On President Jonathan and 'Public' Assets Declaration
In modern society, there are acts not forbidden by law, but which are
clearly governed by discretion and morality. Moral relativism, as
illustrated by the saying about one man's meat being another man's
poison, is as old as human society. And usually individual notions of
what is right or wrong engage one another in an open field of moral
relativism where the law does not specify actions that members of
society should regard as right or wrong. This can lead to conflicts
that are hard to resolve owing to the divergent interests of 'players'
in such fields. Usually, such conflicts remain unresolved until
society, through the appropriate channel, makes laws clarifying which
of such borderline actions should be considered right or wrong, which
in the latter case becomes a punishable offence, with a specific
sanction for contravention.
Let me link the above thesis to reality with a well-known event in
behavioural evolution in our country. Smoking used to be something
those who chose to indulge in it could do in public places, regardless
of whether the next person disliked or could be injured by the fumes.
Smoking, in that context, was a classic case of one man's meat being
another man's poison, with the result that those to whom it was
'poison' simply had to endure if those whose body it seemed to nourish
like 'meat' chose to smoke in such places.
All that changed with our country embracing the global campaign
against smoking as a deadly habit, to the point of a bill being passed
to ban smoking in public places in Lagos, in addition to cigarette
manufacturers being compelled to print on each packet of their
products the warning: '…smokers are liable to die young.' However, in
deciding on the rightness or otherwise of smoking in public places,
such questions are irrelevant considering the position of the law on
Similarly, the position of the law should guide us in resolving the
current controversy as to whether President Goodluck Jonathan, or any
of our public servants for that matter, should, having publicly
declared his assets as the law states, should proceed to publish the
declaration in the press. The Fifth schedule, Part1, 11(1) of the 2010
Constitution (as amended) states that '… every public Officer shall …
immediately after taking office and thereafter … submit to the Code of
Conduct Bureau a written declaration of all his properties, assets,
and liabilities and those of his unmarried children under the age of
18 years.' Even for someone inured to the penchant of some of our
compatriots to politicise morality while pretending to moralise
politics, I am surprised that anyone would try to raise a storm over
the procedure for compliance in a matter so clearly spelt out in the
No less surprising is the impression being created that the president
is averse to accountability, even by those who may be aware that he
has declared his assets no less than eight times as a public official:
As Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State; in 2003, before the end of his
tenure; in the new tenure, during which he transformed into Governor;
while leaving office as Governor; as Vice President; after he became
Acting President; before contesting election as President; and after
he was sworn in as President. In respect of showing regard for public
accountability through conscientious assets declaration, it is his
political opponents that should first remove the log in their eyes
before reaching for the non-existent speck in the president's eyes.
For instance, it is public knowledge that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu's
declaration of his assets as Governor of Lagos State is still subject
to controversy on account of its questionable credibility, and whether
former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari, has declared his
assets since his days in power and his tenure as the Chairman of the
Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) is anybody's guess.
I think it reveals lazy activism for a country whose president has
assented to the Freedom of Information Bill, which makes access to
information virtually unrestricted, to demand that the president
'publicly' declares his assets, if by that it is meant that he should
publish them like a newspaper advertorial, even after he has publicly
stated that he has filed the declaration with the relevant government
agency - in compliance with the law.
I also think the right of the members of any society to know,
including know the assets of their leaders, should be moderated by the
right of all members of such society, including the leaders, to guard
against the violation of their right to privacy.
For those who say the president's action violates the PDP Constitution
- we cannot be right to condemn the PDP establishment for settling
certain disputes between members of the party as 'a family affair,'
while alleging that the approach contravenes certain provisions of our
Constitution, and also be right in insisting that the president's
action, in a matter regulated by law, conforms to the provisions of
the PDP Constitution. That is hypocrisy! Truth is that no one has shown us the section of the PDP constitution that compels members to publish the assets declaration in the newspapers. In order for those asking for
the president to 'publish" his assets to be incontrovertibly
right, they need to push for a constitutional amendment to make such
'public' declaration of assets a constitutional necessity.
Surely, the president's response that he does not 'give a damn about
that…' when asked why he has not publicly declared his assets in a
recent media chat could not have been meant to suggest that he is not
interested in declaring his assets, or in public accountability, as
his critics have misinterpreted it. It must rather be his forthright
way of asserting, as he hinted at in his subsequent remarks, that he
has done no wrong, morally or legally, by having declared his assets
but not through the medium that his critics would prefer him to - even
though the Constitution he swore to defend does not oblige him to
accede to their preference on the matter.
By Isa Mahmud