President Goodluck Jonathan
By Sunday Okobi
Presidency Tuesday advised a civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), to seek information about President Goodluck Jonathan’s assets declaration from the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
It noted that it was only the Bureau that has the powers to address the issues the organisation was pursuing or seeking
This response followed a request by the group made under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) asking President Jonathan to “provide information on his assets declaration details between May 2007 and May 2012. However, a letter with reference number SH/SHC/9/Vol.6/128, dated July 5, 2012 and signed by the State House Counsel, Jalal A. Arabi, on behalf of the Chief of Staff to the President, said:
“I am to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 26 June 2012 in which you request Mr President to urgently provide information on his assets declaration details between May 2007 and May 2012, hinging your request on the provisions of both the 1999 Constitution as amended, and the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
“I take the liberty in advising that you explore the possibility of invoking Section 3(1) Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, referred to in your write-up, which has conferred powers and responsibility for addressing issues such as the one you are pursuing. Please be assured of the Chief of Staff’s kind request.”
Reacting to the response from the Presidency, SERAP’s Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, in a statement made available to THISDAY, said though it was commendable, it did not fully address the issue.
“Firstly, we welcome the response by Mr President as a very positive development for government’s accountability in this country. Mr President has broken a new ground, which we now hope will be translated into good governance, and improved transparency and accountability for millions of impoverished Nigerians.
“While the advice by the presidency is sound constitutionally, we took the decision to simultaneously send our letter to both President Jonathan and the Code of Conduct Bureau because we believe the issue is not only a constitutional matter but also a moral one. And we expected the president, being the father of the nation, to have shown leadership by example.”
According to the statement, “by advising SERAP to go to the Code of Conduct Bureau, the president missed an important opportunity to show to Nigerians his oft-repeated commitment to transparency and accountability, as we believe releasing the information to us would have cost him nothing. We still hope that Mr President would take up the challenge and release the information as a matter of leadership and morality.
“It is useful to point out however, that while we have received a response from the presidency, no response has yet come from the Code of Conduct Bureau. We believe the Bureau could learn an important lesson from the speed, professionalism, and courtesy with which the presidency has handled SERAP’s request,” the group stated.
Mumuni added: “Since the Bureau has so far failed to respond to our request after the mandatory period of 7 days; we have prepared the necessary court papers which will be filed before the court this week to compel the Bureau to discharge its constitutional responsibility.”
Accordingly, the group claimed that, “By virtue of Section 1 (1) of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act 2011, SERAP is entitled as of right to request for or gain access to information, including information on the assets declaration by the president of Nigeria, being a public document within the meaning of the FoI, and which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution.”