Disclose public officials’ declared assets, group tells FG

A Nigerian think tank, Agora Policy, has urged the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), to assent to the newly passed Federal Audit Service Bill and called for the disclosure of assets declared by public servants to the Code of Conduct Bureau. ABIODUN SANUSI examines the report

As Nigerians await a new president on May 29, a report by an organisation, Agora Policy, has indicated that the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) is losing the fight against corruption.

The organisation revealed that the Federal Government’s transparency and accountability measures had achieved the desired progress in governance and development of the country.

Despite the regime’s mouthed anti-corruption fight, it’s losing grip on the vice.

The report called for prompt presidential assent to the newly passed Federal Audit Service Bill and integrity checks on heads and staff of organisations with anti-corruption mandates.

It also called for the disclosure of assets declared by public servants to the Code of Conduct Bureau and improved resourcing and capacity building for anti-corruption agencies, including enhanced checks and balances to ensure that the watchdogs were not mired in corruption.

Transparency International in its January 2023 report on the 2022 Corruption Perception Index report stated that Nigeria scored 24 out of 100 points and ranked 150 among 180 countries.

Though the country maintained its previous year’s (2021) score of 24 out of 100 points, there was a change in rank from 154 to 150, as some other countries (including Nigeria) performed more poorly in 2022.

However, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission did not react to the report after The PUNCH reached out to them.

An example of the graft plaguing the current regime is the ongoing trial of a former Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, on alleged N109bn corruption.

Earlier, on October 27, 2022, the EFCC re-arraigned Idris on a 13-count charge bordering on alleged misappropriation of the sum of N109bn alongside Olusegun Akindele, Mohammed Usman and Gezawa Commodity Market and Exchange Limited.

The anti-graft agency alleged that between February and December 2021, Idris accepted N15.1bn gratification from Akindele.

It said the transaction was carried out to accelerate the payment of 13 per cent derivation to the nine oil producing states of the Federation, through the office of the Accountant General of the Federation.

The anti-graft agency also alleged that N84.3bn from the Federal Government’s account was converted by the first and second defendants between February and November 2021.

The EFCC said the offence contravened sections 155 and 315 of the Penal Code Act Cap 532 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990.

Meanwhile, Agora Policy, in its latest report titled “Imperative of strengthening Nigeria’s transparency and accountability measures,” attributed the inefficacy of the accountability measures in the country to subsisting gaps in legislation, capacity, values and resourcing of the Federal Government and its agencies.

The organisation also examined the rationale, history, achievements and challenges of the selected transparency and accountability initiatives and made recommendations for improvements.

It further recommended enhancement of legal backing for some of the initiatives, faithful enforcement or implementation of existing laws, improvement in capacity and funding for some of the implementing agencies, enhancement of collaboration across tiers of government, and implementation of a sustained and strategic campaign on value reorientation as way forward.

The report called for the amendment of Paragraph 3 (c) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution to ensure that assets disclosed by public officials can be made public by CCB.

It called for improved funding for the CCB for the agency to be better positioned to discharge its important mandate, including the verification of assets declared by millions of public servants across the three tiers of government.

The report read in part, “Whether now or in the future, Nigeria needs more transparency and accountability, not less. As Nigeria prepares for a new government, a stocktaking of the transparency and accountability measures is desirable to ensure that the zeal for anticorruption is sustained and that the prevailing measures are fit for purpose, and further strengthened and institutionalised.”

The organisation further noted that it examined 16 transparency and accountability mechanisms within four clusters such as norms and values, public financial management, open disclosure, and sanctions.

The measures assessed included asset declaration, freedom of information, public procurement, whistle-blower policy, annual and routine audits, government’s e-payment platforms such as Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information and the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System.

It further dwelt into the publication of sub-national transfers, disclosure of extractive sector revenues and beneficial ownership to prosecution and asset recovery.

The report added, “Most of the interventions have been made since the return to civil rule in 1999, and some of them have yielded some results and milestones. However, despite the achievements, the problem of transparency and accountability remains.’’

On fixing the challenge of transparency and accountability, the organisation’s founder and ex-executive secretary of Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Waziri Adio, urged Buhari to sign the newly-passed audit bill.

Agora Policy said the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation should be strengthened through improved staffing and better remuneration for the agency workers. Also, it canvassed prompt presidential assent to the newly passed audit bill.

“President Muhammadu Buhari should sign the Federal Audit Service Bill into law before he leaves office. The bill, which was passed by the National Assembly on 29 March 2023, repeals the Audit Ordinance of 1956,” the organisation said.

Besides, it called for the amendment of Paragraph 3 (c) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution to ensure that assets disclosed by public officials could be made public by the CCB.

The report noted, “Verification of declared assets to the CCB to ascertain the veracity of claims by the declarant should be considered an essential component of the quest to strengthen transparency and accountability.

Agora Policy also stated that the Federal Government should undertake rigorous background checks on the boards, leadership and staff of institutions with anti-corruption mandates and institutes such as the EFCC, ICPC, NFIU, CCB, CCT, among others, for adequate safeguard on the performance of their duties.

It noted, “These measures are needed to ensure that there is a symmetry between the mandates of these critical institutions and the values of those who work in and lead them, that there are measures for ‘watching the watchdogs,’ and that the anti-corruption institutions are not undermined by the same ills that they were set up to tackle.”

The organisation also said that the government should launch a comprehensive and well-thought-out national value reorientation programme to creatively seek to change the dysfunctional values, attitudes and narratives that wittingly and unwittingly enable public corruption.

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