Nigerian Agency Denies Access to Official Asset Forms

1 July 2015

The Nigerian Code of Conduct Bureau has turned down a freedom of information request for the asset declaration forms of both President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, citing “personal privacy.”

The declarations were sought by civil society organizations Stop Impunity Nigeria (SIN) and Centre for Social Justice (CENSOJ).

The Bureau also argued that the National Assembly has yet to prescribe the terms and conditions which make for availability of information on assets of public officers and that such information was excluded from the items covered under the FOIA.

The position of the Bureau “is untenable,” responded Eze Onyekpere, Lead Director of the Centre for Social Justice, in a Punch article. He said further:

These are the officials and standard arguments of the Bureau that seek to be clever by half measure. If the constitution states that the National Assembly should prescribe the terms and conditions for publicising asset declarations, it is our humble view that by enacting the Freedom of Information Act in 2011, the parliament satisfied that requirement. The position that the declarations contain personal information makes no sense since there is also a provision in the FoIA to the effect that even personal or proprietary information can be made public if it is in the public interest so to do. Pray, what more can be in the public interest than Nigerians knowing the worth of their President and Vice-President as they assume office from an anti-corruption stance? Even the FoIA contains a provision that the information in the custody of a public body which contains proprietary and personal information can be made public once the individual to whom it relates gives his consent. Again, what are Buhari and Osinbajo waiting for?

The Bureau letter said, “Assets declarations by public officers contain such personal information which falls within the exemptions to the disclosure of information in the FOIA.” It also stated: “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 president and vice president had promised to provide the information, wrote the Centre for Social Justice, stating: “Instead of making the declarations public as promised, there was deafening silence and when Nigerians demanded that the President should fulfil his promise, we were told that we had to await the verification of the assets which could take so many months. This idea that we have to await the verification seems to be an unnecessary shift of the goal post after a goal has been scored.”

Another CSO, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), issued a statement saying the assets declaration by Buhari and Osinbajo to the CCB without making public the details was incongruous with the precedence set in 2007 when the then President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua made public details of his assets, according to TV360 report.

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