Law News
Much ado about Buhari, Osinbajo’s assets declaration

President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo took the nation by surprise last Thursday when they made public part of the details of their assets which they had privately declared to the Code of Conduct Bureau about 24 hours before they were inaugurated into office on May 29.

The nation was surprised because the public declaration came at a time when the presidency was struggling to disown a campaign document, which promised, among other things, that Buhari, who was then the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, would make the details of his assets public within 100 days of his administration if elected.

The public, which was in a hurry to see the President deliver on his electoral promises, had shortly after the inauguration started criticising the President for failing to make the details of his assets public.

Following the attack on the President, his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu, informed the public that President Buhari and his deputy, had, in fulfillment of their promises and constitutional provisions, declared their assets to the CCB before their inauguration.

The announcement drew the anger of many Nigerians who were expecting the President to disclose the details of the assets to the public as soon as he assumed office instead of just announcing that he and Vice President Osinbajo had declared their assets to the CCB.

Shehu was forced to later issue another statement clarifying that the President was awaiting the CCB’s verification before making the details of the assets public.

Many Nigerians, until recently when the presidency started denying issuing the campaign document, had concluded that the promise of public asset declaration by the President and the Vice President within their first 100 days in office, as contained in it, was something that they must do.

Perhaps that prompted the President to authorise the public disclosure of his assets and that of Osinbajo barely 48 hours to their 100th day in office.

The public declaration had generated mixed reactions from various quarters. While some have commended the President for holding “modest” assets for a person who had served as military state administrator and a military Head of State, others have described it as a sham for being belated and not fully disclosing the details of the assets.

Shehu had said in a statement on Thursday that Buhari’s assets include about N30m in his only bank account with the Union Bank Plc and a total of seven houses, comprising two mud houses and a standard house in Daura, his hometown; two homes in Kaduna, one in Kano and one in Abuja.

The President’s assets also include two undeveloped plots of land in Kano and Port Harcourt, an orchard and a ranch in Daura with 270 head of cattle, 25 sheep, five horses, a variety of birds and a number of economic trees.

According to the statement, Buhari also has several cars, two of which he said were bought with his savings, while the others were supplied to him by the Federal Government in his capacity as a former Head of State.

For the Vice President, Shehu said Osinbajo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, declared a four-bedroomed residence at Victoria Garden City in Lagos; three-bedroomed flat in Ikoyi, Lagos; two- bedroomed flat at the Redempion Camp, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway; and a two-bedroomed mortgage property in Bedford, England.

The Vice President operates his SimmonsCooper law firm, which is based in Lagos and has shares in MTN Nigeria, Octogenerium Ltd., Windsor Grant Ltd., Tarapolsa Vistorion Ltd., and Aviva Ltd., all of which are based in Lagos.

Osinbajo is also said to have one Infinity 4-Wheel Drive SUV, one Mercedes Benz and a Prado Jeep.

Yar’Adua’s example

In publicly declaring his assets on June 28, 2007, barely a month after his inauguration as President, the late Umar Yar’Adua made public photocopies of his completed assets declaration form as submitted to the CCB.

The document detailed Yar’Adua’s assets valued at N856, 452,892, with a total annual income that was put at N18.7m.

In the document, Yar’Adua declared the values of all his assets.

However, a sample of assets declaration forms usually completed by public officers and submitted to the CCB showed that the following key items were missing in the public assets declaration made by Buhari and Osinbajo:

Total value of assets

The President and the Vice President were expected to have stated in the CCB forms the total value of the assets they declared to the CCB but they refused to release it to the public.

Annual income on the assets

They also did not release details of their annual income on the assets which they must have stated in the forms they submitted to the CCB.

Assets of wife/wives and children

Section j (a) and (b) of the form requires the President and the Vice President to declare “details of assets/property of (a) wife/wives (b) children, if not public officers, liable to asset declaration”. These were also missing in the details publicly declared by the President and the Vice President.

Meanwhile, the Executive Director of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, commended Buhari and Osinbajo for the public declaration of their assets.

He challenged those who might not be comfortable with the declaration made by the duo to bring forward evidence showing that some things had been hidden.

Mumuni said, “All that the President and the Vice President need to do is to follow the requirement of the Code of Conduct Bureau and whoever now discovers that they have not done what they should do according to the Code of Conduct, let the person bring the information to the public domain, so that we can start talking about it. I am not for submissions without evidential or legal basis.”

On his part, Chairman of Civil Society Network Against Corruption, Mr. Olanrewaju Suraj, also described the step by the President and the Vice President as a welcome development.

“I think the public declaration of asset by the President and the Vice President is a welcome development. As an individual and also as an organisation, the Civil Society Network Against Corruption, we have consistently insisted on public declaration or explanation of what constitutes the assets that are declared by the President and the Vice President; and for us, that is the foundation for the fight against corruption and that will also send a clear signal to everyone that it is not going to be business as usual.

“This is not only commendable but it is also the beginning of another political idea. It means our leaders have a duty to appropriately make their assets declaration public while we should also investigate and monitor them,” Suraj said.

Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Fred Agbaje, also commended President Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, saying the step was the first in the fight against corruption.

“It is commendable that the President and the Vice President have declared their assets and have made it public. That is the first step in the fight against corruption.

“Instead of keeping Nigerians in the dark, we now know what they have. We must commend them. How many past Presidents have done what they did? We need, therefore, to encourage them; at least they have started the war against corruption on a right footing by declaring to the public what they have. And now that we know what they have, we can now encourage them to go ahead to battle all the thieves that have looted our treasury,” Agbaje said.

However, Chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said while the step taken by the President and his deputy was commendable, it was expected that they would declare the assets of their spouses and their children as stipulated by law.

Adeniran said, “Well, better late than never. I think they have done it in the way they want us to understand it and I believe that that is a step in the right direction, especially as they have done it before the expiration of their first 100 days in office, which they promised.

“However, we still expect that they would declare the asset of their spouses and other immediate relatives, so that we will be able to take it as a true benchmark, from where they start at the point of entry to when they get to the point of exit.

“They have to go beyond the ordinary; both the President and the Vice President have a larger than life integrity rating; so they should go beyond the ordinary to convince the whole world that they have nothing to hide. It is easy for somebody to purchase property in the name of spouses, children or siblings, but we are not asking for the asset declaration of their siblings. However, their immediate nuclear family should publicly declare so as to come to equity with fair hands.”

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