Buhari`s First Integrity Test

By Julius Oweh
Leadership especially at the political level is about integrity and trust and the firm belief of the electorate that people in such positions shall obey the dictates of the constitution. The electorate also hope that their leaders shall be men and women of high moral standard and they would always keep some of their electoral promises. The constitution is the fundamental law of the land and should any leader deviates from it; the courts and the legislature are there to flog them into line. On the other hand, the moral tone of the nation is set by the leader and patriotic and authentic leaders make sure that they obey their moral commitments to the people. Thus in carrying out moral obligations, the individual is the enforcer unlike law where the enforcer may be external body like the court. A leader is judged by the way and manner; promises freely made are carried to the latter. That is the trend in the advanced democracies and with the `change` mantra of President Muhammadu Buhari; Nigerians expect nothing less from him.
Unfortunately the vibrations from Aso Rock about the assets declaration of the president and vice president is rather unfor-tunate and depressing to mass of our people who have placed hope and confidence in this administration. The integrity of the Buhari administration is on trial and the way the issue is resolved shall show the difference between success and failure. During the presidential campaign, Buhari promised Nigerians that he shall publicly declare his assets. But today he has not done that. Instead of the presidential spokesman to be apologetic, he is acting the role of a spin doctor. Shehu Garba, a former newspaper editor and the presidential spokesman advised Nigerians that are interested in getting the information about the assets of the president to go to the Code of Conduct Bureau for that. Let me remind Garba that those who tried to know the asset declaration of the former president, Goodluck Jonathan met a brick wall with the Code of Conduct hiding under the veneer that they were not under any constitutional obligation to disclose the assets. This is the road Garba and his fellow spin doctors want us to travel. The presidential spokesman is being clever by half and he should impress on his principal to publicly declare his assets. Anything short of that is a betrayal of the people trust and failure to keep to his electoral promises. Even more absurd is the vibration from the presidency that the assets shall be made public within the space of one hundred days. What is stopping the president and the vice president from declaring the assets publicly now.
It is true that Buhari and his vice are not under any constitutional obligation to declare their assets publicly. What the constitution says is that elected public officer should declare his assets on assumption of office and that Nigerians who are interested in that should go to the relevant body. But what is at stake is not constitutionalism but the test of integrity and transparency. Buhari on his own without the prompting of any Nigerian promised us that he would publicly declare his assets. By failing to do that, he is telling us that he cannot be trusted and that his integrity is on trial. It is moral issue and has nothing to do with the law. The late Umaru Musa Yar`Adu declared his asset publicly and Nigerians lauded him for that. It is also on record that Yar`Adua said that the election that brought him to power was less than fair. That was integrity, honesty and transparency on national display. This is what we expect the president to do more so he campaigned on the theme of famed integrity and disdain for corruption. Goodluck Jonathan was taken to cleaners by the opposition parties and the press for not declaring his assets publicly despite the stance of his principal, Yar`Adua. The message is that if a man cannot keep his promise, it not only brings his integrity into question, it stands to reason that other promises from him should not be taken seriously. This is a critical moment for the Buhari presidency and it is unfortunate that the PDP as the leading opposition party is not capitalising on that.
Leadership is beyond the promise to fight corruption, probe the misdeeds of past administration, fight Boko Haram and look for foreign powers to fix the Nigerian problems. For a former head of state and man who ran for the presidency four times, the president for a fleeting moment should not give us the faintest impression that he was not prepared for the job of effective governance anchored on high moral principles. Accountability and transparency can only be meaningful in governance if the integrity of the leadership is rock solid. The failure of Buhari and his vice to publicly declare their assets is sending a wrong signal to the people of the country. If the nation is to benefit from the change mantra, things must be done differently.
The late Yar`Adua raised the ante of governance anchored on transparency and integrity by declaring his assets publicly. We expect Buhari and Osinbajo to imitate that instead of taking cue from Goodluck Jonathan and Namadi Sambo. The PDP as the main opposition party should keep the heat on the Buhari administration. If the government fails to tell us the assets of the president and the vice president, and take the undignified posture of the presidential spokesman advising us to visit the Code of Conduct Bureau, then it would not be out place to say that Buhari is hiding something from us and that after all, he may not be better than former presidents. Let this piece remind the presidency that they are on a national stage and there is no hiding place. It is not too late for them to change the tide of public opinion against this failed integrity test. The government is less than a month in office and is already wobbling and same is the woolly defence of the presidential spokesman. We are not interested in going to the office of the Code of Conduct Bureau, the president and the vice president should publicly declare their assets. It is not a constitutional obligation but a moral obligation that will demonstrate to Nigerians integrity of those who are husbanding their mandate for the next four years. Should Buhari fail this first integrity test, then the famed claim of honesty, accountability and anti-corruption posture will turn out to be electoral gimmicks. It is a sad and frightening prospect.