'Spartan lifestyle' for Nigeria's anti-graft president

Ola Awoniyi
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President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari walks down the steps of his aircraft following his arrival at the airport in Yaounde on July 29, 2015

President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari walks down the steps of his aircraft following his arrival at the airport in Yaounde on July 29, 2015 (AFP Photo/Reinnier Kaze)

ABUJA (AFP) - Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who won office pledging to fight the country's outrageous graft habit, claims to have no foreign accounts or oil concessions and only $151,000 at a local bank.

The 72-year-old military man who campaigned pledging to recover "mind-boggling" sums of stolen oil money enjoys "a spartan lifestyle", his spokesman said in a statement listing his assets late Thursday.

With five houses, several farms, varied livestock and "a number of cars", Buhari unquestionably is better-off than the average Nigerian.

But the new head of state is not as well-heeled as his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, according to the statement.

Buhari, who took office May 29, marks 100 days in office on Saturday, and Nigerian law stipulates that the president and his deputy declare their assets with the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) within 100 days of taking office.

Though a former military head of state, an ex-military governor and ex-oil minister -- meaning he had ample opportunity in corrupt Nigeria to amass a fortune -- Buhari had less than 30 million naira ($151,000, 136,000 euros) in his sole bank account as of May 29, spokesman Garba Shehu said in the statement.

- 'Contrary to expectations' -

At the same date he had shares in three firms, a paint manufacturing company and two commercial banks, and five houses in Abuja and the northern cities of Kano, Kaduna and Daura, his hometown, the statement said.

He had farms, an orchard, a ranch, scores of cattle, 25 sheep and "a number of cars", some of which were gifts, it added.

Documents submitted by Buhari to the CCB "show that the retired general has indeed been living an austere and spartan lifestyle, contrary to what many might expect of a former head of state of Nigeria and one who has held a number of top government positions," Shehu said.

Buhari has made transparency and the fight against corruption cardinal policies of his administration.

In particular he came out against oil sector fraud and the non-payment of federal revenues into government coffers since 2011, though the country is Africa's top oil producer.

Showing from the start he was serious about ending graft, he sacked the entire board of state oil company NNPC, notorious for mismanagement and rampant theft, and installed a Harvard-educated lawyer to spearhead reforms as new managing director.

- 'People will see for themselves' -

The financial dealings of some officials who served under Buhari's predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, are being investigated.

The assets statement showed that his deputy, Osinbajo, who was a successful lawyer before going into politics, had about 94 million naira ($473,000, 425,000 euros) in his local bank accounts, $900,000 and 19,000 pounds ($29,000) in other bank accounts and three cars.

A former Lagos attorney general, the pentecostal pastor owned four houses, including a two-bedroom mortgage property in Bedford, England. He also had shares in six private firms, including telecommunications giant MTN Nigeria, it said.

The documents are being vetted by the CCB, the state agency mandated by the constitution to receive asset declarations of top functionaries and verify them.

"As soon as the CCB is through with the process, the documents will be released to the Nigerian public and people can see for themselves," Shehu said.

A human rights and anti-corruption body in Nigeria, commended Buhari and his deputy for making public his assets.

Their publication of asset declarations "turns the page on transparency and accountability in Nigeria," Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) said in a statement.

"Nigerians will now be able to use the assets published as a baseline and thus a means for comparison at the end of the term of this government," it added.