By Sufuyan Ojeifo
By making public the contents of his asset declaration form submitted at the Oyo State office of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) in Ibadan on Monday, July 15, 2019, Governor Seyi Makinde has, on the double, fulfilled one of his many campaign promises. That action counts for something in the overall appreciation of the bigger picture of keeping fidelity to the social contract; and, that perhaps, explains the accolades that have trailed the act.
The philosophy that roused Makinde’s essential motion in the direction of keeping faith with what appears to be a simple promise must be largely humanistic much more than teleological. The celebrated act epitomizes genuine altruism, not the humdrum jejune play to the gallery by conventional politicians. Makinde’s genre of politics is peculiar. In any case, time will supply the necessary validations.
However, I tend to understand the act more in the context of the overarching zeitgeist that has provoked in many Nigerians derision for corruption in our body-politic. If Makinde’s action was located in the context of the ideas and spirit of the time, I can then relate to it as his contribution to the emergent culture of pragmatic application of home-grown praxis to addressing some of the ills, especially corruption and its variants, which plague us as a people.
What the governor has clearly adopted is a self-sacrificing modus operandi that ordinarily enjoys legal protection. The confidentiality of his asset declaration is constitutionally-guaranteed. Nevertheless, he decided, on his own motion, to declassify the details, thus exposing himself to pro bono publico scrutiny, which many of his colleagues are not willing to do.
Although, he has yet to get to the intersection of the second instance wherein he had also hinted that he would be ready to waive his immunity as governor for any alleged criminal infraction that borders on corruption or looting of the treasury of Oyo state on his watch, I believe that with this single-mindedness, the governor will fulfill this other pledge to boot, having kept faith with the first pledge.
This relatively new attitude to governance – of making promises and fulfilling the same – has the potential to promote the spirit of openness and accountability that is imperative to feed the anti-graft war. To be sure, it will help to stimulate self-restraint on the part of Makinde and other public officers, who had earlier subscribed to the idea of making public their assets, whenever they are confronted with the existential temptation to corruptly enrich themselves through abuse of office.
I advisedly use the word “relatively” in the paragraph above because, at the last count, and I stand to be corrected, not more than six public officers had published their assets before now. Former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Vice President Goodluck Jonathan (who reluctantly followed Yar’Adua’s footsteps in 2007, but refused to do the same in 2011) published their assets in a pragmatic fashion, providing specific details. The publications by four others, namely former Governor Gbenga Daniel (in 2007), President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo (who reluctantly followed Buhari’s example in 2015; he has yet to follow suit in 2019) and Governor Nasir El-Rufai, of their assets were approximate. Specific details of the el-Rufai’s omnibus N90 billion asset worth, in particular, were not stated.
Indeed, it was the late Yar’Adua that blazed the trail. He had promised during his electioneering that he would make his assets public. He did so immediately he stepped in the saddle and the declassification of the assets was the first assignment that his spokesperson, Segun Adeniyi, performed a week or two after assumption of duties. The scope of the asset declaration that incorporated even the assets of his wife, Turai, did not give room for any doubt -whether reasonable or otherwise.
Yar’Adua had shunned the advice by the CCB that the action would put other categories of public office holders under pressure to do the same contrary to their individual conviction to keep details of their assets confidential as provided for by law. Yar’Adua was driven by the need to shed the burden of the campaign promise that he made based on the conviction that the war against corruption could not have meaning until those at the helms of affairs began to live by example.
It is to Yar’Adua’s eternal credit that he set that critical example for the like of Buhari and Makinde, et al, to emulate. It was a personal choice. Makinde has just made that personal choice, without holding back! His N48 billion asset net worth, earned from his chains of elite businesses, straddling engineering and technical services, energy, oil and gas, construction, et al, is staggering and intimidating. This war chest imposes a duty of care on him to manage the resources of Oyo state prudently as a going concern. My immediate take-away from the compte rendu is that the governor is financially capacitated to overcome the pressure to pillage the commonwealth of Oyo state.
In the circumstance, he should deploy the Midas touch with which he turned his businesses into huge success stories in stimulating the sleeping economy of Oyo state and transforming it into one of the most stable state economies in Nigeria within the next four years; and, if he performs creditably, a renewal of mandate by Oyo people will be his just recompense to enable him consolidate on the good work.
This is Makinde’s maiden outing in the public service turf. Therefore, the publication of his assets represents a challenge to the public to put him under constant watch and to raise the alarm if accretion to his assets while in office is traced to abuse of office. He has put himself under pressure, having come clean as a tabula rasa into government from the private sector unlike Daniel, Osinbajo and el-Rufai, for examples, who had been caught up in the intercourse of private and public office engagements.
Buhari’s case, however, remains peculiar. Although his life and times have benefited largely from his involvement in public office at different levels, the details of his assets, as declared and made public in 2015 and the ones done in 2019, which his spokesperson, Garba Shehu, said witnessed very minimal or insignificant accretions, would appear to fit perfectly into his socially-conservative, financially-prudent and celebrated Spartan lifestyle.
Except for his cattle farm and other farms which commercial or income-generating values have not been declared, Buhari’s sources of income would appear writ large and he makes no bones about his assets. The sincerity he had invested in the asset declaration in 2015 continues to bind and regulate him. The benefits derivable from this can be located in the credibility and public trust he has built for himself in matters of financial integrity and restrained material acquisition.
The culture of making public, asset declaration, is one of anti-graft war’s veritable enablers. But for Yar’Adua, Buhari and Makinde’s resolve, the argument that asset declaration is a hollow ritual would have gained a firm foothold in our body-politic. The waiving of constitutional confidentiality, together with publication of personal assets by them, validates the counter-narrative that the exercise is now beyond a hollow ritual. Besides, ask former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and Justice Walter Onnoghen (retd.) and they will concur.
In rounding off, I commend Makinde, in particular, for keeping to his campaign promise. He has demonstrated that he can be trusted. What he has also done is throwing down the gauntlet to all in position of responsibilities to make full disclosures of assets to their people before taking over the management of public finance. Beyond the suggestion of anticipatory declaration in some oppositional quarters, this will enable the relevant bodies to investigate claims, validate and monitor financial transactions in furtherance of trust.
* Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist, contributed this piece via firstname.lastname@example.org