Human rights group the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has condemned the decision of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to deny its request demanding specific details of assets declaration submitted to it by successive Presidents and State Governors since 1999.
The Bureau reportedly based its denial on the argument that releasing such information would amount to an invasion of privacy of Presidents and state Governors since an asset declaration form is private information.
SERAPs Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, insisted in a statement that the denial for a Freedom of Information is contrary to the fact that Presidents and Governors are public officers and a breach of settled constitutional and international principles.
Freedom of Information is a fundamental right. The contents of asset declarations by successive presidents and state governors do not amount to private information, as presidents and governors are public officers under part II, fifth schedule to the 1999 constitution.
Following the denial, the group has threatened to challenge the decision by the CCB in court.
Declarations of assets are constitutional commitments imposed only on public officers, and made by virtue of occupying entrusted public positions and offices. Therefore, details provided in any such asset declaration forms are public information, and not private information.
Also, the National Assembly, having been constitutionally vested with power by paragraph 3[c], Third Schedule to the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, to make laws on this subject matter, has since prescribed the mode for inspection of asset declarations by the passage of Freedom of Information Act in 2011.
That’s why we’re going to court to challenge the decision by the CCB denying our FOI request, and refusing to provide details of asset declarations by presidents and state governors since the return of democracy in 1999. Make no mistake: The CCBs refusal to disclose these details is a breach of settled constitutional and international principles, plain and simple, SERAP added.
CCB in a letter by its Chairman Dr. Muhammed Isah, stated that: Paragraph 3(c) of the 3rd Schedule to the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) empowers the Bureau to retain custody of asset declaration and make them available for inspection by any citizen on such terms and conditions to be prescribed by the National Assembly. These terms and conditions are yet to be prescribed.
Assuming the Freedom of Information Act is the term and condition, Sections 12(1) (v) and 14(1) (b) of the Act makes information in the asset declaration form private and producing such information would be an invasion of privacy of presidents and governors. Section 14(2)(3) of the same Act stipulate conditions for granting requests for private information but these have not been met by SERAPs application.
Consequently, I am further directed to convey to you that the request in SERAPs application for information on details of asset declarations by presidents and state governors since the return of democracy in 1999 is hereby denied on the grounds that it falls short of the requirement of the law. Please accept the assurances of the highest esteem of the Chairman CCB.