A COALITION of Nigerian Civil Society Organisations has appealed to the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to prevent attempts by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to trivialise the fight against corruption, and intervene to restore the confidence of Nigerians in the integrity of the Nigerian judicial system.
In a statement made available to The ICIR, the groups urged Abubakar Malami to check the activities of the CCB that is capable of undermining the Freedom of Information Act and eroding the confidence of Nigerians in the fight against corruption.
The letter dated 14 February 2019, specifically requested Malami to address the persistent refusal of the CCB to honour Freedom of Information (FoI) requests for access to the asset declaration forms of past and serving senior public officials in government.
The groups’ signatories to the letter include African Centre for Media & Information Literacy; International Centre for Investigative Reporting; Centre for Impact Advocacy; Public and Private Development Centre; Right2Know; Media Rights Agenda; Civil Society Legislative Advocacy
Centre; Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism; Social Development Integrated Centre; Civil Society Network Against Corruption; Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria; and Citizens Advocacy for Social & Economic Rights.
The organisations stated that “the Nigerian government’s decisive action to suspend Hon. Justice Walter Nkanu Samuel Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, for his alleged breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, underscored the seriousness and attendant implication for all Nigerian public officers who fail to timely and correctly declare their assets according to law.”
The groups accused the CCB, which is the sole custodian of asset declaration forms of all public office holders in Nigeria, of compromise, betraying public trust, and failing to be transparent and accountable to the Nigerian people.
The group noted that since the Freedom of Information Act 2011 was enacted, the CCB has persistently refused to grant FoI requests to civil society organisations, the media, and concerned citizens, seeking access to asset declaration forms of past and serving elected and appointed public officers.
They stated that events leading to Justice Walter Onnoghen’s suspension began when the Anti -Corruption and Research-Based Data Initiative (ARDI), a civil society organisation, obtained the CCB asset declaration forms SCN000014 and SCN000015 of Justice Walter Onnoghen, which was investigated and cited in ARDI’s petition acknowledged by the CCB on January 9, 2019.
“While the CCB allowed ARDI access to the CJN’s Asset Declaration, it had previously, consistently denied a similar request for access to the asset declaration forms of senior public officials of both previous and the current administration,” the statement signed by the CSOs reads.
The groups submitted to Mr Malami a list of several FoI requests seeking information and access to the asset declaration forms of different categories of public office holders, including Justice Ibrahim Tanko
Mohammed, Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria; Abba Kyari, Chief of Staff to the President; Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation; heads of government ministries, departments and agencies, amongst others which the CCB has ignored.
“We view this repeated action as a contravention of the Freedom of Information Act 2011 and Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution which empower every Nigerian to make such requests as a way of holding government and public office holders accountable,” the letter reads.
The Civil Society groups called on Malami as Nigeria’s Chief Law Officer to stand for justice and the public good by checking the CCB’s “recalcitrant conduct,” and take immediate actions to preserve the potency and provisions of the Freedom of Information Act and confidence of Nigerians in the current administration’s fight against corruption.
“Such actions should include giving clear directives to not only eschew the emerging trend of arbitrariness in the discharge of its constitutional and other statutory obligations to allow public access to the asset declaration forms of public officials, but also that the CCB should promptly prioritise responding positively to all Freedom of Information requests made in public interest and provide the requested information on asset declarations of public officers,” the statement said.
Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.