THERE is a growing sense of dismay among the ranks of top civil servants and their military, police and other security agencies’ counterparts following President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive on compulsory asset declaration for workers in federal ministries, departments and agencies.
A presidency source confirmed to The Guardian that Buhari’s insistence came on the heels of overwhelming evidence of financial fraud among government workers provided by the anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in collaboration with financial institutions at the end of the Bank Verification Number (BVN) exercise.
The source said: “With the end of the BVN exercise, all financial transactions of staff of Federal Government ministries, departments and agencies were in the open. The findings were mind-boggling, revealing how many at the top levels of the country’s public service live above their incomes.
“It was discovered that many of the workers operate several local and foreign accounts which they use in laundering illicit money, buying property within and outside the country. The bank accounts of their accomplices in different sectors of the economy where they have invested and still investing the money were also uncovered. The president was infuriated at the findings and directed the Head of Service that all the staff of federal ministries, agencies must declare their assets.
“Though many of such Federal Government workers have been secretly investing their questionable funds in property within and outside the country using proxies to avoid being caught, they forget that with their BVN numbers all their transactions in different banks can easily be traced without their knowledge. That is what has been ongoing since the end of the BVN exercise. A lot of questionable transactions have been discovered.”
Speaking on the development, a senior Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) official who pleaded anonymity told The Guardian that heads might roll if the government went ahead to take action based on findings concerning workers’ shady financial dealings at the end of the BVN exercise.
“There is no hiding place for any Nigerian now in terms of financial transactions no matter how highly placed you are. Before now, neither the anti-graft agencies, CBN nor commercial banks could boldly question or investigate financial transactions of some powerful individuals or organisations.
“But everything has now changed as even accomplices of the workers in the banks are panicking because they have been penciled down for arrest and trial,” the official said.
An official of the Department of State Services (DSS) at the agency’s Ojo Lagos Training Centre who pleaded anonymity told The Guardian yesterday they completed their asset declaration on December 28 last year as directed by the presidency.
“We filled in the form when we were employed three years ago. When the directive came, some of us who were on leave and had travelled had to return to fill in the form,” he said.
A Police Corporal, Charles Amadi who works in Lagos told The Guardian that no asset declaration form had been given to him and his colleagues to fill in by their superiors.
He jokingly said: “How much is my salary that will make me to acquire assets? They know those to give asset declaration forms, not people like me.”
A director in a federal ministry in Abuja said they were aware of the development: “Yes, most of us are aware of the development which started at the end of the BVN exercise. We got the hint from our banks and we are resigned to fate. There is nothing we can do because everything is now in the open.
“We have filled in the assets declaration forms as directed by the Head of Service of the Federation. We are aware of the impending problem.
“We filled in the form at the point of employment and were supposed to do it from time to time. But for a long time the majority of us have not done it and nobody has disturbed, reminded or compelled us to do so until the recent directive came.”
But a retired deputy director, Federal Ministry of Transport and now Lagos-based businessman, Joseph Anyika told The Guardian that there was nothing new about it because it had always been a compulsory exercise in the civil service.
“Asset declaration is part of the public service rules. During our days in service, we filled it in the forms as and when due. We did not wait for anybody to compel us to do it because we knew the legal implication of not doing so. I wonder why any worker should be afraid of filling in the asset declaration form unless such worker has something to hide.
“In fact, paragraph 11 of the Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is self-explanatory on the issue of asset declaration. The law makes the issue not only compulsory for public servants, but criminalizes non-compliance to it. Paragraph 11 of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution provides that, “Subject to the provisions of the Constitution, every public officer shall, within three months after coming into force of this Code of Conduct or immediately after taking office and thereafter – (a) at the end of every four years; and (b) at the end of his term of office, submit to the CCB a written declaration of all his properties, assets and liabilities and those of his unmarried children under the age of 18.”
But unfortunately, over the years, governments at both the state and federal levels have been docile on the issue of assets declaration by public servants, resulting in substantial non-compliance.The Constitution makes assets declaration mandatory because it acts as a safeguard against corrupt practices by public servants.
“It is in furtherance of its importance that the Nigerian Constitution went ahead to create the CCB -to receive and verify the assets declared and the Code of Conduct Tribunal to try and punish offenders. But unfortunately, both the CCB and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) have not been functioning optimally, mainly because of neglect and lack of proper funding,’ the retired civil servant said.
The Special Adviser to the CCB Chairman, Dr. Gwimi Peters, told The Guardian in Abuja that even some ministries and parastatals that hitherto did not declare their assets had been doing so since the presidential directives.
According to him, even political office holders have been complying with the order. He also confirmed that the CCB has been collaborating to verify assets declared by individuals who are under investigations by either the EFCC or the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC).
According to him, when an individual is arrested or brought in for an interrogation by either EFCC or ICPC, they make him declare his assets, and this will be brought to the CCB for verification as a vital part of the investigation process against such persons.
He noted that the EFCC had written letters to the bureau to verify the assets of the army and air force officials under its investigation; an assignment which the bureau viewed as very important in order to help an investigation.