Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Why Asset Declaration Cannot Curb Corruption



                                                                               
             President Muhammadu Buhari
The applause given by a section of the public to President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osibanjo over the public declaration of their assets was unnecessary. The Code of Conduct Bureau under the illusion that the declaration of assets by public officials would curb corruption compels all public officials to declare their assets before the assumption office.
 Schedule Three of the Code of Conduct Bureau says, “Every declarant is required by Law to declare his/her assets/liability including that of his spouse(s) who is not a Public Officer and children under 18 years age, honestly, sincerely and submit same to the Bureau within 30 days of the receipt of the forms.” It should be stated categorically and unequivocally that the declaration of assets has not curb corruption; will not curb corruption and cannot curb corruption.  The framers of the Code of Conduct  Bureau erred by requesting public officials to declare their assets at the time of entering into public offices without a corresponding demand on them to do same when leaving office. So, if a man had N2m when entering into a public office but illegally acquired N1b at the time he is leaving office the Code of Conduct of Bureau can’t prosecute him because bureau know the value of his assets at the time he is leaving office.
The questions pulsating the minds of Nigerians are: (1) What purpose does it serve for public officials to declare their assets when assuming public office but will not do same when leaving office? (2) How does the Code of Conduct Bureau expect the anti-corruption agencies to combat corruption when public officials are not demanded to declare their assets when leaving office? (3) How can the anti-corruption agencies fight corruption when they do not know the value of assets public officials have at the time they are leaving office?  (4) Why are public officials not declaring the assets of their spouse(s) and children under 18 years age as demanded by the Code of Conduct Bureau? (5) Since the establishment of the Code of Conduct Bureau in 1989, which public official has been jailed for illegal acquisition of assets? These questions are paramount because the declaration of assets is one sided and not effective.
Since public officials have been declaring their assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau, has any of them be prosecuted, convicted and jailed for corruption? The first set of governors that assumed office on May 29, 1999, left office on May 29, 2007 after serving two terms of four years each. The second set of governors left office on May 29, 2015 after serving two terms of four years each. Same applied to former presidents, vice presidents, ministers, commissioners etc. Which ex-governors or ex-presidents has been tried, convicted and jailed for corruption? Which former ministers or commissioners have been jailed for corruption?
Above all, the declaration of assets is not a potent tool to checkmate the hydra-headed corruption even if the Code of Conduct Bureau compels public officials to declare their assets when leaving office! The reason is because public officials do not acquire assets illegally with their names; they use the names of their children, wives, relatives and cronies. In addition, they open bank accounts across the world with names of the aforementioned persons which they stocked with mammoth sums of money. Even if public officials are mandated by the Code of Conduct Bureau to declare their assets at the time of assuming and leaving office, the Bureau will not be able to trace such ill-gotten assets to them. This is where the problem lies when it comes to combating corruption through the instrument of assets declaration. Many thriving companies within and outside the country are not owned by those who run them or those known to the public as their owners. The true owners of such companies are serving or former public office holders. Those known to the public as owners of such companies are only fronting for the real owners. Under the scenarios painted above, how can the Code of Conduct Bureau know the real assets of public officials even if they are compelled to declare their assets when assuming and exiting office?  
Even if the Code of Conduct Bureau asks public officials to declare the assets when leaving office, if such assets are more than the ones declared at the time they are entering into office, what will the Code of Conduct Bureau do? Will the Bureau confiscate the assets that are in excess of the ones originally declared at the time the public officials concerned assumed office? What if the public officials who own the excess assets say they are given to them by kindhearted Nigerians or corporate organizations, what will the Code of Conduct Bureau do? We have had cases where former Presidents and governors claimed their palatial houses were donated to them by some giant construction companies operating in the country. What did the Code of Conduct Bureau do to those former public officials? Nothing!
Assets declaration is not a veritable tool to curb corruption. Even if public officials are compelled by the Code of Conduct Bureau to declare their assets when leaving office as it is when they are assuming office, the Bureau will not be able to ascertain the real assets of public officials since they use the names of their children, wives, relatives and cronies. The Federal Government should jettison assets declaration because it is a charade rather it should conceive another strategy to combat corruption. Since the establishment of the Code of Conduct Bureau in 1989, which former or serving public official has been jailed for illegal acquisition of assets? None!

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