The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) has told a Federal High Court in Lagos that it cannot make public details of assets declaration of all presidents and governors since 1999 without the owners’ consent.
The CCB told Justice Muslim Hassan that it was unlawful to do so without permission, because the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) on the release of assets declaration forms conflict with the 1999 Constitution.
It said the officials had not consented to the disclosure of their assets declaration forms.
The bureau prayed the judge to turn down the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project’s (SERAP’s) application seeking the right to obtain such information.
The CCB stated this in its October 14 counter-affidavit opposing SERAP’s suit. It was filed on its behalf by its counsel, Musa Ibrahim Usman and Fatima Danjuma Ali.
Justice Hassan, on October 3, granted SERAP leave to file an application for an order to compel the bureau to release the assets declaration forms of current and past public officeholders.
But the CCB described the section of the FoI enabling the release of assets declaration forms as an “open confrontation with the constitution of Nigeria and therefore void”.
It said SERAP failed to show that it had sufficient legal interest in the matter.
A Senior Administrative Officer with the CCB, Ellis Adebayo, who deposed to the counter-affidavit to SERAP’s suit, said she was informed by the bureau’s lawyer, Musa Ibrahim, that the law did not permit the CCB to supply SERAP with the information in President Buhari and Vice-President Osinbajo’s assets declaration forms.
Adebayo said: “The assets declaration forms of the Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Senate President, Speakers of the House of Representatives, state governors and deputy governors since the return of democracy in 1999 to 2019 are in the custody of the CCB. But the public officials have not consented to the disclosure of their asset declarations forms. The CCB is not obligated to submit assets declaration forms to any person.”
“The forms are not publicly available. SERAP has not shown that it is in the public interest to disclose the information nor that such public interest overweighs the protection of the privacy of the Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Senate Presidents, Speakers of the House of Representatives, state governors and deputy governors since 1999 to 2019.”
“Asset declaration forms contain personal information about President and Ministers contain personal information about them and their properties, assets and liabilities and those of their wives/husbands and their children who are under the age of 18 years.
“The power of the CCB to refer suspects to the Code of Conduct Tribunal is discretionary and the courts are circumspect in granting mandamus in respect of discretionary powers and in the circumstances of the case SERAP has an alternative and effective legal remedy. This renders SERAP’s case incompetent.
“SERAP ought to have asked the CCB to investigate allegations of non-compliance with the Code of Conduct and where appropriate refer the matter to the Tribunal for prosecution.”
“Asset declaration forms are special documents that have been exempted by section 14 of the Freedom of Information Act. CCB can only make the forms available on the terms and conditions to be prescribed by the National Assembly. Those terms and conditions are yet to be prescribed.”