Publish Your Assets Within Seven Days, SERAP Tells Buhari, Others

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Henry Onyeka

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent Freedom of Information requests to President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, 36 state governors and their deputies, urging them provide information on summary of the assets, specifically property and income, contained in your asset declaration forms submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) since your assumption of office.

SERAP is also asking them to clarify within seven days of the receipt or publication of this letter, if they have had any reason to review and update the asset declarations submitted to the CCB, and to provide the summary of any such review; failing which it will take all appropriate legal action to compel them to comply with their request.

The organisation said the summary of assets to be disclosed include, where applicable, savings and other liquid assets, all immovable property and shares and actions in any private and public companies; property purchased by way of tender from any public-law entities and information about businesses owned.”

In the FoI requests dated January 3, 2020 and signed by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said the 1999 Constitution (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 also said: “The non-public disclosure by public officials of their summary of assets seriously undermines the effectiveness and integrity of the constitutional and statutory obligations to submit asset declarations, especially given that declarations are designed to curb grand corruption. The non-disclosure of assets also undermines the authority of the CCB and weakens the public trust in the asset declaration regimes.”

In the specific FoI request to President Buhari, SERAP noted his “public promise to make specific details of your assets public, and urge you to consider this FoI request as a unique opportunity to fulfill the promise made to the Nigerian people.”

The various FoI requests read in part: “Our FoI request does 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 unexplained wealth of officials are serious and legitimate public interests.

“We would also like you to clarify if you have encouraged members of your cabinet to also submit their asset declarations to the CCB and to make such declarations public. If so, we would like you to provide information on the details of those that have made submissions.

“We would also like you to clarify whether a declaration has been submitted as constitutionally and statutorily required, the date of any such submission, and if you have received any confirmation of the verification of your asset declaration by the CCB. “The public has a legitimate interest in ascertaining and scrutinising the veracity, exactitude and honesty of information contained in asset declarations submitted by public officials to the CCB. Without public disclosure of summary of assets, this would have no practical importance.

“Public disclosure of summary of assets submitted to the CCB would help uncover any irregularities and trigger formal verification of declarations by the CCB and other anti-corruption agencies. “The information requested is the summary of assets submitted to the CCB pursuant to constitutional and statutory provisions. Providing the information will meet the constitutional objective of giving the public a reasonable picture of your detailed asset declaration lodged with the CCB as well as serve the purpose of providing a safeguard against abuse of the asset declaration process.

“This would in turn serve as an incentive to public officials to provide exact information when filing and submitting their asset declarations.

“The advantages that the public would gain from being informed about the summary of assets declaration submitted to the CCB outweigh any inconvenience that may occur if the information is disclosed, pursuant to our FoI request.

“We believe that the Nigerian Constitution, the FoI Act and the African Charter grant the right to obtain information on the summary of assets of all public officials occupying a position of trust and discharging public functions.”