A lawyer and public affairs analyst, Liborous Oshoma, has shredded the excuses Peter Obi gave for non-declaration of some of his assets before and after he left office as Anambra State governor.
Obi had denied any wrongdoing while reacting to his indictment in the Pandora Papers investigation, where he was accused of “serially” violating Nigerian laws by failing to fully declare his companies and assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) when he became governor in 2006.
The former governor, according to the cross-border investigative project led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), secreted some businesses and assets in the British Virgin Islands while he was Anambra governor.
THE WHISTLER reported that Obi had while appearing on Arise TV on Monday, explained why he didn’t declare some of the assets traced to him.
The former governor had explained that he was hurriedly sworn in to office and as such declared only what he “could remember”.
He also argued that once he had declared his interest in a company, he needed not declare assets owned by that company because “It would amount to double declaration.”
But Liborous Oshoma, the head attorney at the Liborous Oshoma Chambers, while appearing on Arise TV’s ‘The Morning’ show on Tuesday, said the excuses Obi gave for non-declaration of some of his assets do not hold water.
Oshoma noted that the essence of declaring assets to the Code of Conduct is “to understand if public officials have corruptly enriched themselves using the instrumentality of the office.”
In an instance, Obi argued that trust companies are “legitimate” and “allowed by law everywhere” and that in he and his family’s case, Next International Limited (UK) was “done on very valuable advice of our then bankers, Lloyds TSB” before became governor.
But Oshoma said, “A public officer who does an act prohibited by this code through a nominee, a trustee or other agents shall be deemed to have committed a breach of this conduct”
“So, it has nothing to do with whether it was a nominee or an agent, provided the ultimate beneficiary is that public officer,” he said, adding that “the essence mainly is declaration and once these assets are declared, and the tribunal has the opportunity of fact-checking them, no offence has been committed.”
“It is not a crime to have [offshore assets]. It is noted even in the pandora papers [that] it is not a crime to have trust companies. In some cases, even in Nigeria, people set up trust companies or probate purposes to manage trust assets even for infants.
“But the moment you become a public officer, the law requires [that you declare them].”
ASSETS OWNED BY WIFE, CHILDREN
Also, Obi had during the interview argued that he only declared assets that belonged to him alone and not those belonging to his wife or offspring.
Responding, however, the lawyer said: “If you look at the form itself, it has provisions for agents, nominees, trustees, wives and children who are below 18 years. And so, there are no exemptions [and] there are no provisos to exempt anybody [regardless of] maybe you were hurriedly sworn into office”
On the allegation that he failed to resign as director in his companies, Obi said that he had phoned all eleven companies where he was chairman/director to inform them of his resignation after he was hurriedly sworn in as Anambra governor.
But Oshoma noted that section 306, subsection 2 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that, “…resignation of any person from any office established by this Constitution shall take effect when the writing signifying the resignation is received by the authority or persons to whom it is addressed or by any person or authority to receive it.
“So, it does not talk about resignation by phone. This the benchmark for resignation as far as definition of resignation for public officers whether from private or public companies is concerned. So, it does talk about resignation by phone or I called somebody to inform the person that I’m resigning.”
DECLARATION OF SHARES
While Obi had contended that declaring his interests in every company he has interest in may “amount to double declaration,” the lawyer said:
“On the issue of having shares in a company that owns shares in another company. Once the shares are declared, even if it is one or half percent of your shares that is still existing in that other foreign company, it must be declared.”