SERAP seeks court order over public asset declaration of Buhari, 36 governors

THE Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit demanding the public declaration of assets, properties and income of President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, 36 state governors and their deputies.

The group had disclosed this in a statement on Sunday, saying, their declaration of assets was contained in their asset declaration forms submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) since their resumption of office.

The lawsuit filed on January 24, with suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/65/2020, sought, “an order for leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus to direct and/or compel President Buhari, Vice-President Osinbajo, 36 state governors and their deputies…

“to make public their summary of assets; disclose whether they have had any reason to review and update their asset declarations submitted to the CCB and if the declarations have been made as constitutionally and statutorily required”.

Also, the lawsuit seeks to compel the president, and others, to disclose whether they received any confirmation of their verified assets declarations by the CCB, and have taken any steps to encourage members of their cabinet to also submit their asset declarations to the CCB, and to make such declarations public.

SERAP, on January 3, sent a Freedom of Information (FoI) requests expressing concern over the non-public disclosure by public officials of their summary of assets.

Only two states—Lagos state and Niger state—had responded to its FoI requests, SERAP said.

However, the group said, both states had declined the requests, on the ground that “the FoI Act is inapplicable to state governments, their agencies and officials, and that only houses of assembly of states are constitutionally empowered to make laws on public records of states”.

Reacting to the FoI request to the president, Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, said the public declaration of assets by the president was voluntary.

“SERAP asking the president to declare publicly, on the basis of what law? The president will do what the law requires of him and what the law requires is that he should declare his asset which he has done. Declaring publicly is not in our laws; it can only be a voluntary thing,” Adesina said.

In its response, SERAP said the failure of the president and other public officials to provide it with the requested information on their assets constitutes a breach of SERAP’s right under the FoI Act, 2011.

The group said such refusal undermines the effectiveness and integrity of the constitutional and statutory obligations to submit asset declarations, which weakens the public trust in the asset declaration regimes.

The prosecuting counsel, Kolawole Oluwadare, in the lawsuit said the summary declaration of asset submitted to the CCB outweigh any perceived privacy or inconvenience if the court orders the details to be made public as sought by SERAP.

“The reliefs sought are constitutionally and statutorily grounded and based on Nigeria’s international transparency obligations. The reliefs sought do not clash with the rights to privacy and data protection.

Both rights are not absolute and can be restricted provided there is a basis in law and a legitimate public interest justifies the restriction. Prevention of grand corruption and exposing the unexplained wealth of officials are serious and legitimate public interests.”

    Oluwadare said without public disclosure of a summary of assets, the information contained in asset declaration submitted to the CCB would have no practical importance.

    He said publicly declaring assets would also help uncover any irregularities.

    It would also trigger the verification of the CCB and other anti-corruption agencies, for consistency thereby ensuring public officials provide exact information when filing and submitting their asset declarations.

    No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit,  the paper said.

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