A coalition of Nigerian civil society organisations has petitioned the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), asking him to forestall attempts by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to erode the confidence of Nigerians in the fight against corruption by its persistent refusal to grant access in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, to assets declaration made by public officers.
In the letter dated 14 February 2019, the CSOs specifically requested Mr. Malami to address the persistent refusal of the CCB to honour Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for access to the asset declaration forms submitted by past and serving senior public officials in government.
The Coalition noted 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 signatories to the petition 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, noting 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 submitted by 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.
The Coalition pointed out that however, “While the CCB allowed ARDI access to the CJN’s Asset Declaration, it had previously, consistently denied similar request for access to the asset declaration forms of senior public officials of both previous and the current administration.”
The Coalition submitted to Mr. Malami a list of several FOI requests seeking information and access to the asset declaration forms submitted by 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, etc., all of which the CCB ignored.
The Coalition held that it views the 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 Coalition called on Mr 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 the 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 its 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 prioritize 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.
The petition was signed by African Centre for Media & Information Literacy; International Centre for Investigative Reporting; Centre for Impact Advocacy; Public and Private Development Centre; Right2Know; Media Rights Agenda; and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre;
Other CSOs which signed the petition are 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.