By Robert Egbe
A Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday declined to compel the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to release information on asset declarations of politicians and public officials.
Justice Muslim Hassan dismissed as unmerritorous an application by the Registered Committee of Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) seeking an order compelling the CCB to make the information, among others, available.
The judge upheld the CCB’s argument that releasing such information is dependent on terms and conditions to be proscribed by the National Assembly.
He referred to Section 15(3) of the Constitution which establishes the Code of Conduct Bureau, its composition and agreed with the CCB that paragraph 3(a,b&c) of Part 1 Third schedule of the 1999 Constitution “is very clear and unambiguous”
“I agree with the respondent that the duty to make the asset declaration form of public officers available for any person or institutions and for whatever purpose is dependent upon terms and conditions to be prescribed the National Assembly,” the judge said.
To achieve this, he noted, the National Assembly has to pass an Act to that effect which has yet to be done.
The court held further that the terms and conditions to be prescribed by National Assembly must be specific and relate to asset declaration of public officers and not a legislation of general nature such as the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
“In the light of the above, I hold that the instant application is unmerritorous and it is accordingly dismissed,” Hassan said.
SERAP had on June 19, 2019 filed the application seeking leave to apply for judicial review of the CCB.
It also sought an order of mandamus compelling the Bureau to provide information on the number of asset declarations so far verified by it, the number of those declarations found to be false and in breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.
It also prayed that the Bureau be directed to publish any such information widely, including on a dedicated website.
Furthermore, the Applicant also sought an order directing the Respondent to “immediately take cases of false asset declarations to the Code of Conduct Tribunal for effective prosecution of suspects…’
It also prayed that “banning the politicians involved from holding public offices for at least a period of 10 years and seeking refund of stolen public funds” be part of the reliefs the CCB should seek at the Tribunal.