As Nigeria’s May 29 handover to a new administration approaches, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) is urging President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, and other high-ranking officials to widely publish their asset declaration forms. SERAP made the demand in an open letter, stating that publishing their assets would enable Nigerians to scrutinize them and know the worth of public officials before they take office and at the end of their term.
The Code of Conduct for Public Officers contained in Part I of the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Nigerian Constitution [as amended] stipulates that public officers must declare their assets immediately after taking office, at the end of every four years, and at the end of their term of office. SERAP maintains that those who voluntarily seek or occupy public offices have certain fiduciary duties to be open, transparent, and accountable to Nigerians regarding the details of their asset declaration forms.
According to SERAP, asset declaration forms are public documents, so public officials cannot claim that publishing their assets would violate their privacy rights. The organisation stated that there is an overriding public interest in disclosing information on the assets of public officers who are trustees of Nigeria’s wealth and resources.
In the open letter, SERAP urged President Buhari to emulate the example of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who consistently published his asset declaration forms as president and governor of Katsina State. SERAP also asked President Buhari to encourage other public officials, including the officials of the next administration, to publish their asset declaration forms.
SERAP explained that their request is brought in the public interest and in keeping with the requirements of the Nigerian Constitution, the Freedom of Information Act, the UN Convention against Corruption, the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The Nigerian Constitution and the anticorruption and human rights treaties show the significant role that asset declaration by public officials plays in promoting transparency, accountability, and preventing and combating corruption in the public service. SERAP noted that asset declaration forms kept with the Code of Conduct Bureau qualify as public documents under section 109 of the Evidence Act.
SERAP hopes that their request will help guide the actions of Nigerian officials in taking steps to publish their asset declaration forms and to encourage others to do so. The organization emphasized that publishing asset declarations widely would address allegations that many officials tend to make false declarations to cover up assets illegally acquired in corruption