Sunday, July 12, 2015

Will Mr. Buhari please tell us what he has?

David Cameron’s father was a very rich man. He left a lot of his fortune in tax havens in Panama and Jersey and at the time of the death of Pa Cameron, he was worth 2.7million pounds. His son David was a beneficiary of that large amount of money. Questions have arisen if he paid his taxes on the money he inherited from his father. But Mr. David Cameron has shrugged off the inquiry, apparently because he has done so, and has said that he is not bothered about any inquiry involving paying taxes of what he inherited from his father. As a matter of fact, Mr. Cameron has vigorously used the opportunity of what he is worth to lead a campaign to introduce tax reforms within his party and among members of his own cabinet.

In similar manner in 2009, Barack Obama publicly declared that he was worth $5.5m before he became President. Before he became president he was a Senator and a grassroots person who was more interested in helping poor Americans live the America dream. Word has it that he turned down very many offers from very prestigious law firms seeking his employment. But his ‘hammer’ came from the sale of two bestsellers, DREAMS FROM MY FATHER and the AUDACITY OF HOPE. ‘Five days before he was sworn in as president, Obama received a $500,000 advance from his publisher. The declaration records that he makes 15% of the hardcover sale price in the US and up to 10% on paperbacks. Obama's income from his books far outpaces his annual presidential salary of $400,000 which met only a fraction of the Obama's joint income tax bill of nearly $2m’,  an online publication said.

The tradition of most American presidents is that as soon as they leave office, they easily secure book deals with publishers, engage in speaking tours and set up foundations from where they rake in a lot of cash. But that has not been the case with Barack Obama, US president. He became rich and a millionaire before he became president. In the White House Financial Disclosure Forms, Obama declared that he had $7.7million which did not include his dog Bo, valued at $1,600. Obama donated his Nobel medal and diploma valued at $1.4m to charity. The Obamas have also given $329,100 to more than 20 different charities.

The Nigerian Constitution states in Chapter VI Section 140 that 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 as prescribed in the Constitution. President Buhari is reported to have done so. But what do Nigerians know about what is on that declaration as much as the average American who knows what his president is worth? What are Mr. Buhari’s assets and liabilities? How many cows does he really have? Does he have any monies and buildings abroad? If he does, how did he get them?

It is a truism that a constitution is made up of its letters and a spirit behind the letters. And therefore when the Vice Present of Nigeria, a professor of law said that the good thing about an English word is that it can be said differently, but it depends on the reputation of who is saying it, he is dead on target. There is no provision in the Nigerian constitution that says that Mr. President must declare his assets publicly. All that the constitution has required him to do is declare. So if we go by what is heard and not seen, Mr. Buhari is a poor man before and after the elections. But be rest assured that the cows we saw him with on Facebook cannot have paid for his election expenses nor could they have paid for the private jets that flew him from state to state. What he said he did not have before he picked up his nomination forms does not tally with what he spent when he was campaigning for president. To be fair, one cannot have expected Mr. President to have funded his campaign alone with personal funds but the crisis and uncertainty already brewing about and around his credibility as an incorruptible Nigerian can be better avoided with his insistence on simply sticking with obeying the letters of the constitution. What about the morality, the righteousness in being seen to be actually incorrupt and untainted? The implication of going the hog, and declaring that he has other methods of earning an income apart from the cows in Daura, is that his action would provide the template for excellence to take firm root in governance, and promote fiscal responsibility and transparency with public funds. As soon as he does the needful in publicly publishing what he has, it puts the nail on the coffin of the mummy that has bedeviled nearly every step he has taken or not taken since he became president. Then I assume that his deputy and all the governors in Nigeria past and present will follow suit. Even the local government council chairmen and councilors would be forced to tow the public asset declaration line. I get giddy just thinking how this would translate to an unspoken policy brief for his administration. And for Mr. Buhari, just by taking this simple action, he would have dealt corruption a blow from which it would never recover. We cannot always try to hide our head in the sand and be selective in obeying what the Constitution requires only when it suits our whims and caprices.  

Mr. President must learn this lesson from his predecessor’s failure. His body language strengthened graft, corruption and greed. Instead of calling corruption by its real name, he referred to it in an offhand manner as ‘stealing’. He said he had no shoes before being president but how many shoes he had during and after his tenure remains to be seen. Mr. Buhari’s predecessor appeared to shield anyone close to him from prosecution from charges of corruption and ‘stealing’. Mr. Buhari’s predecessor as well refused to reveal what he has and had before and after government and Mr. Buhari has towed that same line unfortunately. What this translates to eventually is that Nigerian and African leaders have a penchant for taking Nigerians for granted. For me, I am sure that for Mr. President to successfully keep to his campaign promises of helping OPEC stabilize the price of oil, reduce fuel price and queues at gas stations, generate at least 40, 000 megawatts of electricity, provide basic infrastructure and get the machine of government revving at full throttle, he needs to start the engine by declaring what he has and must do so publicly.

Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku is editor in chief, Bob MajiriOghene Communications.