FEMI Adesina, Spokesperson to President Muhammadu Buhari, has said it is not constitutional for the president to declare assets publicly.
Adesina said this in an interview on ChannelsTV while reacting to the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) demand that sought President Buhari, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, 36 state governors and their deputies to provide information on summary of the assets, specifically property and income, contained in their asset declaration forms submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
SERAP filed a Freedom of Information signed by Kolawole Oluwade to the presidency and governors last Friday to publicly declare the summary of their assets submitted to the CCB since their resumption to office.
“The Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the FoI Act, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which is part of our laws, read together, impose transparency obligations on all public officials to publicly disclose information concerning their asset declarations submitted to the CCB, and to clarify any updated review of such assets,” SERAP wrote.
It noted that non-disclosure of assets would undermine the authority of the CCB and weaken the public trust in the asset declaration regimes.
Asset declarations: Good to see assets declaration of former CJN, Walter Onnoghen. It will be good, too, to see asset declarations of:
1. President Buhari
2. Vice-President Osinbajo
3. 36 state governors & their deputies#Transparency#Publishyourassetdeclaration#Equaltreatment
— SERAP (@SERAPNigeria) January 6, 2020
But while responding to the SERAP request, Adesina queried on what basis of “which law” the human-right group called for a public declaration of the president’s assets.
“Declaring publicly is not in our laws. It can only be a voluntary thing. So, if anybody is compelling somebody to declare publicly, I don’t know, on the basis of what law?
The president will do what the law requires of him, he said. “I can say for a fact that he (Buhari) has declared his assets because I am privy to it.
He said SERAP should have directed the FOI request to CCB and not to the president.
“The president has declared and it is already deposited with the CCB. So, it is the CCB to respond to the FOI Act if it is invoked.”
“If the FOI Act is invoked, it would be left with the Code of Conduct Bureau to release because the FOI Act will not be for the president,” he said.
The guidelines of the CCB on asset declaration stated the Constitution of the country mandated all Public Officers to declare their assets or liability including that of his spouse(s) who is not a Public Officer and children under 18 years age, honestly, sincerely and to the CCB.
However, The bureau has often denied requests for access to asset declaration documents.
In January 2019, The ICIR filed an FOI request to the CCB demanding the provision of assets declared by President Buhari and his cabinet members.
But the CCB declined the request, two months after the FOI request was sent, a clear violation of the 7-day official deadline.
Part of the response by CCB quoted that “section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, has exempted asset declarations of public officers from documents that can be accessed via reliance on the provisions of the FOI Act”.
In 2015, The CCB gave similar reasons for refusing to provide the assets declaration forms of the heads of the CCB, Code of Conduct Tribunal, and Nasir El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State.
“By virtue of sections 12(1)(a)(v), 14(1)(b) and 15(1)(a) of the same Act [FOI Act], the Bureau is not under any obligation to grant your request which constitutes invasion of personal privacy,” it wrote.
Meanwhile, section 2(4) of the FOIA states that a public institution shall ensure that public information “is widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources, and at the offices of such public institutions.”