By Abdulwahab Abdulah,Dapo Akinrefon, Charles Kumolu, Gbenga Oke & Levinus Nwabughiogu
LAGOS—Aides of President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, explained why the president did not declare his assets publicly. They said he will make his assets known to Nigerians within the first 100 days of his stay in power in line with his assertions before the election.
Meanwhile, there were mixed reactions, yesterday, on the report that the president and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo had submitted their assets declaration to the Code of Conduct Bureau without immediately making them public.
A civil rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, argued that it was imperative for the duo to make public their assets. It said the action will indicate “their desire and commitment to ending corruption in the country.”
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, on its part, said it would allow Buhari to settle down for governance before taking him to task on his campaign promises.
However, some notable Nigerians disagreed over call for the public declaration of assets by the president and his vice president.
Among those who expressed divergent views were constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay, SAN; Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN; rights crusader, Mr Femi Falana, SAN; Mr Kayode Ajulo; Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammed and rights activist, Mr Mohammed Fawehinmi.
A close associate of the president, however, debunked criticisms on the issue saying, yesterday, that the president still has 97 days within which to make his assets public as he promised during the campaigns.
President Buhari had in a document on his plan of action within the first 100 days of assumption of office as president promised to make his assets declaration public and influence his appointees to do the same.
“In the document the president said what he would do within the first 100 days and among them was that he would declare his assets publicly in the first 100 days. How many hours has he been in office? How many days after his inauguration?
“I think that the president should be given the benefit of the doubt. It is only three days since he came to office. Does he not deserve the benefit of the balance of the 96 remaining days? I think he deserves commendations”, the source close to the president said on the basis of anonymity.
He should declare assets publicly now— SERAP
Reacting to the development, yesterday, SERAP, in a statement by its Executive Director, Mr Tokunbo Mumuni, said: “We recall that the President had said before the election that he would publicly declare his assets and liabilities, and encourage all his appointees to publicly declare their assets and liabilities as a pre-condition for appointment. We now expect the President to fulfil this promise to the Nigerian people. SERAP trusts that the President and Vice President will move swiftly to publicly declare their assets and to publish widely the information on a dedicated website.
“Public disclosure of assets will give the general public a true picture of the assets of the President and Vice President and will send a powerful message that it is not going to be business as usual with this government. This will also follow the best practice set by former President Umaru Yar’Adua, boost this government’s fight against corruption and impunity of perpetrators, and fully comply with the provisions of chapter two of the dealing with Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, which among others require the government to take steps to eradicate corrupt practices and the abuse of power”, SERAP stated.
We’ll answer him later —PDP
In its reaction, the PDP said that it would respond to the issue in due season. Speaking with Vanguard, PDP National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh said that the party would allow Buhari settle down for governance, and then come up with very strong opposition.
Metuh said: “We will allow President Muhammadu Buhari to settle down and address the promises made to Nigerians; we will talk on asset declaration later.”
That is where credibility starts—Sagay
Constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, said it was compulsory for the president and his vice to declare their assets publicly saying, “that is where credibility starts”.
Sagay said: “I have no doubt that he will make it public because that is where credibility starts. That is where Jonathan started losing credibility. The late Umar Yar’Adua forced him to declare his assets in 2007, reluctantly, he did it. But when he was his own man, he said he does not give a damn and that is where he started sliding down. So, Buhari has no choice, it is absolute for himself and Osinbajo if change and credibility are going to be sustained. There is no other way out, so I expect in the next 24 hours or so that we would know what their assets are. He should apply it to every other appointee of his regime, not just himself and Osinbajo, it is compulsory and absolute.”
President and his vice didn’t err—Ngige
Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN, argued that the president and his vice did not err in the declaration of their assets. Ngige said: “There is nothing wrong in what the President and his vice have done. Anyone who is not satisfied with that should go to the Code of Conduct Bureau to get the information they need on the declaration. If the Code of Conduct refuses, they can invoke the Freedom of Information Act. When President Yar’Adua did his declaration, he asked the code of conduct to make it public.
“Yar’Adua did not make his declaration public. People should desist from making noise about it because the President and his vice did the right thing. Getting information about the contents of the declaration should be done accordingly through the code of conduct and if it refuses, people can approach the court and the court can order the code of conduct to make it public.”
Let’s wait for the 100 days—Falana
On his part, rights crusader, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, opined that “these men just took oath of office two days ago and they declared their assets officially as required by law which stipulates 90 days. Meanwhile, they’ve promised to declare their assets publicly within 100 days. I hope it is better we wait for the 100 days.”
The courts should decide—Ajulo
A lawyer, Mr Kayode Ajulo said the courts should be allowed to make a pronouncement on the matter. Ajulo said: “All I know is that we Nigerians just want to be intellectually lazy. It is so clear that Buhari declared his assets, there is no fuzz about anyone declaring his assets or not. When it comes to the declaration of assets under Code of Conduct law, you have to swear to an affidavit, that affidavit is pursuant to an old act, it is called the law of federation. In that act, any oath you are making in Nigeria, it is a public declaration.
Buhari should not be stampeded— Mohammed
Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammed maintained that Nigerians should not blackmail or stampede President Buhari into declaring his assets publicly.
His words: “Nigerians must learn to live by what our rules and regulations say when issues like this come up. No democracy without rule of law and Buhari has done what he is supposed to do within the confines of the law”.
Mohammed added that “without sounding irrational, I can personally state everything owned by Buhari. We have to be realistic and it is sheer nonsense when you are trying to tell a man what he already knows or what he is supposed to do. But no one should stampede him in publicly doing it the Yar’Adua way. I don’t mind him declaring publicly but I will oppose anybody trying to stampede him into doing what our law clearly states which he had already done”.
Code of Conduct should make it public—Fawehinmi
IN his remarks, rights activist, Mr Mohammed Fawehinmi, said it was the duty of the Code of Conduct Bureau to make the declaration public.
Fawehinmi said: “They have done what is required by law by declaring their assets officially; it is now the duty of the Code of Conduct to make it open or published it. However, it becomes an obligation on Buhari and Osinbajo to publish their assets publicly as contained in their electoral promises. This will be the beginning of the fulfilment of their promises to Nigerians.”
Human rights activist, and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Chief Mike Ozekhome in his reaction, urged Buhari to declare his assets publicly in conformity with his campaign promises of breaking away from the old order. Ozekhome in a telephone chat with Vanguard in Abuja reminded Buhari that Nigerians now have a long memory and would watch him closely.
He said: “I think President Buhari should realize that all the promises he made with his party, the APC constitute a check list that Nigerians are keeping closely with a biro at hand ready to tick either performed or not performed. I wouldn’t want to believe that some of the promises he made were empty words customized to get votes from Nigerians and then refrains from them later.