SIR: Asset declaration is a powerful tool used to prevent corruption, illicit enrichment and conflict of interests. Asset declaration is under the mandate of the Code of Conduct Bureau, an anti-corruption agency established by Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution. Currently, most countries of the world (including Nigeria) have introduced asset declaration requirements for their public officials. However, the process of asset declaration in Nigeria is still manual and done with pieces of papers. In the 21st century where everything is digital, there is no acceptable justification for Nigeria’s asset declaration framework to be analog. The time to unfailingly digitalize our asset declaration system and make it online is now.
An online asset declaration system will simplify the asset declaration process. It will make filling and submission of the asset declaration form to be very easy. The online system will facilitate comprehensive compilation of declarants and automated sending out of notices and reminders. It will promote verification and comparison of information with data from other datasets. The online system will make the declarations searchable by name, position, agency or any other criteria. It will ensure public access of the declarations, easy review and examination of the declarations, and consequently promote transparency and accountability of the asset declaration process.
The online asset declaration system will be easily usable like internet banking applications and will deploy passwords combined with specific phone numbers and email addresses for ease of communication. In order to promote patronage and user friendliness, use of the online system will be at no cost to the declarant.
Asset declaration is a constitutional requirement; hence the introduction of the online asset declaration system will make it easy for the target Nigerians to obey the law. An online asset declaration system will save logistic and transportation costs of approaching the office of the Code of Conduct Bureau to collect or return filled forms. Corrections and rectifications to the filled forms will also be done online and consequently save costs. In order to promote ease of use and efficiency of the process, the Code of Conduct Bureau will need to train declarants, provide guides, fliers and answers to ‘frequently asked questions’. An online asset declaration system will make it easier for the Code of Conduct Bureau to manage the process of asset declaration. With staff strength of less than 1,000 and an average annual budget of ?3.6 billion in the last six years, it is an impossible task for the Code of Conduct Bureau to effectively demand, receive, verify and process the declarations of millions of Nigerians, as well as activate enforcement mechanisms where necessary.
Currently, the asset declaration system is manual, with shelves, racks, files and file cabinets, and strong rooms. Actually, massive warehouses will be needed to properly arrange millions of documents in shelves and racks and ensure easy access to the documents when needed. Fumigation will also be needed to keep rats, cockroaches and other insects away from the pile of documents. The online asset declaration system will promote institutional memory as documents will still be intact even if strategic personnel leave the office. It will automate and digitalize the process, and ensure that little or no time is wasted in searching for archived documents. The online system will promote quality control by ensuring that submission may not be possible if certain columns of the asset declaration form has not been properly filled. Inconsistencies and unjustified variations will be easily detected. The relevant columns will be red flagged and the attention of the declarant drawn to it.
However, there would be a transition period for the asset declaration process to move from manual to online system. During the transition period, both systems of asset declaration will be deployed until a time when Nigeria is ready to fully move to the online system. The transition period will be based on internet access, capacity for information technology and other variables. This period will be used to identify and rectify any system, software or data security challenge. Strategic declarants may be targeted and compulsorily used to test the online declaration system. Since asset declaration is a constitutional mandate of the Code of Conduct Bureau and there is no law against online asset declaration, Nigeria should embrace the global trend and make her asset declaration system online.
Martins Eke, Centre for Social Justice, Abuja.