Nearly two years after assuming office as governor in Oyo, Seyi Makinde has reneged on his promise to publicly declare his multibillion-naira possessions.
Although Mr Makinde, through his media aide Taiwo Adisa, released purported details of his asset declaration that showed he had cash at hand and in the bank worth N234,742,296.01 as of May 28, 2019, the governor, nonetheless, failed to live to previous standards of public asset declaration set by former President Umar Yar’Adua and rights advocate Chidi Odinkalu, both of whom published actual copies of their assets and not a press statement filtered by a media and public relations consultant.
Mr Makinde, in the July 15, 2019, press statement, declared his assets along the discredited style employed by President Muhammadu Buhari, who in 2015 made a mockery of public asset declaration when he asked Garba Shehu to issue a press release that contained largely illogical and unverifiable asset details. Anti-corruption groups promptly dismissed the president’s action as insufficient for public asset declaration.
The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) makes it mandatory for “public office holders whether elected, appointed, recruited, contracted, etc., by whatever name called to collect and sign for the form from its Office” and requires them to “swear to the declaration before a High Court Judge nearest to his work station before submitting it to the Bureau.”
Asset declaration provides a window for public office holders to be monitored and held to account when they acquire additional material and financial possessions on the back of their election or appointment to a public office of trust.
Although the CCB was established to impose transparency, probity and accountability, the office has relentlessly failed to live up to its core mandate because its susceptible to undue political interference as an agency domiciled under the presidency, which is a partisan political institution.
The CCB’s partisanship and opacity have made it difficult for most Nigerians to trust its activities. The agency does not return freedom of information request seeking asset files of politicians but regularly releases such files to target political opposition. In 2015, the CCB disclosed asset documents of Bukola Saraki, triggering a long-drawn legal battle that the former Senate President eventually won at the Supreme Court.
In the run-up to the 2019 presidential elections, the bureau again disclosed the asset declaration form of former CJN Walter Onnoghen to Dennis Aghanya, an obscured lawyer and a political strategist for the ruling APC in Enugu. Mr Onnoghen was subsequently removed from office by Mr Buhari in a controversial political move that lawyers said undermined the principles of separation of powers and set a dangerous precedent.
Most Nigerians saw both trials as politically-motivated and dismissed the CCB as just one of several tools a sitting president can conveniently deploy against perceived political opponents.
Most politicians have also taken refuge in CCB’s opaque tactics, declaring fraudulent asset positions with the confidence that they won’t be charged or exposed. When assets are filed with the CCB, the agency is not obliged to make them public, and it has maintained a policy of not responding to freedom of information request from the public.
However, a few elected and appointed public office holders have chosen to disclose their assets publicly to convince the public of their integrity. In 2007, former President Umar Yar’Adua promptly declared his assets publicly upon assumption of office. Mr Yar’Adua circulated copies of his CCB filings to the public.
In 2012, human rights expert Chidi Odinkalu publicly declared his asset shortly after President Goodluck Jonathan appointed him as the head of National Human Rights Commission. Mr Odinkalu, who now leads Open Society Justice Initiative in Africa, sent copies of his asset filings under seal to The Right to Know (R2K), an organisation that works on access to information and headed at the time by Ene Enonche.
Mr Makinde’s July 15, 2019, press release said his assets form marked OYSE/2019/001 under Oluseyi Abiodun Makinde contained “Properties, including the developed and undeveloped as well as household items indicated on the asset forms, showed that the governor is worth N2, 624,800,500 (two billion, six hundred and twenty-four million, eight hundred thousand, five hundred Naira as at the date of asset declaration.
”The houses declared by the Makinde include nine buildings in Nigeria, two in the U.S. and one in South Africa.” One of the properties in the U.S. is described as ‘jointly owned’.
”The details showed the current value of Makinde’s companies stand at N48, 150,736,889 (forty-eight billion, one hundred and fifty million, seven hundred and thirty-six thousand, eight hundred and eighty-nine Naira), with 33, 730,000 units of shares as of May 28, 2019.
”The governor also has existing Bonds (Eurobond) worth $3, 793, 500 as well as shares, debentures, and other securities valued at N120,500,000 (One hundred and twenty million, five hundred thousand Naira).
”The companies listed by the governor include Makon Engineering and Technical Services Limited, Energy Traders and Technical Services Limited, Makon Oil and Gas Limited, Makon Group Limited, Makon Construction Limited and Makon Power System Limited.”
Mr Makinde’s main opposition PDP also criticised Mr Buhari for not providing copies of the declaration in 2015. Mr Buhari said at the time that he had N30 million in his bank account before he assumption of office.
Mr Adisa failed to explain Mr Makinde’s failure to make public his asset documents, saying instead that it was wrong for Peoples Gazette to be bringing up the matter in 2021, two years after his principal reneged on his promise to Oyo people.
“So what’s your own?” Mr Adisa said when reached by telephone. “You are in Abuja and not in Ibadan.”
“But really, I don’t know why this is coming up almost two years into the tenure and especially where a majority of his colleagues didn’t even go halfway near what he did,” he said.
Mr Adisa also falsely claimed that Mr Makinde supplied documents of his asset to the press crew that accompanied him to the CCB office in Ibadan for the declaration. The Gazette found that the governor was accompanied to Ibadan, but he failed to hand over copies of his asset documents, according to two reporters who were there. Mr Adisa himself had repeatedly declined requests from the Gazette and other media outlets for the asset documents to be made public, including when asked this week for the copies.
Anti-corruption campaigner Lanre Suraj said Mr Makinde should not consider himself amongst Nigerian public office holders on the record who have publicly declared their assets.
It is always very easy to make pronouncements also and promises, it’s another thing when they get to the office and realise that it is a very trickish issue to make that public declaration of assets,” Mr Suraj said. “At the end of the day, it is always more or less like exposing themselves to public scrutiny and also makes it very easy for people to determine the level of either stealing or abuse of office when the asset declaration is already published.
So on getting to the office, it’s likely for Governor Makinde to have realised the possible implication of the open declaration or he has been warned by other officeholders and all others who will then say ‘oh no, you don’t need to go into that and expose yourself to the scrutiny of the public’,” Mr Suraj continued.
“That’s what happened with President Muhammadu Buhari as well, where it was just details of the asset declaration that was made public,” the anti-corruption analyst said. “Unfortunately, our media and civil society were only focusing on the president and vice president and people like governor Makinde for political expediency or party sympathy.”
Mr Suraj also dismissed suggestions that other governors should be held accountable for not declaring their asset publicly, saying public declaration is optional and no one forced Mr Makinde to make the promise to Oyo voters.
“Governor Makinde’s case is different because he voluntarily made the commitment to publicly declare and he has not only reneged on that, he has also deceived the public with the details that were not declared,” the analyst said