The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged the President-Elect Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu to “start with a clean slate by promptly making public details of your assets, income, investments, liabilities, and interests and to encourage your Vice-President-Elect to do the same.”
SERAP also urged him to “immediately prioritize the full and effective respect for human rights, media freedom, the rule of law and the country’s judiciary including by promptly obeying countless court judgments which the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has repeatedly treated with utter contempt and disdain.”
In an open letter dated 27 May 2023 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “SERAP notes your recent promise to “kill corruption’. However, this rhetoric is nothing new: the outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari used similar hollow anticorruption phrase in 2015.
SERAP said, “As Nigerians have witnessed for eight years, Buhari has neither ‘killed corruption’ nor obeyed court judgments on transparency and accountability.
According to SERAP, “Widely publishing details of your assets, income, investments and liabilities and encouraging your Vice-President-Elect and others to do the same would allow Nigerians to know your worth and the worth of other public officials.
SERAP said, “If your election is upheld by the judiciary, your government can use transparency in asset declarations as a means of promoting public accountability and ending systemic corruption in the country.
The letter, read in part, “Buhari’s broken promises to make specific details of his assets public and to ‘kill corruption’ have opened up the country’s political and electoral processes to a money free-for-all, discouraged political participation and contributed to impunity for corruption.
“Although President Buhari’s march to Aso Rock was predicated, in large part, on his campaign rhetoric to ‘kill corruption’, corruption remains widespread among high-ranking public officials and in ministries, departments and agencies [MDAs].
“Making public details of your assets, liabilities, and interests would reduce unjust enrichment of public officials, ensure integrity in public offices and promote transparency and accountability as well as good governance.
“Nigeria is very rich but its wealth is gravitating rapidly into the hands of a small portion of the population, and the power of corrupt enrichment has continued to threaten to undermine the political integrity of the country.
“The tendency for politicians when trying to persuade Nigerians to vote for them is to conceal or hide traits that might make voters reluctant to vote them into power and to hide what they want to do with that power. But once voted into power, politicians become trustees of public wealth and resources and must remove the camouflage.
“Effective enforcement and implementation of court judgments is critical to the national interest and to the restoration of the rule of law in the country.
“The incoming government therefore has a responsibility to improve citizens’ trust and confidence in government. But it will be difficult for the new government to be trusted if its leaders do not come clean about their assets and incomes.
“Disclosure of income, assets and conflicts of interest can serve as powerful tools to draw attention to the abuse of public office, help prosecute corrupt offenders and create a culture of scrutiny in the public sector that deters corruption.
“The Buhari administration has neither ‘killed corruption’ nor obeyed the rule of law. The outgoing president seemed barely able to hide his disdain for the rule of law and judicial integrity and independence.
“Under the Buhari administration, the country has witnessed a general concentration of wealth in the hands of a few politicians and elites perceived to be enriching themselves at the expense of the general public.
“The Buhari administration turned the idea of the rule of law and judicial independence on its head by persistently disobeying court judgments including those ordering him to stop life pensions for former governors, and to pay journalist Agba Jalingo N30 million as damages for violations of his human rights.
“The Buhari administration has also refused to obey the judgments by Justice Hadiza Rabiu Shagari ordering his government to tell Nigerians about the stolen asset it allegedly recovered, with details of the amounts recovered; and by Justice Mohammed Idris, ordering his government to publish details on the spending of stolen funds recovered by successive governments since 1999.
“SERAP urges you to emulate the late former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who consistently published his asset declaration forms as president and governor of Katsina State. He also planned legislative reform to make it mandatory for all public officers to declare their assets publicly. He believed that publishing his assets would put pressure on other public officers to do so.
“According to the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, contained in Part I of the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], all public officers are to declare their assets.
“Paragraph 11(1)(a)(b) of the Fifth Schedule provides that every public officer shall immediately after taking office and thereafter (a) at the end of every four years; and (b) at the end of his/her term of office, submit to the Code of Conduct Bureau a written declaration of all his properties, assets, and liabilities and those of his unmarried children under the age of eighteen years.
“Section 15(1) of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and Tribunal Act also requires all public officers to declare their assets.
“Article 8 of United Nations Convention against Corruption provides for the codes of conduct for public officials and requires states parties including Nigeria to ensure probity in public office. Article 8(5) particularly requires states parties to establish systems that require public officials to declare their outside activities, employment, investments, assets and substantial gifts or benefits.
“Article 7(1) of the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption also provides a similar requirement for public officials to declare their assets before, during, and after serving in public office.
“The Nigerian Constitution and the anticorruption and human rights treaties show the significant role that asset declaration by public officials plays in promoting transparency, accountability and preventing and combating corruption in the public service.
“Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution makes provision for the fundamental right to information. Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also guarantee access to information.
“We hope that the aspects highlighted will help guide your steps in taking steps to publish your asset declaration form and to encourage others to do so.”