The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court in Abuja to order President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, the 36 state governors and their deputies to make public details of their assets, specifically property and income, contained in their asset declaration forms submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) since assuming office.
According to a statement signed by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, SERAP is also seeking an order to compel Buhari, Osinbajo, 36 state governors and their deputies to disclose whether they have received any confirmation of the verification of their asset declarations by the CCB and to disclose whether they 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.
The agency argued that the non-public disclosure by public officials of their summary of assets 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.
SERAP further stated that only two states— Lagos and Niger, have responded to its Freedom of Information (FoI) requests.
However, it said both states declined the request to make public the assets of their governors and deputies, on the grounds 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”.
Also reacting to the FoI request, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, was quoted to have said: “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”.
SERAP, therefore, stated that it is seeking “a declaration that the failure of President Buhari, Vice-President Osinbajo, 36 state governors and their deputies to provide the requested information on their assets constitutes a breach of SERAP’s right under the FoI Act, 2011.
SERAP is also seeking: “a declaration that the failure of President Buhari, Vice-President Osinbajo, 36 state governors and their deputies to provide SERAP with the requested information on their assets constitutes a breach of SERAP’s right under the FoI Act, 2011, and such further order(s) the court may deem fit to make in the circumstances.”
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its counsel, Kolawole Oluwadare, read in part: “The advantages that the general public would gain from being informed about the summary of assets declarations submitted to the CCB outweigh any perceived privacy or inconvenience if the court orders the details to be made public as sought by SERAP.”
“By a combined reading of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the FoI Act, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, President Buhari, Vice-President Osinbajo, 36 state governors and their deputies ought to be directed and compelled to make public their asset declarations as submitted to the CCB.”