The Lagos-based Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), might have put itself on a collision course with the federal and state governments after it gave President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the 36 state governors and their deputies seven days to: “provide information on their assets and property submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) since their assumption of office.”
In a strongly worded letter, laconic in tone and tenor, SERAP also demanded of them to: “clarify within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter, if you have had any reason to review and update the asset declarations submitted to the CCB, and to provide the summary of any such review; failing which we will take all appropriate legal action to compel you to comply with our request.”
In the Freedom of Information (FoI) requests dated January 3, 2020 and signed by its deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, SERAP said: “The Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the FoI Act, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which is part of our laws, read together, impose transparency obligations on all public officials to publicly disclose information concerning their asset declarations submitted to the CCB, and to clarify any updated review of such assets. The summary of assets to be disclosed include, where applicable, the following: savings and other liquid assets, all immovable property and shares and actions in any private and public companies; property purchased by way of tender from any public-law entities and information about businesses owned,” SERAP added.
According to the organisation, the “non-public disclosure by public officials of their summary of assets seriously undermines the effectiveness and integrity of the constitutional and statutory obligations to submit asset declarations, especially given that declarations are designed to curb grand corruption.”
“The non-disclosure of assets also undermines the authority of the CCB and weakens the public trust in the asset declaration regimes.” In the specific proposal to President Buhari, SERAP noted his “public promise to make specific details of your assets public, and urge you to consider this FoI request as a unique opportunity to fulfil the promise made to the Nigerian people.”
The various inquiries read in part: “Our FoI request does not clash with the rights to privacy and data protection. Both rights are not absolute and can be restricted provided there is a basis in law and a legitimate public interest justifies the restriction. Prevention of grand corruption and exposing unexplained wealth of officials are serious and legitimate public interests. We would also like you to clarify if you have encouraged members of your cabinet to also submit their asset declarations to the CCB and to make such declarations public. If so, we would like you to provide information on the details of those that have made submissions.”
It should be recalled that when Buhari won the presidency in 2015, he and Osinbajo declared their assets even before they clocked 100 days in office. At that time, the documents showed that President Buhari owned five homes in Daura, Kano and Abuja, all in the northern; as well as two mud houses in his village. Apart from his houses, Buhari owns two undeveloped plots of land in Kano and Port Harcourt.
The Nigerian President also has an orchard and a ranch with 270 head of cattle, 25 sheep, 5 horses, a variety of birds and a number of economic trees in them. His other assets include stocks in 3 publicly listed companies - Berger Paints, a Nigerian manufacturer of paints and commercial banks Union Bank and Skye Bank. In terms of cash, he holds the Naira equivalent of $150,000.
Vice President Osinbajo was considerably wealthier than his boss. Osinbajo, a successful lawyer and academic owns a 4-bedroom residence in Victoria Garden City, Lagos and a 3-bedroom flat in Ikoyi, a highbrow area of Lagos. He also owns a 2-bedroom flat along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and a 2-bedroom mortgaged property in Bedford, England. The Vice President who was formerly the Managing Partner in SimmonsCooper, a Lagos-based law firm he founded, also declared his shareholding in six private companies, including Octogenerium Ltd., Windsor Grant Ltd, Tarapolsa, Vistorion Ltd., Aviva Ltd. and mobile telecoms giant MTN Nigeria. Osinbajo also holds roughly $1.5 million in cash currently deposited in Nigerian banks. He also owns 3 vehicles - an Infinity four-wheel drive SUV, a Mercedes Benz sedan and a Prado Jeep according to the documents he submitted.