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Why CCB cannot be forced to disclose Jonathan, Buhari’s assets declaration — Appeal Court

Why CCB cannot be forced to disclose Jonathan, Buhari’s assets declaration — Appeal Court

The Abuja division of the Nigerian Court of Appeal said on Friday that the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) is not under obligation to disclose former presidents Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari’s assets declaration forms as requested by a not-for-profit organization.

Two not-for-profit organisations, the Public and Private Development Centre and the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), had sued the CCB at the Federal High Court in Abuja, requesting the bureau to release the assets declaration information of former presidents, Jonathan and Buhari.

The plaintiffs had also sought the release of assets declaration information of former vice-presidents, Namadi Sambo and Yemi Osinbajo as well as other serving and retired public officers in Nigeria to scrutinise them.

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However, the trial court headed by Abdu Kafarari (now deceased) in November 2017 declined the plaintiffs’ request because the Freedom of Information Act upon which the application was made conflicts with some provisions of the Constitution, the supreme law of Nigeria.

In a judgement delivered by a three-member panel of Justices of the Court of Appeal in Abuja on Friday, the appellate court upheld the decision of the trial court.

Justice Okon Abang, who read the unanimous judgment of the Court of Appeal, said the CCB was not bound to grant the appellants’ (the Public and Private Development Centre and the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy) request for copies of written declarations of assets submitted by public officers in Nigeria.

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Abang agreed with late Justice Kafarati’s legal reasoning that the provisions of Paragraph 3 (C) Part One of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution stipulates that, “the Bureau shall have power to see, retain custody of such declaration and made available for inspection by any citizen of Nigeria on such terms and conditions as the National Assembly may prescribe.”

The judge held that, the National Assembly has yet to comply with the statutory obligation imposed on it to prescribe modalities for the release of assets declaration information of public officers in the country.

“This is a duty imposed on the National Assembly by the constitution which is yet to be carried out by it; until that is done the appellants cannot urge the trial court to compel the respondent (CCB) to disclose the information sought,” Justice Abang held.

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He noted that the appellants had no cause of action against the CCB until the parliament fulfills its obligation as imposed by the constitution.

Evaluating the arguments of lawyers to parties in the suit, Justice Abang said the counsel to the appellants believed that the CCB had an imaginary power.

“The Freedom of Information Act cannot impose an obligation on the CCB in defiance to declare an unambiguous provision of the constitution” and further explained that the FoI Act as an enactment of the National Assembly is subject to the provisions of the Constitution.

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“The appellant should not be and cannot be in a hurry. The provisions of the Constitution must be strictly followed”, he held and added that, the appellants have to comply with the provisions of the Constitution “before an attempt is made to compel the CCB to disclose any information contained in the Assets Declaration of former Presidents Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari, and other serving and retired public officers.

“In the final analysis, the appellants issue one is resolved in favour of the respondent against the appellant. The appeal lacks merit and it is accordingly dismissed,” Justice Abang held and imposed a N200,000 fine on the appellants in favour of the CCB.



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