The issue of declaration of assets and liabilities has become matter of serious interest to Nigerian’s in recent times. This is coming as a result of President Muhammadu Buhari and his vice declaring their assets and liabilities publicly and the demand by the president that other Public officers should follow suit. Leading to support and criticism: while some applaud president Buhari and his vice for publicly declaring their assets, some argue that the declaration was not specific while some are of the view that children and spouses of Public officers should also declare their assets and liabilities along side their spouses and parent. Stemming from this criticisms, I am moved to take a concise look at the issue of declaration of assets and liabilities by public officers.
For this purpose I shall streamline my discussion into the following heading:
- SECTIONS THAT PROVIDE FOR DECLARATION OF ASSETS AND LIABILITIES; THOSE AFFECTED BY THESE SECTIONS.
- IF SPOUSES AND CHILDREN OF PUBLIC OFFICERS ARE BY LAW EXPECTED TO DECLARE THEIR ASSETS AND LIABILITIES.
iii. MANNER PRESCRIBE BY THE CONSTITUTION FOR DECLARATION OF ASSETS(WHETHER TO BE PUBLICLY DECLARED OR NOT).
SECTIONS THAT PROVIDES FOR ASSETS DECLARATION AND THOSE AFFECTED BY THESE SECTIONS÷
Section 52, 94, 140, 149, 185, 194, 290 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended(here in after referred to as the constitution) as listed seriatim demand holders of the following offices: (i) Member of the Senate or House of Representatives . (ii) Member State House of Assembly. (iii)Office of the President. (iv) Office of the Minister. (v) Governor (vii) Commissioners; (vi) Judicial Officers respectively, hereinafter referred to as “Public Officers”(as defined in Section 3 fifth schedule of the constitution) to declare their assets before taking oath of office and carrying out functions and duties of such offices.
Similarly 11(1) Part 1 Fifth Schedule to the Constitution “Code of Conduct for Public Officers” also provides that “every public officer shall within three months after the coming into force of this Code of Conduct or immediately after taking office or thereafter– (a)at the end of every four years;
(b) at the end of his term of office
submit to the Code of Conduct Bureau a written declaration of all his properties, assets and liabilities and those of his unmarried children under the age eighteen years.”
IF SPOUSES AND CHILDREN OF PUBLIC OFFICERS ARE BY LAW EXPECTED TO DECLARE THEIR ASSETS
The law in this regards is clear and unambiguous. Better put “spouses and children of public officers are not expected by law to declare their assert and liabilities rather a public officer is required under 11 (1) of Part I of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution to declare his assets and that of his unmarried children under age 18 in writing to the Code of conduct bureau immediately after assumption of office and at the end of his tenure or term of office.
For clarity let us take a cursory look at Section 140 supra, which specifically provides for declaration of assets by the President, it read thus ” A person elected to the office of President shall not begin to perform functions of that office until he has declared his assets and liabilities as provided in this constitution and has taken and subscribed the oath of allegiance and the oath of office as prescribed in the seventh schedule to this constitution”. All other aforementioned sections has similar provision except for nonmenclature of position (Governor, President, Commissioner and so on) as used in the various sections to indicate offices. It is crystal clear that these sections does not envisage spouses and children of public officers to declare their assets before they can assume office but restrictively requires a public officer to declare assets of his unmarried children below 18years immediately he assumes office and at the end of his tenure as stated in SECTION 11(1) supra.
MANNER PRESCRIBE BY THE CONSTITUTION FOR DECLARATION OF ASSETS
By virtue of SECTION 11(1) of the fifth schedule of the constitution a public officer is to declare his assets and that of his unmarried children below the age of 18years in writing to the code of conduct bureau. This section clearly did not demand that public officers should declare their assets publicly.
In line with provisions of the aforementioned Sections, there is no doubt that it is a requirement by law that Public Officers within the purview of Section 3 fifth schedule of the constitution are to declare their assets and liabilities before taking oath of office and carrying out duties and function of such offices.
Though the constitution under 12 of the fifth schedule state that “Any allegation that a public officer has committed a breach of or has not complied with the provisions of this code shall be made to the code of conduct bureau” and further Under S.18(2) ibid prescribe punishment for such breach. These Sections(12 & 18(2), supra) deals particularly with declaration of assets embodied in Section 11(1) of the fifth schedule of the constitution as a “Code of Conduct for Public Officers” that requires Public officers to declare their assets and liabilities and that of their unmarried children under the age of 18years immediately after assumption of office and after expiration of their tenure. But regretfully the constitution is silent on if failure to comply with S. 52, 94, 140, 149, 185, 194, 290 which demand that Public Officers should declare their assets before taking oath of office and performing duties of such offices is tantamount to a wrong.
This undoubtfully has created a lacuna and loophole in the law, to an extent that public officers are at liberty to declare their assets and liabilities as against the spirit of the constitution “as some may declare their assets and liabilities after taking oath of office and assumption of office”. as there is no sanction nor section making non declaration of assets before taking of oath and assumption of office a wrong.
It is imperative that the aforementioned sections be reviewed and amended to accommodate sanctions for non compliance, so as to give backing to these sections and also enhance accountability of public officers.
It is also important that the constitution be amended to accommodate a provision mandating public officers to declare their assets including that of their spouses and children(regardless of age) before assumption of office and on the expiration of their tenure. To buttress my point on the latter ” a corrupt public officer prepared to loot or divert public funds will not be shallow minded to lodge such funds with his/her underage children but will rather lodge same with his spouse, children, close relatives and associate who are sui juris so such funds can easily be launder(invested into legitimate business), as underage children has no contractual capacities and might not be capable of dealing with such loot.
It is of utmost important that declaration of assets and liabilities be made a public affair to enhance public confidence and proper accountability of public officers.
Odey-Agba Itite is a student of law, Nasarawa State University Keffi. Contact me on: 08162168283. Email: [email protected] Facebook: Odey Agba Itite