The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a non-governmental organisation, has said it disagrees with the assessment of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) that the asset declaration form of President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo are private and can, therefore, not be made public.
SERAP had written to the CCB, asking that the public institution in charge of assessing the assets of public officials make public the details on the forms submitted by the President and Vice President.
The CCB in its response noted that it could not oblige the request of SERAP as the release of such documents would be an invasion of privacy.
But in an interview, Adetokunbo Mumuni, SERAP Executive Director, insists that Buhari and Osinbajo, having contested and were elected into public office, are no longer private citizens.
“We had sought the information under the Freedom of Information Act and the CCB said it was refusing to give us the information. It said if it gave us the required information, it would be an invasion of the privacy of those that had made the declaration before it. But our own position is that if the constitution has declared these people public officers, it is not possible for their statements — having been submitted by these public officers — to become private documents”, Mumuni told the Punch.
“They remain public documents and public documents can now be obtained more pointedly under the Freedom of Information Act.”
Mumuni contended that the Freedom of Information Act (FoI), the law which the organisation hinged its request upon, did not stipulate why the applicant of such information should reveal his or her reason for doing so, contrary to the claims of the CCB.
He noted that SERAP would challenge the CCB’s decision in court.
He said: “That argument is a no-brainer. Any information in the custody of a public official or a public institution shall be entitled to be accessed by any Nigerian. As a matter of fact, the FoI Act does not say you should give the reason why you need that information. That is the point we are making and that is the point we will make in court, which we will refer the judiciary to look into and help us interpret.”
Mumuni explained that while the President and Vice President might have previously declared their asset in 2015, it behoves on citizens and organisations to verify the claims deposited in the document.
He added that the public declaration of assets of public office holders would help Nigerians know the true worth of their leaders.
Mumuni said: “If the assets had been publicly declared, this will enable Nigerians to interrogate what has been declared and know where the actual truth lies.
“Do you know that what some public officials normally do is an anticipatory declaration? They may not have some of those things now; they will declare that they have them and they will then start acquiring them by all means. That is what we are trying to guard against and that is what the CCB should assist us to guard against.”