Conduct Bureau Declines CSOs’ Application To Make Buhari’s Assets Public
The Bureau insisted that it would not make the information available because the National Assembly has not prescribed the terms and conditions under which information about the assets of public functionaries would be made available on request.
In a letter to the Stop Impunity Nigeria (SIN) and the Centre for Social Justice (CENSOJ), the Bureau also noted that such information was excluded from those covered under the Freedom of Information Act.
The letter was addressed to Mr. Eze Onyekpere and entitled, “Re: Application Pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 for copies of the Assets Declaration Forms submitted by President Muhammad Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.”
Ijeanuli Arinze Ofor who signed the letter on behalf of the Chairman of CCB, said: “It is conceded that Sections 1 (1), 3 and 4 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2011 guarantees the right of a person to access or request information whether or not in written form, in the custody of any public agency.
“Conversely, by virtue of Sections 12 (1) (a) (V), 14 (1) (b) and 15 (1)(a) of the same Act, the Code of Conduct Bureau has power to decline a request, which constitutes invasion of personal privacy.
“Assets declarations by public officers contain such personal information which falls within the exemptions to the disclosure of information in the FOIA.”
The letter, made available to journalists in Abuja, went on: “Furthermore, paragraph 3 (c) of the third schedule, Part 1 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, provides that the Code of Conduct Bureau shall make assets declarations of public officers available for inspection by any citizen of Nigeria only on terms and conditions prescribed by the National Assembly.
“However, the terms and conditions under which that can be done have not yet been prescribed by the National Assembly. In view of the aforementioned, the Bureau hereby declines your request.”
The Presidency had announced recently that Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had declared their assets at the CCB, leading to a public outcry for the details to be made public.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) said it was not enough for Buhari and Osinbajo to declare their assets to the CCB without making public the details as it was in 2007 when the then President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua made public details of his assets.
SERAP said doing so would give the needed bite to the anti-corruption stance of the new administration and truly give Nigerians hope of a “not-business-as-usual’ situation.
Its Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said: “We welcome the official declaration of assets by the President and Vice President. This clearly complies with the requirements of the Nigerian Constitution as contained in Chapter VI Section 140.
“However, the declaration before the Code of Conduct Bureau alone falls far short of the commitment to publicly declare their assets.”
SERAP asked Buhari and Osinbajo to “swiftly move to declare their assets publicly, consistent with their apparent anti-corruption credentials and their expressed commitments to do so and in the best interest of transparency and accountability.”
Mumuni added: “SERAP recalls that the President had said before the election that he would publicly declare his assets and liabilities and encourage all his appointees to publicly declare their assets and liabilities as a pre-condition for appointment. We now expect the President to fulfill this promise to the Nigerian people.”
He urged them to publish the information on a dedicated website, noting: “Public disclosure of assets will give the general public a true picture of the assets of the President and Vice President and will send a powerful message that it is not going to be business as usual with this government.
“This will also follow the best practice by Yar’Adua, boost this government’s fight against corruption and impunity of perpetrators and fully comply with the provisions of chapter two dealing with Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, which among others require the government to take steps to eradicate corrupt practices and the abuse of power.
“We believe that public disclosure of assets is crucial for ensuring that public officials’ personal interests including that of the President and Vice President as the leaders of the nation, do not conflict with their duties and responsibilities.
“Public disclosure also helps to provide a baseline and thus means for comparison to identify assets that may have been corruptly acquired and that a public official may legitimately be asked to account for.
“We also urge the President to urgently take measures to seek amendment of the law relating to declaration of assets to include the requirement of public disclosure so as to bring it in line with international standards and best practices such as the United Nations (UN) Convention against Corruption.”