By Rudolf Ogoo OkonkwoPresident Jonathan has finally declared his assets. Hurrah! It is now time not to impeach him.
While you were sleeping, President Goodluck Jonathan declared his assets. We know this because on September 24th, the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) Dr. Sam Saba, speaking through Alhaji Ibrahim Manzo, the Federal Commissioner representing North West in the Bureau, brought the good news to the media. For those of you looking forward to knowing how many cars, cows, and condos the president owns, you are grossly misinformed. Saba reiterated that no law said that the President should declare his assets publicly.
There was something else that Dr. Saba said that should be of interest to all Nigerians. He said, “What is important is that he has declared his assets and when we go through his form and we discover any area that is questionable, then we will take him to court.” Nonsense! Take who to court? The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Iro! Impossibility! Who born this Saba? What kind of ogogoro does this man drink?
Now hold that thought. As of September 24th, the Code of Conduct Bureau is yet to go through President Jonathan’s form. It must be a long form covering oil blocks, liquefied gas concessions and credit default swaps, I guess. The real reason why the CCB had not gone through the president’s form was because the president just sent it to them.
Yes. The president did not declare his assets when the law required him to. The law required that he should have done so before he was sworn in for his full term as president. Chairman Saba knew about this law but did not cry out when he did not receive the president’s declaration of assets form in May, June, July, August, September, October, November and December of 2011. His CCB got nothing from January 2012 to August 2012. But Saba was quick to remind us that there is no law that requires the president to declare his assets publicly.
That, my friends, is the nature of the Nigerian state and the civil service officials who work for you. What gives you the confidence that a man who will not come out and complain that the president has not followed the law he was sworn in to protect will come out and pinpoint any questionable area in the president’s form? So if you don’t hear that the Code of Conduct Bureau is taking the president to court it means there is no area that is questionable.
Saba went on to assert that the Bureau he heads is doing its bit but the public is not. He accused the public of failing to blow the whistle on defaulters. Hold that. WTF!
Didn’t the public hound the President to declare his assets? Again and again, in columns after columns, Nigerians have been screaming. The president’s men, like Reuben Abati, came out to echo the line that the president has declared his assets and that he wasn’t required to make it public. All through those months, Saba did not come out to say that he has not gotten anything from the President. Now he is accusing the public of failing to blow the whistle. Imagine the audacity.
Oh, I forgot, Chairman Saba was speaking at a Compliance Training Workshop for Public Officers in Abuja. Just so you know there are things like that going on in your civil service.
In June of this year, in a SaharaTV interview, I asked President Jonathan’s spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, why the president had not declared his assets. Dr. Abati said, “You can’t be really sure about that. If the assets are declared, the president will not declare his asset on the pages of newspapers. The declaration of assets is done with the Code of Conduct Bureau.”
In October of 2011, the African Center for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) dragged the Code of Conduct Bureau to court for failing to release to the public the asset declaration of the president. AFRICMIL had in July of 2011 sent a Freedom of Information request “to be allowed to inspect and obtain copies of the 2007 asset declaration of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan; the asset declaration of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan after the end of his tenure on May 28, 2011; and the current asset declaration of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan when he assumed office on May 29, 2011.”
Paragraph 3, Part I of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, provides that the Code of Conduct Bureau shall have power to: (a) receive declarations by public officers made under paragraph 12 of Part I of the Fifth Schedule to this Constitution; (b) examine the declarations in accordance with the requirements of 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.
Just last month, Dr. Reuben Abati was again asked a similar question by nigeriavillagesquare.com. Here is the question and Abati’s answer.
Nigeriavillagesquare.com: Alright, Dr. Abati, let us talk about asset declaration. There was news recently that President Jonathan has declared his assets, but not publicly. Is that true?
Dr. Abati: “Well you are quoting the chairmen of the Code of Conduct Bureau. I think that was towards the end of September at a public function. Now the reason it has become important is that, at the last presidential media chat that we organized, this suddenly became the issue that everybody seized upon.
I think people must get the facts right; when President Jonathan said that he was not obliged to declare his assets publicly, he was stating a straightforward law of law and of fact. Three sections of the law deal with the issue of asset declaration. First, the first section of the Nigerian Constitution, which spells out the role of the conduct bureau. The code of conduct bureau is required to take stock of the declaration of assets, but it is not required to make that declaration public. Two, the Fifth Schedule in Section 11, Subsection 1, says that at the end of every four years, a public officer will declare his assets. He would do so at the beginning, do so at the end of every four years, and do so at the end of his term of office. And declare also that of his children who are not married and under the age of 18 years. The law is very specific.”
So what date was the end of President Jonathan’s last four years? What date was the beginning of his new four-year term? May 2011 or September 2012?
I know what many of our people will say: Ah! Now that he has declared his assets, we should be grateful. After all, what would anyone do if he had persistently refused to declare his assets? Exactly! That’s why we should not impeach him.
An Igbo proverb said that it is the day that a child spilled the broth that he should be caned not the day he spilled the palm oil.
Forget the Igbo and their convoluting proverbs. President Jonathan should be extolled and not punished. Not declaring his assets, as at when due, was not a blatant disregard of the law. Or was it? The delay was actually aimed at preventing greater infractions. In fact, a man who deliberately ignored a law that simply said declare your assets would not ignore the big ones that could potentially put him in jail. Or would he?
It is because Nigerians relent, lower expectations, and fail to see the big implications of what they consider little things that our political leaders take Nigerians for fools. If President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua found it prudent to demand that anyone who worked under him should publicly declare his or her assets, irrespective of what the fine letters of the law said, one would have expected President Goodluck Jonathan to follow suit because it was the best practice.
President Jonathan came to Abuja from Yenagoa with a cloud of corruption hanging on his head like a question mark. Any reasonable person would have thought that he would be the one to embrace transparency, accountability and openness. Thank goodness, they don’t make reasonable people anymore.
An aversion for best practices and an embrace of low expectations have continued to crush any hope of real advancement in Nigeria. Not that there was ever a search for a reason but the National Assembly now has another good reason not to impeach the president. We know that they will. As is always the case, it falls back on, we, the people. We must agitate. We must demand the kind of country we want. And if our condemnation, sorry commendation, of the president will be a catalyst for such a change, so be it.
But if you are waiting for Chairman Saba to take the president to court for discrepancies in his asset declaration, then I’ve got oil block OPL 419 for you to buy.