he leak of about 11.9 million documents from 14 offshore service firms that assist high-end clients in forming companies in notorious tax havens has dominated headlines throughout the world once again. The ‘Pandora Papers,’ papers revealed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, reveal the extent to which the wealthy and powerful go to hide their ill-gotten gains or avoid paying taxes. The latest disclosures, like the Panama and Paradise Papers of 2016 and 2017, highlight the importance of countries working together to reduce illicit financial transfers and strengthen tax evasion systems.
Nigeria is not left out, as ten famous figures are alleged to be on the list. According to Premium Times, some of them include Peter Obi, the Former Governor of Anambra State; Stella Oduah, a senator and former Aviation Minister; Mohammed Bello-Koko, the acting Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority; Governor Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State, and his counterpart in Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu. They have all vehemently denied it and stated that they are innocent of any misconduct.
While private citizens are not prohibited from forming offshore corporations, Nigerian law prohibits governmental officials from doing so. According to Transparency International, President Muhammadu Buhari’s inability to act on previous revelations like as the Panama Papers has strengthened the culture of impunity. According to Auwal Rafsanjani, Executive Director of the Nigerian chapter of Transparency International, the administration must examine the Pandora Papers revelations regardless of the individuals’ political affiliation. He goes on to say that the government should staff and resource the Code of Conduct Bureau to thoroughly examine officials’ asset disclosures.
Buhari’s professed anti-corruption battle is gradually becoming a sham, according to Transparency International. Most of the public officials named in the Pandora Papers are also accused of failing to declare these properties on their asset declaration forms, in violation of the Code of Conduct for Public Officials, which requires all public officials to declare their assets, as well as those of their spouses and children under the age of 18, upon resumption and exit from office. Except in the case of farming, the law clearly prohibits public officers from operating overseas accounts or establishing private companies. Sadly, due to a lack of political will and inadequate budget, the Code of Conduct Bureau, which is responsible for verifying declared assets, has failed to do its job.
The Code of Conduct Bureau has sole authority to implement the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, as established in Part 1 of the Nigerian constitution’s Fifth Schedule. It has sole authority to recommend cases of code violations to the Code of Conduct Tribunal for prosecution.
According to the Code of Conduct Bureau, it prosecuted 889 people between 2009 and 2019, but just 45 were convicted, a pitiful 5.06 percent conviction rate in ten years. The majority of the detainees were lower-level officers. Ironically, Isah Mohammed, the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau, noted at a workshop for military officers last year that “public officer compliance is not encouraging.” The Code of Conduct Bureau’s sad inability to execute the law demonstrates Nigeria’s public service’s institutional fragility and paralysis.
The existing asset disclosure system in Nigeria, in which forms are only made available to the Code of Conduct Bureau, encourages opacity and fraud. Last year, a Federal High Court ruled in a case brought by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project against the Code of Conduct Bureau that the duty to make public asset declaration forms of public officers should be based on terms and conditions set by the National Assembly, and that such terms and conditions must be specific and related to asset declaration forms of public officers, rather than general legislation like the Code of Conduct.
In order for assets to be made public by the Code of Conduct Bureau, additional legislation from the NASS is required. Since 1999, the NASS has shown little commitment to increasing transparency, as evidenced by its insistence on withholding information about its members’ allowances and its massive budget.
Democratic processes, decent governance, and fair corporate competitiveness are all endangered by corruption. Asset declarations should be subject to public review in order to reduce corruption and increase transparency. The spirit of the code is undermined when details of stated assets are kept hidden. How could the validity of the trillions in declared assets be determined given the Code of Conduct Bureau’s restricted capabilities, when such details can never be examined by the public? The failure of the whistle-blower policy can be explained by the fact that the Buhari administration, which professes to be battling corruption, sees nothing wrong with the current situation and has even neglected to present a bill to parliament to fix it.
It is absurd that in 2015, during a state visit to the United States, Buhari claimed that government employees had embezzled $150 billion from the treasury in the previous ten years, an annual rate of $15 billion. Despite this, he has failed to leave a legacy of transparency that may help avoid the kind of corruption that has contributed to Nigeria’s status as the World Poverty Capital, as well as some of the world’s poorest health and education indicators.
Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde is the only person who has publicly reported his assets this far, which total approximately N50 billion. Following public criticism, Buhari and his Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, only released rudimentary details of their assets to the public in 2015. When the President was re-elected in 2019, his aides arrogantly claimed that there was no law requiring him to do so and refused to reveal his assets. This is very disappointing for a man who campaigned on the promise of accountability.Civil society organizations should continue to press public officials to reveal their assets openly in the absence of an enabling law; SERAP has done so and has even filed lawsuits against them.
A well-designed and practical asset declaration system is urgently needed, as it can be a vital component of the broader anti-corruption and integrity system. To dissuade officials from committing acts of corruption, the World Bank recommends that governments promote asset declaration. The effectiveness of such regulations is reduced to making “asset declarations available for public examination,” according to the report.
The NASS should carry out its constitutional obligation by releasing rules that would allow the public to view public officials’ assets declarations. Nigeria, which accounts for 35 percent of Africa’s illicit financial outflows, estimated to be between $15 billion and $18 billion yearly by Transparency International, has to enhance its weak institutions and foster a transparent culture in order to protect its wealth.