After what seems like aeons of unnecessary, clumsy and exasperating rigmarole, President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo finally released highlights of their assets declaration forms to the public on Thursday. The highlights were contained in a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, who has been at the centre of most of the back-and-forth on the assets declaration issue. Even when most of the responses to the release have been positive, the build-up to it and the content of the release have raised a number of issues worth reviewing. Worth examining also is how to strengthen assets declaration as an instrument for checking graft and enthroning transparency and accountability in our country.
On May 30, Mallam Shehu, in his capacity then as the head of Buhari’s media team, said that the president and his deputy had on 28 May, 2015 filed their assets declaration forms in accordance with Section 140 of the 1999 Constitution. He disclosed that the forms were personally acknowledged by the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), Mr. Sam Saba. He further gave the president’s declarant ID as: President 000001/2015. Then, he added the clincher: “By declaring their assets, President Buhari and Vice-President Osinbajo may have not only fulfilled the requirements of the Nigerian Constitution, but also fulfilled the first of their many campaign promises. While seeking election into the highest office in the land, the president had promised Nigerians that he would publicly declare his assets as soon as he took over government.” (Emphasis mine, as we will return to this shortly.)
Possibly when reminded that merely submitting a form to the CCB did not amount to fulfilling the promise to publicly declare assets, Shehu on June 6 issued a clarification. While appreciating public concern on the issue but not forgetting to tag it “a little precipitate,” he stated: “As required by law, the declaration and submission of documents to the CCB have been made, but there still remains the aspect of verification which the Bureau will have to conduct to authenticate the submissions made to it. In the circumstances, it is only after this verification exercise, and not before, that the declaration can be said to have been made and validated; and only after this, will the details be released to the public.
There is no question at all that the president and the vice-president are committed to public declaration of their assets within the 100 days that they pledged during the presidential campaign.” (Emphasis mine again.) On Thursday September 3, Shehu finally released highlights of the declared assets and promised full disclosure later: “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.” This partial release came within the 100-day mark promised in the quote highlighted in the preceding paragraph.