Workshop Asks Courts to Enforce Right of Nigerians to Access Asset Declarations Made by  Public Officers

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Eze Onyekpere, Legal Director, CSJ
Eze Onyekpere, Legal Director, CSJ

Participants at a two-day workshop have called on courts in Nigeria to apply the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 and the Evidence Act to give Nigerians access to declarations of assets and liabilities made by public officers in accordance with a recent Court of Appeal decision. They also called for the full enforcement of constitutional and statutory provisions on the Code of Conduct for Public Officers by the Code of Conduct Bureau.

The participants made this and other recommendations at the end of a capacity building workshop on engaging Nigeria’s Assets and Liabilities Declaration Framework (ALDF) held at Top Rank Hotel Galaxy in Abuja on March 23 and March 24, 2020 by Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) with support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA). The workshop was part of a series of activities aimed at reforming Nigeria’s Assets Declaration Framework and had participation drawn from civil society organisations and the media.

The workshop examined the current constitutional, legal and institutional framework as well as policies relating to the declaration of assets and liabilities by public officials with a view to identifying the reforms needed to make the process more efficient and effective. It also assessed emerging global practice in other countries as well as regional and international frameworks.

Presentations were made on the Code of Conduct for Public Officers under the 1999 Constitution as amended; Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act – A Critical Review; Online Assets and Liabilities Declarations – the Comparative and Nigerian Contexts; Review of the Assets and Liabilities Declaration Form; Funding the Code of Conduct Bureau; Public Access to Declared Information and Protection of the Privacy of Public Officers.

The participants observed that Nigeria’s Assets and Liabilities Declaration Framework (ALDF) is founded on national and international laws and policies including the Constitution, the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, the United Nations Convention against Corruption, etc. and that it is designed to combat corruption, illicit enrichment and conflict of interest.

 They also observed among other things that:

  • The list of public officers bound to declare their assets and liabilities under the Fifth Schedule (Part II) to the Constitution is all encompassing.
  • The current assets declaration system is manual and cumbersome and contains a jurat which requires the declaration to be made before a High Court Judge.
  • The Code of Conduct Bureau is poorly funded and is deprived of resources required to fully activate its mandate and perform the functions slated for it in the Constitution.
  • Nigerians are still denied access to the declaration of assets and liabilities of public officers despite the constitutional provisions of access and emerging jurisprudence from the recent Court of Appeal decision.
  • The current arrangement and operations of the Code of Conduct Tribunal as presently constituted are characterized by several weaknesses which affect its efficiency and effectiveness, including the composition of the Tribunal with a Chairman and only two members;
  • The current arrangement which makes the Code of Conduct Tribunal and its Chairman who exercise virtual judicial functions answerable to the Presidency undermines the integrity, credibility and effectiveness of the Tribunal and is therefore unacceptable.

To address these challenges, they made several suggesting including

  • In accordance with the decision of the Court of Appeal in the Code of Conduct Bureau & Ors v Nwankwo(2008) LPELR – 44762, the Courts are enjoined to use the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act and the Evidence Act to give Nigerians access to declarations of assets and liabilities by public officers.
  • The National Assembly should consider amending the constitutional list of Public Officers for the purpose of assets and liabilities declaration to limit them to a realistic and manageable number based on the following criteria.
  • The ALDF should be digitized in an Online Assets Declaration Framework and the jurat in the form should be converted to an attestation to remove the unnecessary process of going before a High Court Judge to make the declaration.
  • The Code of Conduct Bureau should adopt the Online Assets Declaration System because of a plethora of benefits including ease of compliance for declarants, ease of managing the process for the Bureau, quality control and improving verification of declarations.
  • The extant Assets and Liabilities Declaration Form is in need of reforms to include the following; arts and antique, jewelries, intellectual property, crypto currencies, beneficial ownership, previous employment history and board and principal officer positions in public and private companies, liabilities as well as Bank Verification Number, Tax Identification Number and National Identity Number.
  • The National Assembly should consider constitutional and statutory amendments to improve the funding of the Code of Conduct Bureau through making their funding a first line charge and benchmarking the funding inter alia on the number of declarants bound to declare assets, the cost of verification and enforcement proceedings.
  • The Federal Government should establish a Code of Conduct Tribunal in each of the geo-political zones in the country to deal with cases emanating from the States in each zone. Each of the Tribunals should be composed of a Chairman and six other members.  The quorum for the constitution of the Tribunal for the purpose of conducting proceedings shall be at least three members.

The participants acknowledged the convening of Centre for Social Justice and the support of OSIWA and urged that this Communique be very widely disseminated.