THE Code of Conduct of Bureau (CCB) has refused to release copies of asset declaration forms of all cabinet members of the Buhari-led administration, thereby, flouting the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 2011.
The ICIR, on January 16, 2019, requested for the details of asset declaration forms of all cabinet members including the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief of Staff to the President, Head of Civil Service of the Federation, National Security Adviser, and all the ministers. More than seven working days after, CCB is yet to respond to the request and also fails to give a reason for the refusal, as stipulated by the FOI Act.
The CCB also this year turned down similar requests from AFRICMIL and The Punch Newspaper. AFRICMIL had requested for the asset declaration form of the new Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, while the Punch Newspaper requested copies of asset declaration forms of the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha; Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige; Minister of Works, Housing and Power, Babatunde Fashola (SAN); Minister of Communication, Adebayo Shittu; and Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.
The CCB has reputation for violating FOI requests on details of asset declaration form of public office holders.
In 2017, The African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) and the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) submitted requests to the CCB for the forms of declaration of assets of elected and appointed political office holders in two tiers of government.
By enacting the freedom of information act, 2011, the seventh national assembly gave effect to the constitutionally guaranteed right of the public to access public documents held by public institutions and relevant private entities in Nigeria, and this includes asset declaration forms of public officials.
Recall that Walter Onnoghen, the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, was suspended based on a petition filed by a civil society group, Anti-Corruption and Research-Based Data Initiative. Led by Mr Dennis Aghanya, the group accused the CJN of false asset declaration and other sundry allegations.
Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association said the information in the asset declaration forms of public officials should be released immediately upon request because they were in the public interest.
He said the idea of the CCB releasing the information to an applicant and denying another applicant could not have been done in good faith.
“Generally, the FoI overturns the Official Secret Act and it is to make public information accessible upon request. But there is a provision that says they (public institutions) can withhold it for good public reasons or in the national interest. But CCB must state that in its response to the applicant,” Agbakoba added.
FOIA was passed into law by Jonathan administration in 2011. The law was enacted to guarantee Nigerian citizens the right to access public information.