Monday, April 12, 2021

It’s illegal to release asset declaration of public officeholders: CCB

The Bureau’s current stand negates its 2019 move that led to the removal of former Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter Onnoghen.

• April 6, 2021
Code of Conduct Bureau chairman Mohammed Isa. [PHOTO CREDIT: Facebook page of Mr Isa]
Code of Conduct Bureau chairman Mohammed Isa. [PHOTO CREDIT: Facebook page of Mr Isa]

The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) says it is illegal to release asset declarations of public officeholders.

This is despite the provisions of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act of 2011 that mandates public offices like the CBB to make records and other vital information of public interest freely available to the public.

The Act was enacted by the Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2011, to further deepen Nigeria’s democracy.

The act places access to vital information held by public authorities as a fundamental element of the right to freedom of expression as provided under Section 39 of the Constitution.

In a series of letters obtained by Peoples Gazette, the Code of Conduct Bureau, while acknowledging that the FOI act guarantees the right of a person to information, argued that the request for asset declaration of public office holders constitute an invasion of privacy which is against the provision of the act.

The Bureau’s current stand negates its 2019 move that led to the removal of former Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter Onnoghen who was sacked over false asset declaration.

The CCB in 2019 did not consider the privacy of the former CJN before expeditiously providing his asset declaration data to Anti Corruption and Research Base Data Initiatives, the body which filed the petition that led to Mr Onnoghen’s removal.

While the FOI had given room for free access to public information, government offices like the CCB have habitually frustrated the efforts of well-meaning Nigerians to gain access to needed information.

Dated March 30, 2021, the letters signed by Munirah Elabor on behalf the chairman of CCB refused to honour the request by anti-corruption campaigner Deji Adeyanju who asked for access to the asset declaration documents of Delta Senator James Manager, NDDC interim administrator Effiong Okon Akwa and Hamza Ibrahim Jamo.

CCB Document
CCB Document 2

“It is conceded that section 1 (1) 3 and 4 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2011 guarantees the right of a person to access or request information whether or not in written form, in custody of any public agency.

“Conversely, by virtue of section 12 (1)(a)(v), 14(1)(b) and 15(1)(a) of the same act, the bureau is not under any obligation to grant any request which constitutes invasion of personal privacy. Asset declarations by public office officers contain such personal information which falls within the exemption of the disclosure of information in the FOIA,” the letter by CCB read.

Further making reference to paragraph 3 (c) of the third schedule of the 1999 constitution, the Bureau agreed it has been mandated to make asset declaration of public holders available for public inspection but claimed that the National Assembly had not prescribed terms and conditions under which that could be done.

Prior to the FOIA of 2011, vital information useful to the public had been seemingly difficult to access.

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