In response to the request by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) that all elected public officials publicly declare their assets, presidential spokesman Femi Adesina said on January 7,“The president will do what the law requires of him and I can say for a fact that the president has declared his assets.Declaring that publicly is not in our law but voluntary. Therefore, he cannot be compelled to do so.”
Adesina’s reaction conveniently ignored the fact that it was Buhari who voluntarily said he would publicly declare his assets—like the late Umaru Musa Yar’adua did without prompting from anyone—in 2015.
The Punch of February 20, 2015 reported Buhari to have said: “I pledge to PUBLICLY declare my assets and liabilities, encourage all my appointees to publicly declare their assets and liabilities as a pre-condition for appointment.”
This was the first promise Buhari broke upon his ascension to the presidency. In the early days of the regime, when I still cherished the illusion that his incipient drift was salvageable, I frantically reached out to people in the presidency with whom I had a personal relationship and begged them to prevail upon Buhari to make good his campaign promise.
When they weren’t forthcoming, I wrote a column on June 13, 2015 titled “Mishandling of Asset Declaration May Doom Buhari’s Presidency.” I republished it weeks later.
The very first paragraph of the column, which seems pretty prescient in retrospect, read: “Although many of us still nourish the hope that President Buhari’s administration will represent a substantive departure from the blight of the past, Buhari has so far done little to inspire confidence that he will live up to the hopes we have invested in him. Perhaps the biggest germinal error he has made, which might haunt his administration, is his seeming reluctance to publicly declare his assets, contrary to the promise he made during his campaigns.”
I added: “The social and cultural basis of Buhari’s legitimacy and popularity revolve around the notion of his transparency and incorruptibility. But the secretiveness, disingenuousness and overall informational poverty of the handling of the asset declaration issue is eroding Buhari’s very credibility and giving people cause for what psychologists call post-decision cognitive dissonance. If this issue is not handled artfully and transparently, it will set the tone for his entire presidency.”
After the column was published a second time, one close aide of Buhari’s told me in confidence that Buhari would NEVER publicly declare his assets because it would demystify him. I asked why and he said it was because the man was very wealthy and that his base in the North and his supporters down South would feel betrayed if they knew how much he wasactually worth.
He said Buhari declared close to a billion naira in his asset declaration form and had choice property all over the country worth billions of naira. What was worse, he said, Buhari didn’t even officially declare everything. That was when it dawned on me that Buhari was a deodorized and carefully packaged scammer.
He was also the sole signatory to the donations that everyday Nigerians made to his campaign through scratch cards between 2014 and 2015. The money was never used for the presidential campaign, and it has not been accounted for up to now. (An old woman in Kebbi State donated her entire life saving of N1 million that she got from selling kosai (bean cake) and died in penury a year later.)
In December 2014, Buhari had said, “I have at least one million naira in my bank, having paid N5.5 million to pick my form from my party APC. I have around 150 cattle because I am never comfortable without cows. I have a house each in Kaduna, Kano, and Daura which I borrowed money to build. I never had a foreign account since I finished my courses in the USA, India and the UK. I never owned any property outside Nigeria. Never.”
They say a liar must have a good memory. But Buhari is a bad liar. After so much pressure from many of us, Buhari’s strategists came up with a plan to deceive Nigerians and deflect attention from Buhari’s asset declaration fraud. His spokesman was told to issue an intentionally vague and incomplete “public asset declaration” that would leave room for plausible deniability in case he is caught.
That was why there were no specifics other than unhelpfully broad claims that the president had a house in Abuja (which he didn’t acknowledge during the campaigns), Kano, Kaduna, Daura, and Port Harcourt; some cattle and livestock; “not less than 30 million naira” (how more deceptively vague can you get than that?)
Recall that a few months earlier, he said he had “at least one million naira” left in his account. He went from “at least one million” to “no less than 30 million” in less than a year!). The “declaration” also said he had “a number of cars” (we weren’t told how many); and so on. Compare Buhari’s “public asset declaration” with the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua’s or Governor SeyiMakinde’s more transparent, public declaration and the face of Buhari’s fraud will become even more starkly apparent.
Many Nigerians weren’t deceived by the fraud, though. They asked that he make public a copy of his declaration like Yar’adua(and laterMakinde) who didn’t even campaign to publicly declare their assets did. In response, the president’s spokesperson said, “As soon as the CCB is through with the process, the documents will be released to the Nigerian public and people can see for themselves.”
It’s been more than three years, and the asset declaration form still hasn’t been released to the public. To make matters worse, Adesina now says Buhari won’t declare his assets publicly because the law doesn’t require him to do so. Well, we’ve always known that. Even perpetually “unaware” Buhari knew that when he promised he would publicly declare his assets.
This double-dyed fraud becomes even more infuriating when you remember what Buhari says when he is asked to publicly show his asset declaration form as he promised he would. For instance, during the one and only media chat he did as “president,” he challenged journalists to use their skills in “investigative journalism” to find the form.
Well, I used my “investigative journalism” skills to find the form and discovered that there is no paper trail of his asset declaration form at the Code of Conduct Bureau.
Other journalists invoked the Freedom of Information Act and requested the CCB to release Buhari’s asset declaration form to them. On September 21, 2016, Code of Conduct Bureau Chairman Sam Saba said the Bureau couldn’t release Buhari’s asset declaration form because the law that set up the bureau forbids him from making the forms public without Buhari’s consent.
So why did Buhari ask journalists to deploy “investigative journalism” skills to find his form even when he knew only he has access to it? On his own volition, he promised to publicize his asset declaration form. Then he took it away from the only place it’s legally supposed to be, and then he turned around to challenge journalists to use their investigative skills to find it. Did he want reporters to invade his home, and force him to produce it?
So, get this: Buhari is the ONLY elected public official whose asset declaration form may not exist at the Code of Conduct of Bureau. Of course, it’s because he wants to hide his fraud and intentional lies from public scrutiny.
The Bureau also declined requests to release the asset declaration forms of other higher-ups in the Buhari regime. Now, how did Dennis Aghanya, Buhari’s former media aide and current SA on justice, get access to former CJN Walter Onnoghen’s asset declaration form when the law forbids the public disclosure of public officials’ asset declaration forms without their consent?
Why was Onnoghen isolated for punishment for an offense that everyone, including the people meting out the punishment, is guilty of?
What is the point of asset declaration if it isn’t public, if it can’t be used to determine if public officials have corruptly enriched themselves? Why is Buhari in dread of publicly declaring his assets even when he proclaims to embody “integrity”?