As a candidate for the Nigerian presidency, President Muhammadu Buhari ran on an anti-corruption platform, vowing to usher in an era of transparency and accountability.
Now, in a gesture of goodwill, he has made a public declaration of his personal assets, which show he has been living “an austere and Spartan lifestyle,” his spokesman Garba Shehu said.
Buhari has only $150,000 in his personal account, a significantly lesser amount than what many might expect of one who has held a number of top government positions, an official said Thursday.
The president owns a total of five homes and two mud houses in Daura (Katsina state), Shehu said. In addition to the houses, he has farms, an orchard, and a ranch with 270 heads of cattle, 25 sheep, five horses, and a variety of birds, he said.
In his acceptance speech after being elected president in March, Buhari said that Nigeria’s corruption problem “attacks our national character” and “distorts the economy.”
“Corruption will not be tolerated by this administration, and it shall no longer be allowed to stand as if it is a respected monument in this nation,” he declared.
At the time, economist Bismarck Rewane suggested that Buhari’s aggressive anticorruption stance was critical in a country with, as a World Bank paper put it, a “deeply embedded culture of corruption.” With the new president’s emphasis on “accountability, integrity and transparency,” Rewane said, the “missing piece in the Nigerian economy” would be filled in.
While disclosure of personal assets won’t do much to overturn Nigeria’s widespread corruption, its value as a symbolic gesture may well go beyond immediate results.
“The declaration represents a step in the right direction as per international standards and best practices,” said Sylvester Atere, of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Nigeria. “Hence, it helps to build confidence and public trust.”
Some suggest that Buhari’s disclosure could make other politicians uncomfortable as they wonder how they will look when compared to a president who has even declared his mud huts and livestock.
Buhari’s anti-corruption efforts have not been limited to symbolic gestures.
The president has already initiated programs to halt the systematic looting of Nigeria. He has implemented reforms in the country’s state-owned oil company, NNPC, introduced financial investigations of public officials and promised that those who are accused of stealing billions of dollars under the Goodluck Jonathan administration will be prosecuted in the coming months.
He has also inaugurated a campaign to recover some of the country’s stolen wealth, most of which has been transferred to western banks, and has obtained assurances of cooperation from the U.S. and the U.K., among others.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan, who lost to Buhari in the March 28 vote, declined to publicly declare his wealth as president and was sharply criticized for it.
So far, Nigerians seem to be reacting favorably to Buhari’s personal disclosure, as well as his anti-corruption initiatives, which have garnered a 95 perent approval rating. Expectations are high, and time will tell whether he can continue to deliver.
When Goodluck Jonathan was asked to declare his assets, his respond was: “I don’t give a damn.” Today, we have a President who gives a damn.
— Mr El-Bonga™ (@el_bonga) September 3, 2015
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.