How To Get President Jonathan’s Assets Declaration – Presidency
The Presidency has advised a civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) to seek information about President Goodluck Jonathan’s assets declaration from the Code of Conduct Bureau since the Bureau “has the powers and responsibility for addressing the issues such as the one you are pursuing.”
This response followed a request by the group made under the Freedom of Information Act asking President Jonathan to “provide information on your assets declaration details between May 2007 and May 2012, and to publish widely the information on a dedicated website.”
However, in a letter with reference number SH/SHC/9/Vol.6/128, dated 5 July 2012 and signed by Jalal A. Arabi, State House Counsel on behalf of the Chief of Staff to the President, the presidency said: I am to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 26 June 2012 in which you request Mr President to urgently provide information on his assets declaration details between May 2007 and May 2012, hinging your request on the provisions of both the 1999 Constitution as amended, and the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.”
The presidency also stated that, “I take the liberty in advising that you explore the possibility of invoking Section 3(1) Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, referred to in your write-up, which has conferred powers and responsibility for addressing issues such as the one you are pursuing. Please be assured of the Chief of Staff’s kind request.”
In response, the group’s executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni said: “Firstly, we welcome the response by Mr President as a very positive development for government’s accountability in this country because it is rare to see this kind of dialogue between the presidency and civil society. So, Mr President has broken a new ground, which we now hope will be translated into good governance, and improved transparency and accountability for millions of impoverished Nigerians.”
“Secondly, while the advice by the presidency is sound constitutionally, we took the decision to simultaneously send our letter to both President Jonathan and the Code of Conduct Bureau because we believe the issue is not only a constitutional matter but also a moral one. And we expected the president, being the father of the nation, to have shown leadership by example.”
According to the group, “by advising SERAP to go to the Code of Conduct Bureau, the president missed an important opportunity to show to Nigerians his oft-repeated commitment to transparency and accountability, as we believe releasing the information to us would have cost Mr President nothing. We still hope that Mr President would take up the challenge and release the information as a matter of leadership and morality.”
“It is useful to point out however, that while we have received a response from the presidency, no response has yet come from the Code of Conduct Bureau. We believe the Bureau could learn an important lesson from the speed, professionalism, and courtesy with which the presidency has handled SERAP’s request,” the group added.
The organization also said that, “Since the Bureau has so far failed to respond to our request after the mandatory period of 7 days; we have prepared the necessary court papers which will be filed before the court this week to compel the Bureau to discharge its constitutional responsibility.”
It would be recalled that SERAP had earlier sent a request to both the president and the Code of Conduct Bureau, arguing that, “The disclosure of the information requested will give SERAP and the general public a true picture of the assets of the president from May 2007 to May 2012, and will demonstrate the president’s oft-expressed commitment to transparency and accountability and show that the signing of the FOI was not just a public relation exercise but a public duty done in good faith.”
The group also said that it was “concerned that your recent statement that you would not publicly declare your asset is a clear violation of the Nigerian Constitution and the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party, and entirely inconsistent with your oft-repeated promises to prevent and combat high-level official corruption in the country.”
“Your statement may also have breached the provisions of chapter two of the 1999 Constitution dealing with Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, which among others require the government to take steps to eradicate corrupt practices and the abuse of power,” the group added.
“We are also concerned that your statement shows your government’s lack of political will to lead by example, and to combat the endemic grand corruption which has continued to have corrosive effects on the human rights, in particular economic and social rights of millions of Nigerians. Your statement is also inconsistent with the action of a president who signed into law and is supposedly committed to the effective implementation of the Freedom of Information Act,” the group also said.
The group also said that “We believe that disclosure of assets is crucial for ensuring that public officials’ personal interests including that of the president as the leader of the nation, do not conflict with their duties and responsibilities. Public disclosure also helps to provide a baseline and thus means for comparison to identify assets that may have been corruptly acquired and that a public official may legitimately be asked to account for.”
“Specifically, Section 153 of the Constitution establishes a Code of Conduct Bureau to ensure, among other things, that all public officers, as defined in Part II of the Fifth Schedule, declare their assets on assuming office and immediately their terms of office expire. Paragraph Three of Part 1 (A) of the Third Schedule, empowers the Bureau to receive declarations made by all public officers, examine same and keep them in custody. Paragraph 3(C) says the Bureau shall have the power to “retain custody of such declarations and make them available for inspection by any citizen of Nigeria on such terms and conditions as the National Assembly may prescribe.”
“Similarly, the UN Convention against Corruption requires public officials to make declarations to appropriate authorities regarding, inter alia, their outside activities, employment, investments, assets and substantial gifts or benefits from which a conflict of interest may result with respect to their functions as public officials,” the group also added.
The organization also said that, “By virtue of Section 1 (1) of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2011, SERAP is entitled as of right to request for or gain access to information, including information on the assets declaration by the president of Nigeria, being a public document within the meaning of the FOI, and which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution.”
When asked why he has not yet publicly declared his assets during his recent media chat the president responded that: “I don’t give a damn about that. The law is clear about it and so, making it public is no issue and I will not play into the hands of the people. I have nothing to hide. “I declared (assets publicly) under the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua because he did it, but it is not proper. I could be investigated when I leave office. “You don’t need to publicly declare it and it is a matter of principle. It is not the President declaring assets that will change the country.”