By Rotimi Fasan
LESS than 48 hours before he clocked his hundredth day in office, Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria since May 29, 2015 and his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, publicly declared their assets. Both men had made the pre-election pledge to declare their assets publicly not later than their first hundred days in office.
Questions about what this administration had achieved in the last one hundred days aside issuance of warnings to probe all cases of corruption against members of the Goodluck Jonathan administration had lately dominated media discussion. Many Nigerians have been asking to know in specific terms what the Buhari administration has achieved in one hundred days. They had questioned the administration’s claim to probity and questioned further its level of preparedness to govern in the face of its failure to set up its cabinet and, very significantly, the latest in the series of appointments the president had made which were overwhelmingly skewed in favour of the north.
Critics of the administration saw the appointments as clear proof of what they had all along criticized about the person and style of Muhammadu Buhari: a bigoted, self righteous parochialism by a man incapable of trusting people outside his immediate enclave.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party and their sympathisers saw their opportunity to make their dig at the Buhari administration and seized the moment with both hands. Matters seemed momentarily compounded after the APC, through its spokespersons and other members of the party, disowned a purported covenant between the party and Nigerians in which the former documented what the administration hoped to achieve by its one hundredth day in office. The appointment episode and the backlash from it threatened to end the honeymoon between Buhari and the people in a dirty, unanticipated divorce. Criticism of the last set of appointments must no doubt count as the worst the administration has so far faced since May 29.
This column had last week questioned the rationale for the appointments announced two weeks ago. I had in that piece highlighted what I thought was wrong about the appointments and cautioned against a growing tendency to ignore the voice of the people.
The president’s reputed modesty and his perceived dislike of corruption and corrupt enrichment by public servants, I had said, were his main recommendations to the voting public, more than any pretensions to messianic omniscience. Perhaps it was in recognition of the disenchantment caused by the said one-sided appointments and the growing feeling that the new government was beginning to renege on its electoral promises even before it had started executing them- perhaps it was to stem the tide of criticisms that followed all of this that the presidency publicly declared the assets of both the president and vice president, even before the Code of Conduct Bureau had finished verifying the claims made in the asset declaration documents deposited with it.
The assets declared showed that both Buhari and Osinbajo are men of relatively modest means. The case of President Buhari was particularly revealing of his kind of person. The worth of his assets, although not in the league of paupers’, falls far short of what would ordinarily be ascribed to not just a former head of state but one who had had the rare fortune of being in charge of the lucrative petroleum ministry as early as in the 1970s and later as chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund, in charge of disbursing the huge fund that was under the control of the PTF. This former oil czar and long time player in the oil industry has, according to his declared assets, no oil wells to his name nor is he connected to any company with interests in the oil industry.
His main assets consist in heads of cattle, sheep, farms and a number of houses, some of them mud structures inherited from family members or built with loans from banks. He has N30 million in his only bank account (none outside Nigeria), and this with one of the most conservative banks in the country. This is genuinely remarkable in a country where public office is another word for corrupt and primitive enrichment. Osinbajo is more or less in the same category as Buhari even though he owns a domiciliary dollar account and a three bedroom building in the United Kingdom.
The combined assets of both men are worth less than what some lowly officer corners for themselves in some ‘juicy’ parastatal or government ministry. Compared to many public office holders, much less politicians at even council levels, the two most powerful Nigerians today look somewhat like refugee cases. The net worth of their assets does not leave one wondering about the source of the assets nor does it induce nightmares.
Rather it proclaims both men, Buhari especially, as the right people to lead Nigeria for now- after the depraved looting of members of the last administration. Buhari and Osinbajo’s declaration of their assets would to some extent turn attention away from criticisms of the skewed appointments of their administration. But the greater benefit of their action is the message it sends out to Nigerians that public office is not about self interest. Nor should anyone leave such office richer than an Aliko Dangote.
Both Buhari and Osinbajo have been in public office. But they did not loot the place blind. This makes it all the more clearer that Buhari is the right man for now and the best to take on those burglars of our common wealth. He has nothing to expect from them, nor can he be afraid of losing or missing anything now at 73 that he did not miss or lose before now.
If a former head of state who has occupied some of the most influential offices in the corridors of power in the last forty years possesses no more than what Buhari has declared, then nobody who has served this country in any capacity in the last forty years should have far more than him except such could show they had been involved in very lucrative and corruption-free private business. Otherwise, the air of suspicion swirls around them.
It is the job of the opposition in a democracy to ask searching questions and expect answers to some if not all of them. To that extent, we shall bear with Olisa Metuh and the PDP even as they go about trying to find fault with the president’s claim concerning his declared assets. What I will murmur against is Mr. Metuh’s splitting of air about what he called a mere listing of assets as opposed to an actual declaration of the worth of the assets. Whether listed or given by ‘declaration’ the true worth of the declared assets can be ascertained by any interested person.