guidelines for the Bureau to do so.”
Speaking at a News Agency of Nigeria forum in Abuja, Mr Isah cited the stipulations of the constitution as well as the FOI Act as the Bureau’s guiding principle.
Paragraph 3 of the third schedule of the constitution empowers the Bureau to retain in its custody details of assets declared by a public office holder and make them available for inspection upon request by any citizen of Nigeria, on the terms and conditions prescribed by the National Assembly.
“So, if anybody as a private person or private organisation wants to access asset declaration or information contained in asset declaration of any public officer, those conditions laid down by FOI Act must be fulfilled,” Mr Isah said.
The official did not say why the CCB has not asked the National Assembly to prescribe the conditions. He also did not state if the CCB plans to ask the National Assembly to do so.
The FOI Act establishes the right of anyone to request information in the custody of any public official, agency or institution, with the exception of security files which are not of public concern.
In 2015, a coalition of groups requested the Bureau to make public the asset declaration forms filed by Messrs Buhari and Osinbajo.
However, the CCB declined their requests, citing “personal privacy” as its reason.
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Many questioned the lack of consistency by the Bureau, especially when the details of assets filed by the former chief justice of the federation, Walter Onnoghen, was accessed by Dennis Aghanya, a former aide to the president.
On the heel of the suspension of Mr Onnoghen, after he was accused of withholding the full declaration of his assets, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) again requested “details of asset declarations by successive presidents and state governors between 1999 and 2019, including details of declarations made immediately after taking offices and thereafter”.
The Bureau again turned down the request.
It said it “would offend the right to privacy of presidents and state governors”.
The group has since sued the CCB.
Before his first election as president, Mr Buhari had promised to make public a comprehensive list of his declaration at the CCB. Although he denied ever making such promise, PREMIUM TIMES found his denial to be untrue.
He did submit his declaration particulars to the CCB, and the Bureau followed this with its verification but the president reneged on his promise to make public the content of his declaration.
After a public backlash, the president, through a statement from his spokesperson, Garba Shehu, in September 2015, reeled out only sketchy details of assets and liabilities filed by President Buhari.
Mr Buhari, according to the statement, was said to have N30 million in his bank account before taking office on May 29, 2015.
This is alongside five houses in Kaduna, Daura, Kano and Abuja; two undeveloped plots of land, one in Kano and the other in Port Harcourt.
Also, Mr Buhari was said to have farms, an orchard, ranch, livestock including 270 cattle, 25 sheep, five horses, a variety of birds and a number of economic trees, and a “number of cars”.
Vice President Osinbajo in his declaration said he had N94 million and $900,000 in his bank account.
He also owned a 4-bedroom residence at Victoria Garden City, Lagos; a 3-bedroom flat at 2 Mosley Road, Ikoyi; a 2-bedroom flat along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway; and a 2-bedroom mortgaged property in Bedford, England.
Also, together with his law firm, known as SimmonsCooper, Mr Osinbajo was said to be a shareholder in six Lagos-based firms: Octogenerium Ltd., Windsor Grant Ltd., Tarapolsa, Vistorion Ltd., Aviva Ltd. and MTN Nigeria.
Other details like the addresses and value of the listed houses and assets and their liabilities were withheld in the release.
Also, the assets of their spouses and unmarried children under 18, as the law demands, were not contained therein.
Again in 2019, after Mr Buhari’s reelection, the presidential spokesperson, Mr Shehu, said: “the (declaration) forms, as signed by the President and sworn to before a Judge of Abuja High Court, showed no significant changes in assets as declared in 2015 by him.”
“There are no new houses, no new bank accounts at home and abroad and there are no new shares acquired,” Mr Shehu added, without further details.
Many public officers not complying
Ironically, the Chairman of the CCB also berated the level of compliance by public officers.
“Our main predicament is the issue of enlightenment. People have little or no knowledge about their obligations or relations to compliance with the Code of Conduct for public officers. So, the level of compliance is not encouraging at all,” Mr Isah said.
Part 2, Schedule 5 of the constitution highlights public officers as: the President, vice-president, all members and staff of the national and state legislative houses, governors and deputy governors, all judicial officers and staff of courts of law, all state and federal political appointees, ambassadors, high commissioners and other officers of Nigeria missions abroad, and DGs and chairmen of all parastatals and agencies of federal and state governments, military, police, immigration, customs, prisons, political office holders and all federal, state and local government civil servants.
These public officers are mandated by the provisions of Paragraph 11 of Part 1 to the Fifth Schedule of the constitution to declare their asset and those of their unmarried children under 18 years to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), before and after their tenures.
Meanwhile, the official admitted that the agency has been “a bit toothless in biting corrupt officials” in the public sector.
He said the agency will “up its game”.
“The bureau was neglected because of its non-performance, and we are not here to fail. We are here to achieve and make the bureau better than we met it. So, in the next few days, the turnout in terms of the success of our cases in court will be very impressive,’’ Mr Isah said.
The CCB, established in 1979, has the core mandate to check corrupt practices in the Nigerian public service by ensuring public officers declare their assets to the Bureau.