Public officer means a person holding any offices specified in the second schedule to this Act[1]. In the second schedule to the Act, public officers include the President, Vice President of the Federation, Governors and Deputy Governors of the state, Chief Justice of Nigeria and all judicial officers, Ambassadors and High Commissioners.[2]

Assets declaration for public officers in Nigeria is not a voluntary exercise. The relevant legislations on assets declaration for public officers are the 5th schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended, and the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.

The Constitution provides the need to declare asset before and at the time of assumption into office. By virtue of Section 140 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as amended), a person elected to the office of president shall not begin to perform the functions of that office until he has declared his assets and liabilities. This provision also applies to a Governor of a state[3], judicial officers[4].

Also, a Minister of the Government of the Federation shall not assume duties of his office unless he has declared his assets and liabilities as prescribed by the constitution[5]. This is also applicable to every member of the senate or house of Representative, member of House of assembly of a state.[6][7].

Oyebola Badejo, LL.B, B.L

Under the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, every public officer shall immediately after the assumption of office and thereafter at the end of every four years, at the end of his term of office, and in the case of a serving officer, within thirty days of the receipt of the form from the Bureau or at such interval specified, submit to the Bureau the prescribed asset declaration form, specifying all his properties, assets and liabilities, including those of his spouse or unmarried children under the age of 21[8].

No law makes it a provision that assets, when declared and verified by the Bureau, be disclosed to the public. The need for asset declaration is based on the idea that government should be accountable to the people it represents and on the need to maintain transparency together with accountability in government. This cannot be achieved in a country where there is no law for public disclosure of assets.

THE ROLES OF CODE OF CONDUCT BUREAU

The Code of Conduct Bureau is an establishment of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended)[9].  The aims and objectives of the Bureau are to establish and maintain a high standard of morality in the conduct of government business and to ensure that the actions and behaviour of public officers conform to the highest standard of public morality and accountability.

The functions of the Bureau are to receive assets declarations by public officers in accordance with the Act, examine the assets declarations and ensure that they comply with the requirements of the Act or of any law for the time being, take and retain custody of such assets declarations, and receive complaints about non-compliance with, or breach of, this Act and, where necessary, forward such compliants to the Code of Conduct Tribunal [10]. However, where the person concerned makes a written admission of such breach and non-compliance, no reference shall be made to the Tribunal.

PROHIBITION OF CERTAIN CONDUCTS UNDER THE ACT

The Act provides that no public officer shall operate or maintain a foreign account[11]. The underlying purpose of which is to ensure transparency, integrity and accountability in government. For holders of foreign accounts before assumption of office, the Act provides that such foreign accounts must not be maintained during tenure in office. In Nigeria, this is only good on paper.

Also, a public office shall not receive or accept gifts or benefit for himself or on behalf of another in the course of the discharge of his duties[12]. No person shall offer gifts or benefits to a public officer for the discharge of his duties.

NON-COMPLIANCE/BREACH

Any statement found to be false in an assets declaration shall be regarded as breach of the provisions of the Act. Also, any property acquired by a public officer after the declaration of his assets which is not fairly attributed to gifts, income and loan approved by the Act shall be deemed to have been acquired in breach of the Act. Complaints against public officers are made to the Bureau and subsequently brought before the Tribunal.

The ongoing trial of the Justice Walter Onnoghen has raised the issue of jurisdiction in asset declaration matters where the public officer involved is a judicial officer. The National Judicial Council, an establishment of Section 153 of the Constitution, is responsible for the appointment, promotion and discipline of judicial officer in line with the laid down procedure. The Code of Conduct Tribunal has exclusive jurisdiction on matters involving the breach and violation of any provisions of the Code of Conduct. It is the contention of many that the matter be referred to the National Judicial council for proper investigation and discipline in line with the provisions of the constitution since the public officer in question is a judicial officer.

The Code of Conduct Tribunal (referred to as ‘Tribunal’) is headed by the chairman who shall be a person who has held or is qualified to hold office as a judge of a superior court of record[13]. The Tribunal deals with complaints of corruption by public officers for breaches of the provisions of the Act. The Tribunal is guided by the principle of fair hearing and law of evidence.

In the case of Saraki v CCT, the senate president was brought on an initial 16-count charge of false asset declaration by the Code of Conduct Tribunal in September 2016. He was accused of making anticipatory declaration of assets as well as withholding information regarding his assets while he was governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011 and when he became a senator in 2011. Mr Saraki made a no-case submission at the CCT, after the prosecution closed its case against him. The tribunal ruled that the failure of the prosecution to bring a witness who was directly linked to the documents presented in court rendered their evidence incurably defective. This decision was affirmed by the Supreme Court that failure of the prosecution to produce such a witness rendered its case defective.[14]

Where a public officer is found guilty of non-compliance or breach of any provisions of the Act, the Tribunal has the power to impose any of the following punishments:

  • vacation of office or any elective or nominated office,
  • disqualification from holding any public office (whether elective or not) for a period not exceeding  ten years,
  • Seizure and forfeiture to the State of any property acquired in abuse or corruption of office[15].

The punishment is without prejudice to the penalties that may be imposed by the law where the breach is also a criminal offence under the criminal code or any law. It must be noted that an appeal against the decision of the Tribunal lies to the Court of Appeal as of right at the instance of any party to the proceeding[16].

All told, the importance of asset declaration in any country cannot be overemphasized, especially where it complies with best practices. Asset declaration is a tool to prevent corruption and enhance accountability of government to the people. For it to achieve its course, there should be public disclosure of asset declaration of public officers for public assessment and scrutiny. The tribunal should be allowed to perform its duties without fear and favour.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Section 26

[2] Second schedule to the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act

[3] Section 185 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as amended)

[4] Section 290 CFRN

[5] Section 149 CRRN

[6] Section 94 CFRN

[7] Section 52 CFRN

[8] Section 15 CCT Act

[9] Section 153 CFRN

[10] Section 3 CCT Act

[11] Section 7 CCT Act

[12] Section 10

[13] Sections 20

[14]https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/275242-updated-supreme-court-dismisses-sarakis-false-asset-charge.html

[15] Section 23

[16]  Section 23(4)

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