By Paul Dada  |

Until recently, President Muhamadu Buhari was much vilified by not a few Nigerians for not declaring his assets publicly even though the law does not require him to do so.

What the constitution says is that a president, vice-president, governor, deputy-governor, and some other public office holders must declare their assets and liabilities to the Code of Conduct Bureau before assuming office.

The Nigerian Constitution succinctly states in Chapter VI Section 140, that a person elected to the office of President shall not begin to perform the functions of that office until he has declared his assets and liabilities as prescribed by law.

But Nigerians criticised the president who they said had promised to make the declaration of his assets public. The presidency however explained that it was awaiting verification of the Buhari and his vice, Yemi Osinbajos declared assets by the Code of Conduct Bureau before making the details public.

While the controversy raged, a civil society group, Stop Impunity Nigeria, an affiliate of the Centre for Social Justice, on June 1, 2015 applied to the CCB to request copies of the completed assets declaration forms by the President and his deputy.

That application, which was signed by the Lead Director of the Centre, Eze Onyekpere, was pursuant to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2011.

However, when responding on June 10, 2015 to the application, the CCB declined request as it claimed that there was an absence of prescribed law by the National Assembly, which authorised the release of such information to the public.

The Bureau, in its response, though conceded the right by Nigerians under section 1(1) 3 and 4 of the FOIA 2011, to access or request information, whether written or not in written form, in the custody of any public agency, yet stated that sections 12(1) (a) (v), 14(1) (b) and 15(1)9a) of

the same Act empowered it to decline any request, which it considered an invasion of personal privacy.

Assets declarations by public officers contain such personal information, which falls within the exemptions to the disclosure of information in the FOIA, the Bureau signed by Ijeanuli Ofor on behalf of the Chairman,

The Bureau maintained that paragraph 3(c of the Third Schedule, Part 1 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) empowered it to make assets declarations of public officers available for inspection by any citizen of Nigeria only on terms and conditions prescribed by the National Assembly.

But tempers calmed after the presidency unveiled the details of both Buhari and Osinbajos assets.

A statement signed by the Senior Special Assistant on Media to the President, Shehu Garba read thus: 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 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.

President Buhari declared however that he had shares in Berger Paints, Union Bank and Skye Bank.

This is entirely unlike what one might expect from a former head of state of a country like Nigeria.

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.

As revealed by the same forms, highlights of the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajos 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.

According to details shown on the form, the Vice-President has about ninety four million naira, nine hundred thousand US dollars and nineteen thousand pounds in Nigerian Banks with the foreign currencies kept in local domiciliary accounts. 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.

Following the footsteps of the president and the vice-president was a senator from Kaduna, Shehu Sani who also declared his assets which included two residential houses in Kaduna, two houses under lease in Kaduna, two uncompleted office apartments in Kaduna, one residential house in Abuja, one family inherited house in Kurfi, Katsina State, and one family inherited house in Minna, Niger State, several vehicles, 30 books published in Nigeria, United States and United Kingdom with royalties, a community journal called Peace Magazine, two wives and six children.

Sani claimed that he was doing in line with moral example set by President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo, and in conformity to the standard of transparent and exemplary leadership, and in submission o the public and popular demand for integrity test to all public office holders, in a new Nigeria on a filtration process for a politically cleaner and decent future.

After the public disclosure of their assets by Buhari and Osinbajo, a call has gone to governors to do same.

But one of them, the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, said that he had already declared his assets to the relevant authority according to the law and did not need to make it public.

Speaking through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Sir Opunabo Inko-Tariah, pointed said that it was necessary for people to de-emphasise asset declaration.

Former President, Goodluck Jonathan had also during his tenure refused to make his assets public. Answering questions during a media chat, he maintained that officials should be allowed to determine whether making their assets public agree with their principles.

It is a fact that the choice of a public official to openly declare their assets is a moral one rather than legal.  The recognition of this fact is what has compelled some Nigerians to push for a constitutional review of the portion of the law which deals with this issue.

Those who want this change base their calls on the following points: The review will help Nigerians to know whether a public official can be rightly alleged as having corruptly amassed wealth when leaving office.

Since the Freedom of Information may be inadequate to know the number of assets of an official, it is important to review the constitution. Public officials are responsible to the members of the public. Hence, the argument of invasion of privacy with respect to open asset declaration, is invalid.