IDEAS Radio 31 May 2019 

Aghogho Oboh: All ….  right. It’s eleven minutes past four, and on 99.3 Nigeria Info., I’m Aghogho Oboh and we are on Countdown 2019. 

Ayo Obe: Haven’t you counted down yet?

Rotimi Sankore: The last days, the last phase.

AgO: Yes, the last days.

RS: Once the … once the National Assembly leadership is elected, hopefully on the 10th of June … 

AgO: Yes.  Alright, together with Rotimi Sankore, who’s already introduced himself, and Ayo Obe …

AO: Who butted in!

AgO: The inauguration of the President and the Vice President with 29 State Governors and their Deputies on Wednesday the 29th of May, leaves us with just the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly and 36 State Assemblies, and that will be all for Countdown 2019.  Remember, you can follow the program on Twitter @Countdown2019NG, @RotimiSankore, @ideasradiong, @aghoghoobo, @NigeriaInfoFM also.

And on the IDEAS section, discussion will be on Assets Declaration.  The day before his inauguration, President Buhari submitted his Assets Declaration Form to the Code of Conduct Bureau, meeting a deadline set for public officers to make their end of tenure declaration.  Whether the others have done that we don’t know, for that yet. I think the Vice President has also done that too. And we’ll also, we will have discussions on the content of the Oath of Office for different political office holders.

We’re on social media streaming this live on Facebook as well as on Twitter.  Remember you can send your comments to our WhatsApp number, which is 0809597580, and when we open the phonelines, you’ll get the opportunity to interact with our hosts, Ayo Obe and Rotimi Sankore.

AO: Hi, hi Aghogho, nice to have you back.

AgO: Thank you very much.

RS: So.  Ayo has already hinted that for the IDEAS segment as well as on the main programme, we’re going to have two very interesting discussions, but the big one is the Declaration of Assets.  Ayo is going to explain to us, we hope very satisfactorily …

AO: You’re putting a lot of expectations on me Rotimi … 

RS: Yes, yes, because … 

AO: … that it’s going to be interesting, it’s going to be satisfactory!

All I’m going to say is that it is a pre requisite for assumption of public office in Nigeria that you make a Declaration of Assets, and you do that to the Code of Conduct Bureau.  There’s a form that you fill, it covers not just your own assets, but also assets in the names of your immediate nuclear family generally, so your wife, your children, or your husband, your children and sometimes possibly your brothers.  You’re also required in that form, often sometimes to say who your close friends are and so on and so forth, and I think it’s important that we bear that in mind when people say that they want to see the actual form that has been set out.  Maybe somebody has … is a public office holder and they’ve said that Jack D and Joan Y are his closest friends, whereas John S and Philip P were thinking that they were the closest friends, and it may not … but actually to be serious, so you have to swear to that, you have to make that Declaration, and it’s done on oath, of your Assets.  And if you’re in office for more than four years, you have to make that declaration every four years. In the case of our elected public office holders, it happens that the four years coincides with the end of their term in office, so that a President who swore to a Declaration of Assets in 2015, or a Vice President who did so, or a Governor, would be due to make a fresh Declaration four years later.  And as I said, the Assets Declaration is made on oath, and by itself, it is merely a declaration. But the purpose of it, the reason why it’s of interest to IDEAS, is that … if you as a public officer, when you make your next declaration, have some unexplained wealth, or your family or friends have some unexplained wealth, then you may be asked to … to account for that, to explain it.

And I would also take us a little bit back in history, because one of the things that when President Buhari in his guise as a military dictator seized, or became the Head of State in 1984, one of the reasons why politicians were locked up and some of them were charged to court, was the allegation that their Declaration of Assets forms were, were not telling the truth.  And so that, so on the basis of that, they were being sentenced … I mean, the government I think, increased the penalty for false Declaration of Assets too … so that some of them were being sentenced to hundreds of years in jail. But, so in theory, the President is a big fan of the Declaration of Assets.

However, I need to also say that we need be in no doubt, Aghogho, about whether or not people have declared, because the …  they cannot be sworn in if they have not done so. But the big debate in Nigeria has not so much been about whether or not they have made a Declaration, it’s about: Has … Do we – the public – know the contents of those Declarations, so that we are in a position … 

RS: Indeed, should we know?

AO: … so that we are in a position to be able to assist the authorities in confirming whether or not those Declarations are  valid or invalid. And it has to be said that … as they always say: When the hunter learns to shoot without missing, then the birds learn to fly without perching.  So whereas before, a politician entering into office would declare that he has one house and one bicycle, and at the end of his tenure now says that he has ten houses and three Mercedes Benz cars and one private jet, he will now be asked to explain: How did you earn these things?  So now, what you find is that your politician has learned to declare – even though he only has one house and one bicycle – to declare that he has five houses and two Mercedes Benz cars, and so, that by the time …  

RS: In other words, some kind of pre-emptive anticipatory declaration?

AO: Anticipatory, yes.  At least, that’s the allegation.  So that it is actually important that the … it’s not only the Code of Conduct Bureau and whatever investigative powers it has, that are now brought to bear on verifying these assets.  Because in theory the Code of Conduct Bureau can conduct a random verification using the assistance of various security agencies. But in practice, it requires members of the public to say: Ah ah, but this man is saying that he only has … that he doesn’t own shares and so on and so forth, and then they can say … but this is, this belongs to them,  and when they say: No, it belongs to Company ABC Ltd., then further investigations can be made to say that: Oh, Company ABC Ltd. in theory belongs to Mr. Lagbaja, but in fact, if you look at the bank accounts, they are all controlled by Politician B, and therefore the connection between Politician B and Company ABC is probably closer than one might think.  So there are all sorts of ways in which … And then the public say: But he’s always going and staying there with his family and so on, and so he must have something to do with that, why are they allowing him or her to use that place free of charge? So the … you know, this idea that we members of the public can be part of the army in the war against corruption is one that our political class is staunchly resisting.  They don’t want us doing that.

RS: Specifically on executive, elected executive office holders.  So former President Yar’Adua not only declared but made public his form, or the contents of the form, and it included information on himself, I believe his wife if I recall correctly … 

AO: Well, I don’t … I have to say that though I know that he was said to have made his Declaration public,  I actually didn’t see the form, so I don’t know whether it included all those myriad details that you are required to fill in, fill out on the form.

RS: Ok, but in terms of his houses, his bank accounts and so forth, all that was public.  Now, other Presidents, as you’ve said, are required to fill this form … it’s a prerequisite for being sworn … 

AO: All people who are taking public office.

RS: Yes.  Now for high profile people like the President, the Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of House of Reps and so forth; is there a case to be made that it … or Governors, Ministers, is there a case to be made that it actually has to be made public, maybe not in every minutest detail but at least in the broad, so we don’t need to know the bank account number,  but it may be useful to know that they have …

AO: Yes, I think this is actually … 

RS:   … six bank accounts 

AO: I think this is actually the problem, because when people say that it should be made public, there’s a level of invasion of privacy that even a public officer might not want to be subjected to, particularly if “Oh, so this person is the friend of”, especially in these days of kidnapping.  But at the same time, I think that if it’s just left to them to pick and choose, then we don’t know. And I think that there’s a better case to be made for saying that the, that XYZ parts of the Declaration of Assets of this person should be made public.

RS: Something like how many houses they own … 

AO: Well, I mean … I don’t just mean  … because the President and his Vice President have  done that, as far as we know. That’s what they say. But that’s because they are the ones picking and choosing what they’re going to declare, whereas, if it were a standard thing that the Code of Conduct Bureau, if somebody were to make a Freedom of Information request, were to be able to go to the Code of Conduct Bureau and say that they want to know what the President declared as his income and his assets, there should be a standard list of things that should be given, not at the … 

RS: This is how much he had when he became President …

AO: Yes, this was his bank balance and so on and so forth.  Not at the behest of the person making the Declaration, but as a standard thing that, so that anybody who asks for that information will get it.

RS: Yes, at least, basic indicators of evidence of any corrupt practices.

AO: Well, so that when you now come to the end of the Declaration and you find that they still have the same 130 cows or whatever it is, whereas you saw a whole herd of 5,000 cows on their ranch the other day, then you’ll be able to raise it and say: But he’s not declaring the correct number of cows that he has.

RS: Ok, so just talking about cows, so there have been articles and speculation …

AO: Well, the President has been subjected to much ridicule about the failure of his cows to thrive and increase.

RS: Yes, so whether it’s copy and paste, people have asked legitimate questions as to whether it’s copy and paste, so … 

AO: But Rotimi, let me say this even that which the President has declared, people have poked fun at him and said that it’s copy and paste … 

RS: But it’s not funny

AO: No no no no, let me finish.  I said people have poked fun at him and for not being a good farmer, that his cows, they don’t multiply, are they frozen in aspic, or what?  But the point is that even with that information that has been made available, has anybody been to the President’s farm to count the number of actual cows?

RS: Whether they are still actually only just 170 as there were … 

AO: Because we actually tend to make a lot of fuss about: “It should be declared, it must be declared!”  But the hard slog of going into the minutiae and actually verifying. We make more noise about the need for the public declaration, as if that is the alpha and omega of it, and in a way, one might even say that some public officers, rather than being dragged kicking and screaming into making public what they have declared, should just declare it, because they know that once it’s declared, the Nigerian activist and civil society will go to sleep again and say: Ok, they have declared.  But they didn’t, or it’s this … 

RS: But on a serious note  whether people go to the President’s farm to check or not, doesn’t it appear … if not anything else –  awkward – that 170 cows are … 

AO: No, he may have … 

RS: … at that time, are exactly 170 cows now, and twenty … I think 25 sheep are still 25 sheep … 

AO: Well maybe he has facilities for 170 cows or 25 sheep and when he gets more he sells and …

RS: So when he gets to 175 … 

AO: Yes, it’s possible.  So, I actually think that it’s better for us to be in a position to say that: he actually has more, or he has fewer, and he’s actually not taking this declaration, which is being made on oath, very seriously.  That’s … 

RS: So that’s the issue there, that if he said he had … 

AO: We can only speculate about the details of whether what, or not, what he declared is true or not.  We would expect the Code of Conduct Bureau to also ask itself those questions, but as I’ve said, we have not seen …  

RS: That this form looks the same as it did four years ago … 

AO: … we have not seen the Code of Conduct being proactive in this regard, and at the same time as not being proactive … 

RS: Except in some cases.

AO: Well, when they get petitions from individuals about Chief Justices, they spring into action at the speed of a speeding bullet, but we … we just wish that they would replicate this kind of investigative acumen in regard to others.

I was going to talk to you about the Oaths of Office in my IDEAS segment, but I see that I have wittered on too much about the Code of Conduct, but I would just want to say that the interesting thing about the oaths of office that are taken by our elected officers, that while all members of the executive, even including Ministers, Commissioners, Special Advisers and so on; their oath of office all include a specific assertion that they will not allow their personal interest to affect the decisions that they make, whereas the legislators, they don’t have to swear that they won’t allow their personal interest, and I think that in these days of constituency projects and so on, it’s an interesting factor which tells us about … it’s supposed to tell us something about the difference between the executive and the legislature …so, but at the moment, I just need to close off on my IDEAS segment.

RS: Ok, but we’re going to hold on to you a bit more, so that after the ads …

I mean this is public … 

AO: But I need to close the … 

RS: Yes, of course we’ll close off the IDEAS segment, but this is of public interest issue and we want to know more about it; the content of the Oath for the different, and the implications … 

AO: I’ll get back to you on that.

RS: … so thank you so much for the IDEAS segment.  Remember folks, you can follow the IDEAS … can you help us with the …  

AO: Oh, you can follow IDEAS @ideasradiong and you can also check us out on our website www.ideasradio.ng  and you can look at any of our videocasts (or what are they called?) on the YouTube channel.  Subscribe to our YouTube channel for IDEAS, and then you who are listening can see what we actually look like in real life.

RS: OK.  So we’ll go for a short ad break, and after the break, we’ll be back.