The Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, has refused to release copies of the assets declaration forms of some prominent Nigerians and close Allies of President Muhammadu Buhari, under the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, more than seven days after a letter of request was written to the Bureau.
Relying on the provisions of the Freedom of Information, FOI, Act, 2011, a popular Newspaper in Nigeria, The Punch, had on January 24, written to the CCB, asking for copies of assets declaration forms of the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha; Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige; Minister of Works, Housing and Power, Babatunde Fashola, SAN; Minister of Communication, Adebayo Shittu; and Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.
Other office holders which it sought for their assets declaration forms from the CCB are: Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed; Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh; Minister of State for Transportation (Aviation), Hadi Sirika; Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; Director-General, DSS, Yusuf Bichi; and Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed.
In the letter signed by The Punch, Head of Abuja Bureau, Olusola Fabiyi, the Bureau was also asked to provide the list of defaulters.
The letter read in part: “Beyond the listed political office holders’ assets declaration forms, kindly furnish us with the number and names of political office holders, who have yet to fill and submit their assets declaration forms, for whatever reasons.
“We will also want to know the number of names of political office holders the Code of Conduct Bureau is investigating, over issues relating to assets declaration forms.”
The newspaper also urged the CCB, to furnish it with the names of political office holders, who had yet to comply with the Bureau’s directive to visit it for verification.
“Based on the provision of the FOI Act, we hope that our request will be granted within seven days of your receipt of this letter”, the letter also read.
However, despite a number of reminders during the seven-day period stipulated by the FoI Act, the CCB failed to respond to the letter.
As at the close of work on Friday, February 1, 2019, the CCB was yet to respond.
When The Punch sought to know the reason for the Bureau’s action, a top official in the CCB simply said: “The letter is on the Chairman’s table. Can he be forced to respond?”
The FOI letter, which was addressed to the Chairman of the CCB, was received by the Bureau, with a copy acknowledged by the Office of the Chairman, on January 24, 2019.
The FOI Act provides that public institutions must make the information requested, available within seven days of receiving the request.
The Act also said that failure to give access to the information requested for within the time limit provided by the Act, is deemed as a refusal of access.
Specifically, Section 7 (4) of the Act states: “Where the government or public institution fails to give access to information or record applied for under this Act or part thereof, within the time limit set out in this Act, the institution shall, for the purposes of this Act, be deemed to have refused to give access.”
And on the issue of time limit, Section 4 of the Act states: “Where information is applied for under this Act, the public institution to which the application is made, shall subject to Sections 6, 7, and 8 of this Act, within seven days after the application is received – (a) make the information available to the applicant, (b) where the public institution considers that the application should be denied, the institution shall give written notice to the applicant, that access to all or part of the information will not be granted, stating reasons for the denial, and the section of this Act under which the denial is made.”
Meanwhile, eight days after the application was filed and acknowledged by the Bureau, the information requested was not made available to The Punch, neither was there any written notice to state the reasons for the denial.
Reacting to the development, popular Lawyers, especially Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, on Friday, kicked against the CCB’s action, saying that, the Agency had no legal basis not to respond to the letter, even if the request would not be granted.
They noted that the Agency’s decision to keep mum, had reinforced rumours and belief that the anti-corruption war is one-sided.
A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, said that the information in the assets declaration forms of public officials, should be released immediately upon request, because they are in the public interest.
He explained that the purpose of the assets declaration forms, was to enhance probity and public accountability, and the information could not be deemed personal.
He revealed that the idea of the CCB releasing the information to an applicant, and denying another applicant, could not have been done in good faith.
He added: “Generally, the FOI overturns the Official Secret Act, and it is to make public information accessible upon request. But there is a proviso that says they (public institutions) can withhold it for good public reasons or in the national interest. But the CCB must state that in its response to the applicant.”