According to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) it is mandatory for all Public Officers whether elected, appointed, recruited, contracted etc., by whatever name called to declare their assets by collecting, filling and signing an asset declaration form obtainable from the Code of Conduct Bureau Office nearest to their work station in any of the 36 states of the Federation and F.C.T. or the Code of Conduct Bureau Headquarters at the Federal Secretariat Complex, Shehu Shagari Way, Maitama District, Abuja.
The following guidelines are prescribed by the Code of Conduct Bureau for all public officers: The responsibility to collect, fill and return the form rests solely with the declarant; therefore, submission of completed forms by the declarant through his/her respective Head of Department does not in any way exonerate declarant from responsibility or liability. 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.
A public officer is not to declare ONLY those Assets/Liabilities he ACTUALLY owns at the material time of filling the form. An officer is NOT to declare any Assets/Liabilities being anticipated before actual acquisition. All properties/assets acquired outside Nigeria MUST be stated clearly with the value of the said Assets in the Currency of the Country where the property is situated. After the completion of the form, the declarant must personally go and swear to the declaration before a High Court Judge nearest to his work station before submitting it to the Bureau.
Every Public Officer is required by Law to declare his/her assets/liabilities on (a) Assumption of office; (b) At the end of his term of Office, (c). At interval of four years for Public Officers on continuous employment of Government whether Federal, State or Local Government: (d) and at such other intervals as the Bureau may determine from time to time. When filling the form, one is required to provide detailed information including but not limited to the number, types, address, value of properties so declared and the date of acquisition as well as income derivable from the properties where appropriate.
Where an officer decides any question in any column is not applicable, one is required to state reason(s). All declarations made by declarant are subject to VERIFICATION by the Officers of the Bureau authorized on that behalf. Failure to declare one’s assets as required under the provisions of paragraph 11 of the 5th Schedule of the Federal Constitution shall attract on conviction any or all of the following; (a) Removal from office, (b) Disqualification from holding any Public office, (c) forfeiture to the state any property acquired in abuse of office or dishonesty.
A closer study of the above guidelines reveals lot of rigidities in the process, such that the process becomes so cumbersome that even an honest public servant can be deterred from effectively declaring his assets not because he is not willing to but because of the process. (1) I am of the view that the bureau can make the entire assets declaration forms more accessible through an online portal, this will make the forms easily assessable, also submission can be enabled via the same online platform. (2) The Bureau shall thereafter make the declaration of assets and liabilities of public officers in its custody available to the public for inspection through a website.
(3) The Bureau shall ensure the proper organization and maintenance of all information on declaration of assets and liabilities in its custody in a manner that facilitates public access to the declarations.
(4) The Bureau shall upload and arrange the declaration of assets and liabilities to the website in a way and manner that makes the declarations searchable by name, position, agency and other criteria that facilitates identification of specific public officers and downloadable and printable from a personal computer. (5) The Bureau shall upon the expiry of the date due for declarations, prepare and display on the website, on an agency by agency basis, a comprehensive list of public officers who have declared their assets and liabilities and a list of those who have not complied. (6) Declarations of assets and liabilities are to remain on the website throughout the time a person holds public office and three years afterwards; thereafter the declaration is archived.
(7) The Access to Assets Declaration Bill should be reviewed to be in tandem with the online declaration requirements and the Freedom of Information Act.
Prejudicial and privacy related information can be removed before the declaration is uploaded to the portal. They include street address of any immovable property; bank account numbers; certificate number of bonds, debentures, stocks, savings certificates, pension accounts, life insurance, trust funds, etc.; vehicle registration numbers; full names of minors, except initials. Others may include any disclosures related to health, personal information and matters generally dealt with under S. 14 of the Freedom of Information Act including trade secrets and proprietary rights.
The legal foundation for the declaration of assets in Nigeria is the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and this is very strong when compared to countries whose regimes are founded on ordinary laws, regulations or rules deriving their force from legislation. The Nigerian legal regime is supplemented by legislation – the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and Tribunal Act. The Constitution inter alia provides that:
The Bureau shall have power to-
(a) receive declarations by public officers made under paragraph 12 of Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule to this Constitution; (b) examine the declarations in accordance with the requirements of the Code of Conduct of any law; (c) retain custody of such declarations… The Constitution did not specify that the declarations have to be manual or electronic. The current paper based system was simply stipulated in the exercise of discretion by the Code of Conduct Bureau. Thus, there is no need for a new legislation or policy for Online Assets Declaration (OAD) considering the provisions of S. 15 (1) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act which states that: Every public officer shall within fifteen months of the coming into force of this act or immediately after taking office and thereafter…..
Submit to the Bureau a written declaration in the form prescribed in the First Schedule to this Act, or in such form as the Bureau may, from time to time specify, of all his properties, assets and liabilities, and those of his spouse or unmarried children under the age of eighteen years.
Essentially, the First Schedule to the Act had provided for a manual and hard copy declaration of assets and the underlined words show that CCB can now stipulate another form of declaration which may not be manual. Countries like Uganda and Bhutan did not enact a new law to implement OAD. The last part of the extant form which contains the need for the declarant to appear before a High Court Judge to depose to the declaration is not a requirement contained in the body of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 or any other law. It is contained in the Schedule to the Act and it can be taken care of and replaced with an attestation in the following form: I………………………………..attest that the statements provided in my assets declaration are true and I understand that if upon verification any statement turns out to be false, I will be liable to legal action before the Code of Conduct Tribunal and or criminal prosecution as determined by the Attorney General of the Federation or his delegate.
Also, S.15 (2) of the Act provides that:
Any statement in any declaration that is found to be false by any authority or person authorised in that behalf to verify it shall be deemed to be a breach of this Act.
Thus, without the demand in the extant practice for appearance to swear to an oath before a High Court Judge, S.15 (2) has already outlawed false statements in declarations and the above attestation can legally serve the same purpose as appearing before a High Court Judge to depose to a declaration.
Ofomata writes from Centre for Social Justice, Abuja