Friday, 25 September 2015

Fear Of Arrest: As Politicians begun to lobby the Code of Conduct

Fear Of Arrest: Politicians Lobby CCB To Rectify Declaration Forms

    There are indications that politicians in the country have begun to lobby the Code of Conduct Bureau in a bid to amend some of the information in the asset declaration forms that they had earlier submitted.

    Saturday PUNCH learnt that the development is because of fear of arrest as this is coming in the light of the ongoing trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal over alleged false declaration of assets.

    Investigation by Saturday PUNCH showed that state CCB offices have become busier following Saraki’s ordeal at the CCT, but sources told our correspondents that it was too late for politicians to change the information they had earlier given to the bureau.

    For instance, sources in the CCB office in Delta State disclosed that some politicians, including senators and members of the House of Representatives, have been lobbying officials of the bureau to grant them permission to amend the asset declaration forms they had submitted.

    According to the source, politicians in the state had until now taken the exercise for granted, believing that they could never be prosecuted over it.

    The source said that President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption stance and the trial of Saraki at the CCT seemed to have jolted the politicians.

    Confirming that politicians have begun lobbying CCB officials, the source, who did not want to be named, added that officials of the bureau have recently had to take their security more seriously as a result of the fresh attention drawn to it by Saraki’s prosecution.

    The source said, “The Saraki trial has caused politicians to become jittery. They have been gripped by fear of arrest because of the recent political events and some of them have been secretly visiting our offices to lobby some of us. They include senators and members of the House of Representatives.

    “Some of the politicians that have been coming are highly placed. Before now, they took everything for granted, knowing that they are in the same party with the government at the centre. With the recent developments, many of them are now rushing to amend the information given on their asset declaration forms.

    “They say there might be errors in their forms and that they are willing to make the necessary adjustments.”

    Our correspondents also learnt that politicians in Ondo State have been approaching officials of CCB to assist them in amending the forms they had submitted to the bureau.

    One of the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, informed one of our correspondents that some politicians in the state, who were believed to have lied about their assets in the disclosure forms, have been pleading with officials of the bureau to allow them to review their information.

    He said, “Some of them have been coming to us to amend some information on their forms, but there is nothing we can do about their request, because the forms had already been forwarded to Abuja and there is no way we can retrieve them again, at least from our own end here. I don’t know of any other means.”

    The source, however, denied that officials of the bureau have been conniving with politicians to cover up for those who declared false assets, saying, “That is criminal, everybody is now very careful. This is an era of change and nobody wants to play with his job again.”

    But a source at the CCB office in Enugu admitted to one of our correspondents that politicians sometimes want to review information they submitted in their forms, attributing it to their ignorance.

    He said nobody is allowed to review information already put in such asset declaration forms.

    He, however, regretted the possibility of some officials of the bureau conniving with politicians to make illegal amendments in the forms.

    “Anything is possible,” he said, adding that “It is also possible that some staff of the bureau would conspire with politicians” to rectify completed assets declaration forms.

    In the same vein, he revealed that, most times, officials of the CCB assist politicians in filling their asset declaration forms.

    He said the CCB usually works with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, disclosing that the bureau recently aided the anti-graft agency by making the asset declaration form of a former governor of the state available for corruption charges.

    The official said, “The CCB is usually involved in the investigation of corruption cases, particularly those involving elected public office holders.

    “I know for a fact that when the EFCC brought charges against a former governor of this state (Enugu), we made input in the investigation because the assets declared at the beginning of the tenure were taken into consideration before the case was filed.”

    In Rivers State, an official of the CCB, who did not want to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the issue, however, described efforts by politicians to lobby the bureau’s officials as a waste of time.

    The source also told Saturday PUNCH that once asset declaration forms were filled and submitted by politicians, it would be criminal for any official of the CCB to allow an amendment to the document.

    Explaining that the filled forms were always sent to the CCB headquarters in Abuja after submission by politicians, the official insisted that such forms would not be returned even if they were still in the state.

    The source said, “We have their (politicians) slips and completed forms, which have already been sent to the CCB in Abuja. Since the politicians had already sworn to oaths that whatever they filled in the forms as their assets is correct, they cannot come for amendments.

    “It (amending or altering asset declaration) is not right; it is not possible and it is a criminal offence. It is not possible for any of us here to be involved in anything like that.”

    The Ekiti State Director, CCB, Mr. Akinfolarin Feyisola, said there has been no lobbying of officials of the bureau by politicians in the state, adding that any official found wanting would be prosecuted.

    He said, “We don’t have such cases here. The state office does not have the power to investigate and verify assets declared by anyone, except with the authorisation of the Federal Commissioner.”

    A source at the CCB office in Osogbo told one of our correspondents on Friday that asset declaration forms filled by political office holders in Osun State had since been submitted to Abuja.

    He said there was no way any politician could return to the state office to ‘rectify’ any falsehood in the asset declaration forms already submitted to them.

    The State Director of the CCB in Akwa Ibom, Mr. Ime Obot, disclosed that when public officials in the state declare their assets, his office lacks the power to work on the contents or even view them.

    According to him, as soon as a public official declares his assets in the form, which is enclosed in a sealed envelope, the agency’s duty in Uyo is to forward same to its headquarters in Abuja for further actions.

    On politicians lobbying some workers of the agency to manipulate the contents of the documents in their favour, Obot said such situation does not exist in the state since his office does not have power over asset declaration.

    Meanwhile, the Chairman, Code of Conduct Bureau, Sam Saba, said he was not aware that politicians had started lobbying officials of the agency to rectify their asset declaration forms.

    He said this in a text message in response to inquiries made by our correspondent in Osogbo on Friday.

    Saba said, “As a matter of fact, verification of assets and liabilities of governors, lawmakers and others is a shared responsibility between the headquarters and state offices.

    “Teams to verify are drawn up at the headquarters including staff from respective states. The teams are headed by Federal Commissioners on a zonal arrangement.

    “I am not aware that politicians have been lobbying officials of the CCB to block loopholes in the forms filled that are already in its custody. Such requests have not reached our Abuja office.”