The Code of Conduct Bureau has rejected a Freedom of Information request by an anti-corruption group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, demanding specific details of asset declarations submitted to it by presidents and state governors since 1999.
This refusal, the CCB argued, was on the grounds that producing such information would amount to invasion of the privacy of presidents and governors.
The denial followed an FoI request by SERAP in April addressed to the Chairman of the CCB, Dr Muhammed Isah, urging him to provide information on asset declarations by presidents and state governors between 1999 and 2019.
SERAP also wanted the CCB to provide it with the details of declarations made immediately after taking offices and thereafter, and for those who had left public offices, at the end of their terms.
The anti-corruption group in a statement signed by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, said the CCB in a letter signed by its chairman and received by the group, noted that paragraph 3(c) of the 3rd schedule to the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) empowered the bureau to retain custody of assets declaration.
Oluwadare added that the CCB could only make them available for inspection by any citizen on such terms and conditions to be prescribed by the National Assembly.
He noted that these terms and conditions had yet to be prescribed.
The letter with reference number CCB/HQ/LU/047/59 read in part, “Section 12(1)(a)(4)(a)(b) exempt production of information relating to investigation for the purposes of law enforcement and such investigation must have been carried out pursuant to an act or regulation. Verification is an investigation carried out pursuant to the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act for the purposes of law enforcement.
“Referring breaches of the Code of Conduct for public officers to the Code of Conduct Tribunal for prosecution is a matter of discretion of the bureau and not a matter of FoI.
“Assuming the Freedom of Information Act is the term and condition, sections 12(1)(v) and 14(1)(b) of the Act make 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 stipulates conditions for granting requests for private information but these have not been met by SERAP’s application.
“Consequently, I am further directed to convey to you that the request in SERAP’s 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 of the CCB.”
Reacting to the denial of the FOI, Oluwadare, said, “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.
“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.”
Oluwadare said the group would be challenging the CCB’s denial of the FoI request in court, adding that the CCB’s refusal to disclose these details was a breach of settled constitutional and international principles.