Onnoghen: A Learned Defence of Justice

By Olasupo Aremu

I just want to point out a few matters in relation to alleged false declarations and statements by Public Officers.

The Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution which provides for the Code of Conduct for Public Officers has two relevant paragraphs.

(a) Paragraph 3 prohibits a Public Officer from operating an account outside the Country. It does not prohibit operating an account in foreign currency in Nigeria. Accordingly there is nothing wrong with opening and operating a domicillary account.

(b) Paragraph 11 mandates a Public Officer to declare all his properties, assets and liabilities every 4 years and at the end of his tenure – 11(1).
Paragraph 11(2) provides that any statement in the declaration found to be false by any authority or person authorised to verify the statement or declaration shall be deemed a breach of the Code.

Leaving aside for a moment the fact that it is only an authority or person authorised to verify the statement or declaration that can find it to be false, the question is what really amounts to a false declaration in respect of assets like bank accounts.

My considered view is that the asset that needs to be declared is the bank account and not the money in it, simply because the nature of bank accounts is that they fall or grow depending on the spending pattern of the account holder. Since the mandatory Constitutional provision is to make a declaration every 4 years, it is not every time you put money in an account that you must declare it. You are only required to declare every 4 years.

Equally importantly, since it is the existence of the bank account that must be declared, a declaration of one bank account in Nigeria, which is BVN linked, is a declaration of all the other bank accounts. This is because by virtue of BVN, any bank account that you have is automatically disclosed whenever you disclose even one of those accounts. Since it is the asset that you are required to disclose, and not the contents, the amount in the other accounts is irrelevant. In any event, by disclosing the account through BVN you have disclosed the contents of the account. Note that an authority and authorised person is required to verify the declaration before it can be said to be false, and part of the verification process will require that person to check all BVN linked accounts.

Also, one may argue that the CJN was not obliged to make a new declaration upon attaining the office of Chief Justice because he remains a Justice of the Supreme Court and is only primus inter pares. Even if I am wrong, and that is for the Courts to interpret, he was certainly not required to make a declaration on being appointed as acting CJN because paragraph 11(1) requires a declaration only after” taking office”. He does not take the office of CJN when he is in an acting position, he is till in his substantive position of Supreme Court Justice and is required to make a declaration only every 4 years.

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