By Clifford Ndujihe
Elder statesman and legal icon, Professor Ben Nwabueze, SAN, has challenged President Muhammadu Buhari to avoid unnecessary controversies and declare his assets publicly if he has nothing to hide.
At the public presentation and launch of the book: ‘’One Step Ahead–Life as a Spy, Detective, and Anti-Graft Czar written by a former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mrs. Farida Waziri, last week, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, and the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, traded words over the refusal of President Buhari to declare his assets publicly.
Kukah asked why the president used Justice Walter Onnoghen’s asset declaration form to prove the jurist’s corruption and proceeded to sack him, yet the president himself has not publicly declared his own assets as he promised during his campaigns.
However, Adesina challenged Kukah to produce evidence of where the president promised to publicly declare his assets, if elected and argued that Buhari never promised to declare his assets publicly, and has not broken any law by not doing so.
Contributing to the issue in a 1,239-word statement titled: ‘’Whether Assets and Liabilities Declaration by Public Officers is Required by Law to be Made Public,” Nwabueze said ‘’it makes little sense to require Public Officers to submit declarations of assets and liabilities at specified times if the declaration is not subject to verification by the CCB or anyone else authorised by it, and if the public has no access to them.”
Noting that ‘’the Presidency has a way of stirring up controversy where none exists or should exist, as by its statement of February 12, 2020 in which it picked up a quarrel with Rt. Rev. Matthew Kukah,” he said: ‘’The law on the issue is clear both in its express terms and in its spirit, and admits of no controversy.”
According to Nwabueze, who recalled that President Buhari declared among others that he had less than N30 million to his name, one bank account with the Union Bank, no foreign account, no factory, no enterprises, no registered company and no oil wells in 2015, urged the president to repeat the declaration now.
The law has not changed
Said Nwabueze: ‘’According to the Presidency, President Buhari in 2015 made his Assets Declaration public, but ‘in 2019 he has declared that he has chosen not to make them public.’ If he made his Assets Declaration public in 2015, his decision not to make them public in 2019 suggests that he has something to hide.
“It also suggests an intention on the part of the President to pervert or subvert the Code of Conduct as a weapon in the fight against corruption. The law that makes it obligatory for the CCB to make the Assets Declaration available for inspection by any citizen of Nigeria remains the same in 2019 as in 2015.
‘’It is worthy of note that a public declaration of his assets in 2015 earned for the President public acclaim as a constitutionalist and as an anti-corruption crusader, although much of this public acclaim is the result, to quote Bishop Kuka’s words, of ‘hypocrisy, duplicity, fabricated integrity, false piety and empty morality.”
The statement read in part: ‘’Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution establishes a Code of Conduct Bureau. Paragraph 3 of the Third Schedule to the said Constitution provides: “the Bureau shall have power (among other things) to (a) receive declarations of asset and liabilities by Public Officers made under paragraph 12 of Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule of this Constitution; (b) examine the declarations in accordance with the Code of Conduct or any law; (c) retain custody of such declarations and make them available for inspection by any citizen of Nigeria on such terms and conditions as the National Assembly may prescribe”.
“Citizens of Nigeria constitute the public of Nigeria for this purpose, so that the provision requiring the CCB to make assets declaration available for inspection by any citizen of Nigeria is a requirement for a public declaration. By the terms of the provision in paragraph 3 of the Third Schedule, it is mandatory, not discretionary, for the Code of Conduct Bureau to make Assets Declaration by the President available for inspection by any citizen of Nigeria.
“And by section 318 of the Constitution “power includes function and duty.” Incontestably’, therefore, the CCB has a duty to make the President’s Assets Declaration available for inspection by any citizen of Nigeria.
‘’But that is not all. The CCB also has a duty arising by implication from its power under paragraph 3 of the Third Schedule ‘to examine the declarations in accordance with the requirements of the Code of Conduct or any law.’
“To examine embraces the power to verify. It makes little sense to require Public Officers to submit declarations of assets and liabilities at specified times if the declaration is not subject to verification by the CCB or anyone else authorised by it, and if the public has no access to them.
“The verification exercise may well be the greatest boost to the fight against corruption and the most innovative event in the history of the entire corruption war.
CCB not president’s instrument
‘’Moreover, the CCB is not an instrument of the President, nor is it otherwise made subject to his control and direction; it is rather an instrument of the people designed for the protection and advancement of their interests against public functionaries. The essence and spirit of the Code of Conduct seems well encapsulated by the provision in the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act Cap 56 Laws of the Federation 1990 edition to the following effect: ‘The aims and objectives of the Code shall be to establish and maintain a high standard of morality in the conduct of government business and to ensure that the actions and behaviour of public servants conform to the highest standards of public morality and accountability.’
Buhari’s assets in 2015
‘’The President’s Assets Declaration for 2015 are worthy of notice for this reason. They read as follows:
‘The documents submitted to the CCB, which officials say are still being vetted and will soon be made public, show that prior to being sworn in on May 29, President Buhari had less than N30 million to his name. He also had only one bank account, with the Union Bank.
“President Buhari had no foreign account, no factory and no enterprises. He also had no registered company and no oil wells”, the statement said. The statement further added that “the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), who had been a successful lawyer before his foray into politics declared a bank balance of about N94 million and 900,000 United States Dollars in his bank accounts”.
“It added that President Buhari “had shares in Berger Paints, Union Bank and Skye Bank”. The documents also revealed that “President Buhari had a total of five homes and two mud houses in Daura.
“He had two homes in Kaduna, one each in Kano, Daura and in Abuja. One of the mud houses in Daura was inherited from his late older sister, another from his late father.
“He borrowed money from the old Barclays Bank to build two of his homes. “President Buhari also has two undeveloped plots of land, one in Kano and the other in Port Harcourt. He is still trying to trace the location of the Port Harcourt land.”
“In addition to the homes in Daura, he has farms, an orchard and a ranch. The total number of his holdings in the farm include 270 heads of cattle, 25 sheep, five horses, a variety of birds and a number of economic trees.’
‘’The documents also showed that the retired General ‘uses a number of cars, two of which he bought from his savings and the others supplied to him by the federal government in his capacity as former Head of State. The rest were donated to him by well-wishers after his jeep was damaged in a Boko Haram bomb attack on his convoy in July 2014.’
‘’The same forms, according to Mr Shehu, notes that ‘Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo’s asset declaration include his 4-bedroom residence at Victoria Garden City, Lagos and a 3-bedroom flat at 2 Mosley Road, Ikoyi.
“The Vice President also has a 2-bedroom flat at the popular Redemption Camp along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and a 2- bedroom mortgaged property in Bedford, England. Aside from these, the Vice President has no other landed properties on the form.
“Apart from his law firm, known as SimmonsCooper, the Vice-President also declared shareholding in six private companies based in Lagos, including Octogenerium Ltd., Windsor Grant Ltd., Tarapolsa, Vistorion Ltd., Aviva Ltd. and MTN Nigeria.
“His personal vehicles are one Infinity 4-Wheel Drive SUV, one Mercedes Benz and a Prado Jeep. “As soon as the CCB is through with the process, the documents will be released to the Nigerian public and people can see for themselves,” Mr Shehu said.”