The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) is a government agency in Nigeria that is responsible for maintaining records of public officials’ assets and liabilities. Recently, the bureau has explained that the Act that established it does not permit it to make public the assets declared by public officials. However, it noted that officials could on their own make their forms public.
This explanation came as President Muhammadu Buhari, his deputy, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, and other public officials prepare to declare their assets preparatory to leaving office in compliance with the requirements of the law.
In a recent interview, a senior official of the CCB, Veronica Kato, stated that the bureau could only make such documents available by a court order in a case where a public official was under investigation or trial for alleged corruption relating to the acquired assets.
Kato explained, “It is not possible to make the assets declared to the CCB by these public officials public. There is a law guiding the CCB and that law does not allow us to do so. This is due to the conditions upon which the assets declaration is constituted according to the guidelines.”
She further noted that the assets declaration form is to be given to the public officials on terms and conditions as prescribed by the National Assembly, and those terms and conditions, up till now, do not permit the CCB to make it available to the public. Additionally, the asset declaration form is a private document, and it is confidential.
While journalists may want to have access to such information, Kato explained that it was beyond the CCB’s power to make such information public due to the breach of the owner’s confidential details. She added that if a public official decides on their own volition to make it public, such a person will do that.
She explained, “Our duty is to ensure that public officials declare their assets to the CCB; we take custody of the asset declaration forms and we verify those assets, and when we see red flags, we investigate and prosecute them if we find contravention against the code of conduct rule. Those are our primary functions.”
When asked how the citizens could assist the CCB when they do not know the assets listed in the forms, Kato said if any citizen felt a public official had acquired more than they had before getting into office “and the citizen can provide evidence to proof that such assets were acquired with illicit funds and through the abuse of their office, the citizen can write a petition to the CCB, and we will investigate and compare what they declared with what they now have.”
Kato emphasized that it was a different case where there’s a petition or something of that sort demanding that a particular official’s declared assets should be made available for investigation purposes. If they can establish beyond reasonable doubt that these things were acquired illicitly, then they go to court.
This issue of asset declaration is not new in Nigeria, and it has caused controversy in the past. Before the 2015 general election, Buhari promised he would publicly declare his assets and liabilities if voted into power. In a document titled, ‘I pledge to Nigeria’, Buhari highlighted what he would do in his first 100 days if he assumed power on May 29, 2015. He said he would encourage political appointees in his administration to also declare their assets publicly.
After much criticism of his refusal to keep to his promise after he was sworn in, in September 2015, the Presidency eventually published Buhari and Osinbajo’s assets. Details of Buhari’s declared assets were made public in a statement by his spokesman, Garba Shehu, showing that the assets were valued at less than N30m at the time of his inauguration on May 29.