* Aides stand in for their principals
* Bureau staff overwhelmed
* APC, PDP stalwarts jittery
In order not to be caught in the web that had just entangled the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, top politicians, civil servants and many public officers have begun thronging the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) in a bid to declare or update their assets, investigations by Saturday Telegraph has revealed. Our correspondents had during the week noticed unusual visits to the Bureau by some aides of some big shots within the political class, prompting a check on the unusual activities.
The checks, however, revealed that the moves were propelled by the ongoing trial of the CJN over alleged non-declaration of assets. Some of the aides of the top shots seen at the CCB confided in our correspondent that fears and tension had gripped their principals, who had to resort to the latest step because they are afraid that the Federal Government may come after them using the same method. One of them was even of the view that the government has concluded plans to nail anyone that could be a stumbling block to the second term ambition of President Muhammadu Buhari and the return of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to power. But he was quick to add that the visit is not limited to members of the opposition party.
Citing the latest statement credited to the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in which he said that the Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, would be questioned when he returns from his trip to the United States, the aide said every politician and civil servants must be extremely careful now so as not to fall prey. “Did you hear what they just said about Atiku and the Bank PHB? I think anybody that wants to enjoy his or her freedom under this regime should do the needful by ensuring that they follow the due process and not run foul of the law.
“But it is not only PDP people that are showing up there, even strong APC stalwarts had been sending their aides to the CCB to update their records. This man in charge is a respecter of nobody”, he said. He also recalled that the Federal Government had slammed a six-count criminal charge on the CJN before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, for allegedly not disclosing about five accounts, which he is said to be operating with Standard Chattered Bank. In the same vein, a source in the Bureau, who pleaded for anonymity, confirmed to Saturday Telegraph that, since Monday, many top civil and public servants had been visiting the agency to either declare their assets or update their records. According to the CCB source, the manner the people involved had been paying visits to the organisation had been mindboggling, noting that the staff were overwhelmed.
“Since this week started, we have been seeing many civil servants and public servants coming here to declare their assets. “We strongly believe that it was as a result of the charge filed against the CJN for failure to declare his assets. The law is that public office holders must declare their assets, when they are coming to office and also do same, when they are leaving the office.
“For civil servants, they are expected to update their assets declaration form every four years. But a lot of those concerned have failed to do this. I think they have now learnt a lesson from what is happening to the CJN who also failed to declare some of his assets in the declaration form.” Some politicians however informed Saturday Telegraph that they had to take the step, not just because they were afraid but also because it is the right thing to do. An APC House of Representatives candidate who met with one of our correspondents in Lagos, said he was in the know of the latest rush by his colleagues, explaining that the party had already warned against the non-declaration of as especially as the general election approaches.
The candidate who is currently representing one of the local governments in the South West was emphatic about the party’s position. “Whoever is caught will have to face the music, the party had told us to fill the form carefully. At every occasion when the issue cropped up, we were warned never to put what we cannot defend.
“I am not surprised that some people are now rushing to update their records, it is something they should have done long ago. There is need for serious caution,” he said. Earlier, the new Chairman of the Bureau, Prof. Isah Mohammed, had been reported to have warned that the Bureau was more than ever prepared to prosecute erring civil servants and public office holders at both federal and state levels over the non-declaration of assets. According to the reports,Mohammed had advised civil servants and public office holders against flagrant abuse of its Act by declaring their assets at the required regular intervals. Mohammed said the bureau had not been particularly active in the monitoring and prosecution of offenders, adding that there was a renewed commitment to ensure that the body remained proactive.
“The Code of Conduct Bureau and the Code of Conduct Tribunal are the creation of the 1999 Constitution as amended and we have resolved to ensure full application of the law against offenders. “We are collaborating with other anti-corruption agencies and the police to form the required synergy to fight corruption in the country. “There would be no hiding place for a public servant who keeps away his or her assets from public knowledge. Such assets must be declared at CCB at the right time”, he said.
Mohammed said the bureau was considering a nationwide publicity campaign to educate civil servants and public office holders on the danger of not declaring their assets adequately. He also said ministries, departments and agencies of government should appoint desk officers that would continually abreast other staff of the need to update their assets with the bureau. “It is elementary to state that public servants have the mandate to renew their CCB asset declaration form at four years interval. “Let me also tell you here that new appointees and employees of government are respectively mandated to declare their assets after joining the service”, he was quoted as saying.