If you had asked Muhammadu Buhari in February 2015 if he would publicly declare his assets once he became Nigeria’s president, his likeliest answer would have been yes. But, five years down the line, that issue is not so straightforward anymore.
Buhari’s special adviser on media and publicity, Femi Adesina, who is often eager to point out the silence of Nigeria’s laws on the issue, has been a staunch defender of his principal’s right not to publicise his assets declaration forms.
Adesina was asked on Monday if the president will make detailed information about his assets available to the public during his second term, especially as the Socio-Economic Right And Accountability Project (SERAP) has requested he does so under the Freedom of Information Act.
“SERAP [is] asking the president to declare publicly and I ask: on what law? On the basis of what law? The president will do what the law requires of him. And what the law requires is that he declares his assets, which he has done. Declaring publicly is not in our laws. It can only be a voluntary thing,” he replied.
Shortly before he became president, however, Buhari had given a completely different impression and did not hinge his public declaration on what the law requires.
Weeks before the 2015 general elections, Punch Newspaper reported that he said he would “publicly declare his assets and liabilities if voted into power”.
“Buhari stated this in a document obtained by our correspondent in Abuja on Thursday. The document highlights what Buhari will do in his first 100 days if he assumes power on May 29,” the paper added.
“He said he would encourage political appointees in his administration to also declare their assets publicly.”
A compilation of over 80 of Buhari and APC’s campaign promises published by TheCable also starts with this commitment.
Months after Buhari became president, Adesina admitted this promise was made but argued that it was made by the president’s party, the All Progressives Congress, not him as a candidate.
Buhari himself had, however, stood by his campaign promise roughly a month before Adesina suggested this. Through a statement released by his senior spokesman Garba Shehu in June 2015, Buhari said details of his declaration would be made public soon after the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) was done verifying them.
“In the circumstances, it is only after this verification exercise, and not before, that the declaration can be said to have been made and validated; and only after this, will the details be released to the public,” Shehu had noted.
“There is no question at all that the president and the vice president are committed to public declaration of their assets within the 100 days that they pledged during the presidential campaign.”