The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit in the Federal High Court, Lagos against the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) over the CCB’s claim that it could not disclose details of asset declarations submitted to it by successive presidents and state governors since 1999 because doing so “would offend the right to privacy of presidents and state governors.”
The CCB had last week refused a Freedom of Information request by SERAP, stating that: “Asset declaration form is private information.”
But in the suit filed last Friday, SERAP argued that “Asset declarations of presidents and state governors submitted to the CCB are public documents.
“Public interest in disclosure of the details of asset declarations sought by SERAP clearly outweighs any claim of protection of the privacy of presidents and state governors, as they are public officers entrusted with the duty to manage public funds, among other public functions.”
SERAP is seeking for an order of mandamus compelling the CCB to make available to it, the information on asset declarations submitted to the CCB by successive Presidents, Vice Presidents, Senate Presidents, Speakers of House of Representatives, State Governors and Deputy Governors from 1999 to 2019 and to publish widely including on a dedicated website, any such information.
It is also praying for an order compelling the CCB to immediately take cases of false asset declarations to the CCT for effective prosecution of suspects, and include banning the politicians involved from holding public offices for at least a period of 10 years and seeking refund of stolen public funds as part of the reliefs to be sought before the Tribunal.
According to SERAP, “A necessary implication of the rule of law is that a public institution like the CCB can only act in accordance with the law, as to do otherwise may enthrone arbitrariness.
“The CCB does not have reasonable grounds on which to deny SERAP’s FOI request, as it is in the interest of justice, the Nigerian public, transparency and accountability to publish details of asset declarations by presidents and state governors since the return of democracy in 1999.”
SERAP also said that disclosing details of asset declarations of public officers such as presidents and state governors would improve public trust in the ability of the CCB to effectively discharge its mandate. Adding that this would in turn put pressure on public officers like presidents and state governors to make voluntary public declaration of their assets.
The suit was filed by SERAP counsel, Adelanke Aremo.
Persistent refusal by successive presidents and state governors to make public their asset declarations, according to SERAP, is entirely inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the 1999 Constitution, and has been particularly harmful to the country and its people, especially given the widespread evidence of grand corruption among politicians holding public offices in Nigeria.
SERAP said that Sections 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 20 and 31 of the FOI Act are clear and unambiguous, stating a clear intention to make public information such as details of asset declarations by presidents and state governors more freely available to the members of the public and a clear obligation on the part of public institutions to proactively keep proper records in a manner that facilitates public access to such information or record.