THE Code of Conduct Bureau was not represented by any counsel, on Wednesday, at an ongoing trial where it is a respondent.
The International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, had in February filed an ex-parte motion at the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking a declaration that the bureau’s refusal to grant access to asset declaration forms is a violation of the right of access to information guaranteed by the Freedom of Information Act.
In May, the court granted the centre’s application for a judicial review of the legality of the CCB’s decision and had adjourned to Wednesday, June 26.
The bureau, however, did not make an appearance for its defence and has also not filed any court documents in response to The ICIR‘s notice of motion.
On the other hand, the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, another respondent in the matter, had legal representation at the hearing.
Justice Inyang Ekwo pronounced that the CCB be given the benefit of the doubt, and then adjourned the trial to Thursday, September 26 2019.
The ICIR, had in February, written to the CCB requesting for the “details of all asset declaration of all cabinet members in the present administration” as well as other key appointed officials.
But in its response over two months after, the agency declined to provide the documents and said the FOI Act “has exempted asset declarations of public officers from documents that can be accessed via reliance on the provisions”.
The bureau is facing a similar lawsuit from the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) filed last Friday at the Federal High Court in Lagos.
Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, has described the bureau’s refusal of SERAP’s request for asset declaration details as illogical.
The federal government has “failed to show commitment to the fight against corruption by encouraging secrecy with respect to asset declaration by public officers,” he said at a Stakeholders Dialogue on Corruption held in Kano in June.
“With respect, it is illogical to claim that the asset declaration forms submitted by the erstwhile public officers are private documents. Accordingly, the rejection of the request by SERAP is a contravention of section 1 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 and article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights,” the lawyer submitted.
“It is hoped that the CCB will review its position and allow citizens to access the information in the declaration forms submitted to it by all public officers in view of the new policy of the Buhari administration to enforce effective asset declaration by public office holders.”