Assets: What Buhari Did Not Tell Nigerians

buhariTo many Nigerians, the recent assets declaration by President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo leaves many unanswered questions

 In the last couple of days, the All Progressives Congress, APC, has been in a somewhat happy mood. This has to do with the asset declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari and his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo to the Code of Conduct Bureau which was unveiled by Garba Shehu, senior special assistant on media and publicity to  Buhari on September 4.

As far as the APC members are concerned, the President and his deputy have not only kept their word to Nigerians to publicly declare their assets, they, particularly for president Buhari, boast of modest assets. Indeed, Shehu alluded to this when he hailed the former military leader’s lifestyle as “austere and Spartan.” He then disclosed that “President Buhari had less than N30 million to his name,” in Union Bank as well as “a total of five homes, and two mud houses in Daura, Kaduna, Kano, Daura and Abuja.”  Other assets listed as belonging to President Buhari are two undeveloped plots in Kano and Port Harcourt, “farms, an orchard and a ranch,” with “270 heads of cattle, 25 sheep, five horses, a variety of birds and a number of economic trees” and “cars,” some of which(cars) were donation from well wishers,  as well as “shares in Berger Paints, Union Bank and Skye Bank.”

Osinbajo, on the other hand, has “a bank balance of about N94 million and 900,000 United States Dollars in his bank accounts.” The Vice President also owns “4-bedroom residence at Victoria Garden City, Lagos and a 3-bedroom flat at 2 Mosley Road, Ikoyi…a 2-bedroom flat at the popular Redemption Camp along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and a 2-bedroom mortgaged property in Bedford, England.” Osinbajo is also a shareholder in “six private companies based in Lagos, including Octogenerium Ltd., Windsor Grant Ltd,, Tarapolsa, Vistorion Ltd., Aviva Ltd., and MTN Nigeria” and owns “one Infinity 4-Wheel Drive SUV, one Mercedes Benz and a Prado Jeep.”

While some Nigerians have hailed the disclosure, which came three months after Buhari and Osinbajo assumed offices as president and vice president, some others have picked holes in them. As far as the second group is concerned, the asset declaration falls short of expectation as it is silent on the actual cost or value of the listed properties, contrary to the demand of the Code of Conduct Bureau which states that “when filling the form, you are 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.”  The lack of details on the properties has thus become a talking point for some people.

In an online post, Benedict Ezeagu, a legal practitioner, asked: “How did General Buhari acquire the over N5billion worth of houses and plots of land he owns in Abuja and other parts of Nigeria, what are the sizes/values of his said large farmlands in different parts of Nigeria, what are the exact amount of his shareholdings in the mentioned companies, who donated the exotic/expensive cars worth millions of Naira which he declared as his, and how exactly did he acquire them, etc, etc, etc? Same for Professor Osinbajo.”

The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP had also raised questions in this regard when, in reaction to the asset declaration, it dismissed the exercise as an attempt to pull wool over the eyes of Nigerians. Describing the declared assets as “a flimsy list of belongings of President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo” that  “falls short of credibility, transparency and anti-corruption standards as well as exposes the proclivity of the present administration for deception,” the PDP, through Olisa Metuh, its spokesman, asked: “Is the resort to a mere list, instead of true copies of the declaration not a ploy to give the Presidency a window for denial in consonance with their widely observed inclination for flip flopping, backtracking and brazen denials of their statements and actions,” it questioned, adding, “all we want is credibility, integrity and sincerity of purpose. We are not questioning how a President, who by December last year, declared that he had only N1 million in his account, could suddenly now list N30 million in the same bank account by May 29, and after an expensive campaign; we are not yet demanding the public declaration of his assets in his wife’s name.”

Like Metuh pointed out, the Code of Conduct Bureau, under its Enabling Law; section 3, part of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended demands that public office holders should make available to the public, lists of their wives’ assets, when it 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, honestly, sincerely and submit same to the Bureau within 30 days of the receipt of the forms.”

Although the issue of making one’s asset public is personal as the law does not compel one to, Buhari had promised, during his electioneering campaign, to make his assets public. And in stating so, he aimed to follow the example of the late Umaru Yar’Adua, his kinsman and former Nigerian president who, in 2007, made his assets public. That public disclosure was one of the things that endeared Yar’Adua to Nigerians in the early days of his administration. Buhari had hoped to follow that example and had told the people so during the campaigns that led to the March 28 elections, which he won.

But the President failed to make his asset declaration public as soon as he took over. Many people were not happy about it and demanded that, in the interest of accountability, the President should fulfill his campaign promises like Yar’Adua did. It got to a point that some of the president’s advisers and party members began defending and pleading more time for him and his vice while noting that the Code of Conduct Bureau was still assessing the list. Femi Adesina, one of the President’s media aides, later denied that Buhari ever promised to declare his assets publicly and that it was his party that promised to do so. As far as Adesina was concerned, a distinction should be made between Buhari as a person and his party principle.

In an interview published by Nigeria Daily News, an online newspaper, in August, Adesina said: “You need to get his words right, go and check all that the president said during the campaign, in no place would you see it attributed to him as a person. But then there is a document by his party, the All Progressives Congress, saying he would declare publicly, so we need to set that right, it’s a declaration by his party. What does the law require? The law requires public officers to declare their assets; he has done that. But his party has a document that says he would do it publicly”.

His explanation notwithstanding, not a few persons insisted that the president did promise to declare his assets publicly and it was the controversy and criticism that trailed the issue that finally led to the public announcement of the asset on September 4, but which, in the estimation of some people, falls short of expectation.

Given the current situation, some people now wonder whether the assets revealed by Shehu is a tip of what was declared to the Code of Conduct Bureau and whether more would still be revealed but sources told the magazine that Buhari’s house in Abuja is located at No. 9 on the highbrow Udo Udoma Street, a street on the hill of Asokoro District overlooking the Asokoro Lake.

The magazine visited the area and observed that the property consists of three duplexes built on about two plots of land. It has only one entrance gate. One of the duplexes is on the right and the other two on the left of the gate. The one on the right, with a fading white paint, looks uninhabited but the air conditioner openings were unfilled and the windows do not have blinds. The white paint is almost turning brown and the entire duplex appears to have been cleared for renovation.

The other two duplexes seem to have occupants as there were cars parked in front of them at the time of visit, and baby toys could be seen on the corridors. But in terms of aesthetics, the two buildings do not fare better. The paint on the walls has also faded and the grasses in the compound are wild. The duplexes have no detached boys’ quarters. The wall fence of the property appears to have been painted the same time with the houses as the paint on it is almost washed out.

There are visible cracks on the wall and policemen are seen patrolling the street. Although there is a police road block about three houses before the property, there were no policemen guarding the property, only a man employed by a private security company, is at the gate.

Property developers in Abuja say a plot of land in Asokoro can go for as high as N200 million, with some, depending on location, even higher. The average price of a three-bedroom duplex in Asokoro is said to be about N300 million and above. Like in Abuja, value of accommodation, land or building in many cities in Nigeria like Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Lagos, Kano, Ibadan depends on location.

Just like land or structure, vehicles come in different grades. While some jeeps, for instance, cost N5 million or below, some sell for N38 million and above. When the cost of the buildings, land in different Nigerian states and cars for both the president and his vice are calculated, they may exceed the N30 million or N94 million and 900,000 United States Dollars officially declared for Buhari and Osinbajo respectively.

Edmund Biriomoni, an Osun-based lawyer observed that, “asset declaration must be done in prescribed form to ensure clarity and certainty. What was declared, by President Buhari is vague, in bad faith and is unacceptable. The particulars and full description of the asset have to be given for proper identification and verification.”

Comparing the example of late Yar’Adua with Buhari’s, Biriomoni said:  “Late President Umaru Yar’Adua made public photocopies of his duly completed assets declaration form. The gesture was the first by any Nigerian helmsman since independence in 1960. The President went a step further to declare the assets of his wife, Hajiya Turai.” This, he said, is in spite of the fact that the Code of Conduct Bureau did not make it mandatory for assets to be declared openly.

An assessment of the list of assets declared by Yar’Adua through his special adviser on communications, Segun Adeniyi, shows that Yar’Adua, at the time of the declaration, was worth N856,452,892 including a sum of N19 million owned by his wife. The list also contains the then President and first lady’s savings, remunerations and liabilities. Of the N856,452,892 listed against Yar’Adua’s name,  N43,702,892 was cash, out of which N26,602,681.00 was domiciled at Bank PHB’s, Nagogo Road, Katsina State office; N12,000,264.21  in Apapa, Lagos and N4,999,947.22 at the bank’s head office in Kaduna. A sum of N7.5 million was declared as cash at hand and consisted of savings, campaign and post campaign donations.

The cost of the value of Yar’Adua’s buildings, developed and undeveloped plots of land was put at N577,000,000. This included the Yar’Adua family compound valued at N105,000,000 said to be a family inheritance, a building in Wuse 2 worth N212,000,000, a duplex at Malali, Kaduna State valued at N120,000,000, a 7 bedroom duplex at 2, Lema Jubril Close worth 90,000,000, an undeveloped plot in Asokoro New Layout, Abuja worth  50,000,000 and two farms valued at 25,000,000.

Other acquisition by Yar’Adua  included N2,000,000 units of shares of Habib Bank and 100,000 units of Muradi Hotels.  His vehicles, most of which were listed as campaign vehicles, had N174, 700,000  value  ascribed to them and included a Honda Accord car and Mercedes Benz, personal cars of Yar’Adua worth N350,000 and 6,500,000 respectively.

Turai, on the other hand, was said to own “total asset of N19,000,000 made up of three local houses worth N1,5000,000 acquired in 1998; one twin bungalow valued at N15,000,000 located in Kofar Kaura layout in Katsina State acquired in 2002 and three vacant plots in Katsina acquired in 2003 worth N2,500,000 as well as household furniture in Katsina.”

According to Adeniyi, “the president notified the Code of Conduct Bureau of his intention to make the form available to the public in fulfillment of his campaign pledge, which was borne out of his conviction that the war against corruption cannot have meaning until those at the helm begin to live by example.” He added that “the bureau, while appreciating the noble intention of the president, counseled against the move on the grounds that such an action from the number one citizen would put pressure on other categories of public officers to do same, even when the constitution makes the exercise a confidential matter.”

In fact, it was Yar’Adua’s personal example that forced Goodluck Jonathan, his then deputy to openly declare his assets in 2007. In 2012, after Jonathan had succeeded Yar’Adua as president following the demise of the former and was speaking about the issue of asset declaration during a media chat, he said he did not “give a damn” about it as the law did not require him to openly declare his assets. That statement was one his critics would latch on to as evidence of his reluctance to fight corruption.

The contradictions in the assets declared by Yar’Adua and Buhari notwithstanding, Denja Yaqub, assistant secretary, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC believes that president Buhari has done well by openly declaring his assets even though he could have done better.

“We need to appreciate one fact. Apart from late President Yar’Adua, this is the (other) President that has declared his assets publicly. Despite pressures mounted on former President Goodluck Jonathan, he never declared his assets publicly. We have to appreciate the fact that President Buhari respects the rules and wants to be transparent,” he said, adding however that “morally and from the common man’s point of view, I believe that anyone who discloses his assets and the locations should also be able to say this is how much it is worth.”

To that extent, Yaqub expects ‘the Code of Conduct Bureau to go and find out, ask questions, how much are these assets worth.” Beyond Buhari, Yaqub would love to see a situation where other past presidents who did not declare their assets, do so too.

Not just past presidents and governors but current public office holders, including governors and legislators, many say, should declare their assets publicly as doing so would help entrench transparency in the system.

Additional reports by TAJUDEEN SULEIMAN,

SEGUN ADEOSUN and MARK ITSIBOR

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