There are strong indications that President Goodluck Jonathan’s recent statement that he does not “give a damn” about making his assets declaration public, is a violation of an agreement between Nigeria and the United States governments, Empowered Newswire reports.
US sources base this conclusion on aspects of a joint communique on the issue, signed by both countries recently at a meeting in Washington DC.
According to the fourth paragraph of the communique signed on June 5 last month by both the US and Nigeria, “both countries recognized and reaffirmed commitments to transparency and accountability from local to national levels that include strong community efforts. To support those commitments, Nigeria intends to widen its budgetary transparency efforts to include public asset declarations by parliamentarians and other senior public officials.”
American sources explain that such public declaration of asset by the president and other senior and elected officials is a clear and strong confrontation to the problem of official graft in Nigeria. The federal government have always sought the cooperation of the US in its fight against corruption and the idea of public declaration of assets emanated from such interactions.
While the US delegation at the meeting was led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s immediate deputy- Bill Burns, the US Deputy Secretary of State, Nigeria was represented by the Foreign Affairs Minister Olugbenga Ashiru and his Permanent Secretary, Dr. Martin I. Uhomoibhi. Burns signed the communique on behalf of the US, and Uhomoibhi endorsed it for Nigeria.
But now inside US sources are concerned that less than a month after the agreement was reached the Nigerian President had already started backing out of the commitment to work towards a public declaration of assets, a request made by the Americans and conceded by the Nigerians at the June 4-5 unprecedentedly large meeting of the Nigeria-US Binational Commission at the US capital city of Washington DC.
Speaking with the press last week on the subject of public declaration of assets, President Goodluck Jonathan said he only released his assets publicly as a Vice President because of pressure, apparently from the then President Umar Yar’Adua.
According to reports from his media interaction last Sunday, President Jonathan said: “The issue of asset declaration is a matter of principle. I don’t give a damn about it, if you want to criticize me from heaven. The issue of public declaration I think is playing to the gallery. You don’t need to publicly declare any assets. If I am somebody who wants to hide it is what I tell you that you will even believe.”
Since then President Jonathan has drawn flaks from a widespread spectrum of Nigerians over his refusal to declare his assets publicly and also his choice of words to express his disagreement.
Worried about how President Jonathan’s public rejection of an idea that the delegation of the Nigerian federal government had both been open to and to which they agreed on record, at the Nigeria-US Binational meeting last month in US, American sources say Jonathan’s statement may strain the otherwise vibrant US-Nigeria relationship.
They also point to the warning of the head of the US delegation at the communique signing ceremony, where both US and Nigeria agreed to public asset declaration.
According to Deputy Secretary Burns, “I have been at this for a long time, and so have many of you. We know that relationships like these -referring to the Binational Commission-do not grow themselves. They don’t maintain themselves either. They demand commitment, patience and sustained effort.”
Continuing Burns said “managing big and important relationships like ours is a little like riding a bike; if you don’t keep pedaling forward, you’re likely to fall over.”
Empowered Newswire learnt that during the BNC review sessions, specifically the Governance, Transparency and Integrity working group, the top US official at the closed door session, Under Secretary Maria Otero first commended the federal government for passing the Freedom of Information Act, FOI, which the US official believes has the potential of expanding the boundaries of transparency in the country.
Otero then reportedly explained to the Nigerian delegation why the asset declaration of elected and senior public officials should not just be disclosed in files tucked away in the coffers of a government agency without access to the public.
Equally, Otero who represented the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at that particular session of the BNC meetings added that the federal government should also get into the habit of publishing audited reports of its accounts in order to inspire public confidence.
On the same note, the US delegation led by Otero at the session, according to authoritative sources requested that Nigeria should join the Open Government Partnership, OGP, a forum of about 55 countries in the world determined to promote open governance and a culture of accountability around the world.
To join that forum however, she said Nigeria would need to ensure that assets declaration by senior public officials and elected officials have to be in place.
According to US officials and OGP public records, the OGP is an international initiative aimed at securing concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, increase civic participation, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to make government more open, effective, and accountable.
At the same Transparency, Governance and Integrity working group of the BNC, the US government officials also explained why the federal government must ensure that the report of the House of Representatives on the Fuel Subsidy scandal must not be swept under the carpet.