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SERAP sues CCB, over Unpublished public officers assets

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By Martin Paul, Abuja

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a suit in the Federal High Court, Lagos, against the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) over the CCB’s claim that it could not disclose details of asset declarations submitted to it by successive presidents and state governors since 1999 because doing so “would offend the right to privacy of presidents and state governors.

The CCB had last week refused a Freedom of Information request by SERAP, stating that: “Asset declaration form is private information.

But in the suit number FHC/L/CS/1019/2019 filed last Friday, SERAP argued: “Asset declarations of presidents and state governors submitted to the CCB are public documents. Public interest in disclosure of the details of asset declarations sought by SERAP clearly outweighs any claim of protection of the privacy of presidents and state governors, as they are public officers entrusted with the duty to manage public funds, among other public functions.

According to SERAP: “A necessary implication of the rule of law is that a public institution like the CCB can only act in accordance with the law, as to do otherwise may enthrone arbitrariness. The CCB does not have reasonable grounds on which to deny SERAP’s FOI request, as it is in the interest of justice, the Nigerian public, transparency and accountability to publish details of asset declarations by presidents and state governors since the return of democracy in 1999.”

SERAP also argued that: “Disclosing details of asset declarations of public officers such as presidents and state governors would improve public trust in the ability of the CCB to effectively discharge its mandate. This would, in turn, put pressure on public officers like presidents and state governors to make voluntary public declaration of their assets.”

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The suit filed by SERAP counsel Adelanke Aremo read in part: “The right to receive information without any interference or distortion should be based on the principle of maximum disclosure, and a presumption that all information is accessible subject only to a narrow system of exceptions. It is a settled principle of law that details such as asset declarations of presidents and governors should be disclosed if there is an overriding public interest in having access to such information, which is clearly so in this matter.”

“Democracy cannot flourish if governments operate in secrecy, no matter how much open discussion and debate is allowed. The very nature and quality of public discussion would be significantly impoverished without the nourishment of information from public authorities such as the CCB, and to guarantee freedom of expression without including the right to know would be a formal exercise.”

“The CCB has an obligation to proactively keep, organize and maintain all information or records about their operations, personnel, activities and other relevant or related information or records in a manner that facilitates public access to such information or record.”

“Given that many public officers being tried for or convicted of corruption are found to have made a false declaration of their assets, the CCB should no longer allow politicians to undermine the sanctity and integrity of the asset declaration provisions of the Constitution by allowing them to continue to exploit legal gaps for illicit enrichment.”

“While elected public officers may not be constitutionally obliged to publicly declare their assets, the Freedom of Information Act 2011 has now provided the mechanism for the CCB to improve transparency and accountability of asset declarations by elected public officers.”

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“Allegation of false or anticipated declarations by public officers apparently to steal or mismanage public funds is a contributory factor to Nigeria’s underdevelopment and poverty level. All efforts to get details of asset declarations by presidents and state governors have proved abortive.”

“The right to information and truth allows Nigerians to gain access to information essential to the fight against corruption, institutionalise good governance and improve citizens’ confidence in public institutions.”

“Persistent refusal by successive presidents and state governors to make public their asset declarations is entirely inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the 1999 Constitution, and has been particularly harmful to the country and its people, especially given the widespread evidence of grand corruption among politicians holding public offices in Nigeria.” “Sections 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 20 and 31 of the FOI Act are clear and unambiguous, stating a clear intention to make public information such as details of asset declarations by presidents and state governors more freely available to the members of the public and a clear obligation on the part of public institutions to proactively keep proper records in a manner that facilitates public access to such information or record.”

“It is a settled cardinal principle of statutory interpretation that where in their ordinary meaning the provisions are clear and unambiguous, effect should be given to them without resorting to external aid. SERAP therefore submits that the use of the word “shall” in sections 2 and 4 of the FOI Act 2011 connotes that the provisions are mandatory and must be complied with to the extent provided by the Act.”

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SERAP is, therefore, seeking the following reliefs: “An order granting leave to the Applicant to apply for judicial review and to seek an order of mandamus directing and compelling the Respondent to compile and make available to the Applicant information on specific details of asset declarations submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau by successive Presidents, Vice Presidents, Senate Presidents, Speakers of House of Representatives, State Governors and Deputy Governors from 1999 to 2019 and to publish widely including on a dedicated website, any such information.

An order granting leave to the Applicant to apply for judicial review and to seek an order of mandamus directing and compelling the Respondent to compile and make available to the Applicant information on the number of asset declarations so far verified by the Code of Conduct Bureau and the number of those declarations found to be false and deemed to be in breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers by the Bureau and to publish widely including on a dedicated website, any such information.

AN ORDER granting leave to the Applicant to apply for Judicial Review and to seek an order of mandamus directing and compelling the Respondent to immediately take cases of false asset declarations to the Code of Conduct Tribunal for effective prosecution of suspects, and include banning the politicians involved from holding public offices for at least a period of 10 years and seeking refund of stolen public funds as part of the reliefs to be sought before the Tribunal

And for further order or orders as this Court may deem fit to make in the circumstance No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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Buhari Swears in Seven New Ministers, Announces Minor Cabinet Changes

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President Muhammadu Buhari has announced minor cabinet reshuffle as he swore in seven new Ministers in the State House, Abuja, on Wednesday.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the affected ministers swore in include Goodluck Opiah (Imo), Umar El-Yakub (Kano) and Ademola Adegoroye (Ondo). Henry Ikoh (Abia) Umana Okon Umana (Akwa Ibom), Ekumankama Nkama (Ebonyi) and Odum Odi (Rivers).

NAN reports that six of the ministers replaced six former members of the federal executive council, who retired to participate in the last party primaries of the All Progressives Congress (APC) while El-Yakub replaced the former Minister of Agriculture, Sabo Nanono, who was removed from office.

While announcing the reshuffle shortly before the commencement of the meeting of the Federal Executive Council, the president approved Minister of State, Health, Sen.

Adeleke Mamora as new the Minister of Science and Technology; Minister of State, Works, Mua’azu Sambo also moved to the Ministry of Transportation as substantive Minister.

Umanna Umanna is now the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs while Minister of State Environment, Sharon Ikeazor has been moved to the Niger Delta Ministry as Minister of State.

Sen Gbemisola Saraki was moved to the Ministry of Mines and Steel as Minister of State while Umar El-Yakub is now the Minister of State Works and Housing.

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The president also approved Goodluck Apiah as Minister of State, Education; Ekumankama Nkama. Minister of Health; Ikoh Ikechekwu, Minister of State, Science and Technology; Odum Udi, Minister of State, Environment and Ademola Adegoroye is now Minister of State, Transportation.

NAN reports that before the swearing in, a minute’s silence was observed in honour of Mohammed Barkindo, the outgoing Secretary-General of Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), who died at the age of 63, on Tuesday night.

Those physically in attendance are the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo; Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha; and Chief of Staff to the President, Prof Ibrahim Gambari.

Other Ministers who  were also in attendance include the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, Education, Adamu Adamu, Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami.

Others are, Mines and Steel, Olamilekan Adegbite, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, and Minister of State, Budget, National Planning, Clem Agba and State, Industry Trade and Investment, Maryam Katagun as well as all the newly sworn in ministers. (NAN)

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OPEC, Sylva, Industry Stakeholders Mourn Barkindo

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The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva on Wednesday mourned the demise of the outgoing OPEC Secretary General, Dr Mohammed Barkindo.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Barkindo passed on in Abuja on Tuesday at the age of 63.

“OPEC Secretary General,  Mohammed Barkindo, passed away yesterday in his home country Nigeria.

“He was the much-loved leader of the OPEC Secretariat and his passing is a profound loss to the entire OPEC Family, the oil industry and the international community,” OPEC said in a statement issued on its official Twitter page.

Also, Sylva said Nigeria has been thrown into mourning over the passing of Barkindo.

“This is a great loss to Nigeria, to OPEC, to the energy sector and most compassionately to his family which we have in our prayers and thoughts,” he said.

Also, Mr Mele Kyari, Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) said the OPEC boss who was in Nigeria to participate at the ongoing Nigerian Oil and Gas Conference in Abuja died at about 11.00p.m.

“Certainly a great loss to his immediate family, the NNPC, our country Nigeria, the OPEC and the global energy community.

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“Burial arrangements  will be announced shortly,” Kyari said.

Mr Chinedu Okoronkwo, President, Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), said Barkindo distinguished himself as a global energy leader.

“On behalf of IPMAN, I want to commiserate with OPEC, the Nigerian government and the oil and gas industry on the demise of the beloved OPEC secretary general.

“I pray that God will grant his immediate family and the entire industry the fortitude to bear this great loss, “Okoronkwo said.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Barkindo’s career spanned over four decades and included work at Nigeria’s National Petroleum Corporation,  Duke Oil, Nigeria’s foreign ministry and energy ministry, as well as OPEC.

Industry watchers said since taking the helm as secretary-general of OPEC in 2016, Barkindo oversaw tumultuous times for the oil producer group, which witnessed volatile markets rocked by historic events including  the Covid-19 pandemic, the creation of the OPEC+ alliance with Russia and other non-OPEC states, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While the organisation lost two members, Qatar and Ecuador, during that time, Barkindo is nonetheless credited with guiding unity among the group’s members in an effort to stabilize global oil markets.

Barkindo was awarded a distinguished fellowship at the Atlantic Council, set to begin upon the completion of his term at OPEC on July 31.

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Atlantic Council CEO Frederick Kempe had previously described Barkindo as having “unparalleled expertise on oil markets, security, and governance” and “a deep understanding of geopolitics in a volatile world.”

In a statement included in the Council’s July 1 announcement of the new fellowship, Barkindo had said, “I am deeply honored to have been recognized as a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council.

”I look forward to contributing to the organisation’s work on a plethora of energy-related issues, at a time when the world’s eyes are focused on both short- and long-term energy market outlooks.”(NAN)

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OPEC Secretary-General, Barkindo Dies at 63

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Dr Mohammed Barkindo, the Secretary-General, Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), is dead.

Mr Mele Kyari, the Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), confirmed the development in a statement posted on his official Twitter page on Wednesday.

“We lost our esteemed Dr Mohammed S Barkindo. He died at about 11.

00 p.m. on Tuesday.

“Certainly a great loss to his immediate family, the NNPC, our country Nigeria, the OPEC and the global energy community.

“Burial arrangements will be announced shortly,” Kyari said.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Barkindo, who is the outgoing OPEC secretary general, was in Nigeria where he delivered the Chairman keynote address at the ongoing Nigerian Oil and Gas Conference (NOG) in Abuja on Tuesday.

At his last official outing at the NOG, Barkindo was given a standing ovation by industry stakeholders for his outstanding contributions to the Nigerian and global oil and gas industry.

He had earlier in the day visited President Muhammadu Buhari in the Presidential Villa where he was hailed by the president for being a “worthy ambassador to Nigeria.”

Born on April 20,1959 in Yola, Adamawa, Barkindo served as the Secretary General of OPEC since Aug. 1, 2016 and would have bowed out on July 31, 2022 following the completion of his tenure.

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He completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, in 1981 and Masters of Business Administration degree from Washington University in 1991.

Prior to MBA, in 1988 he earned a PostGraduate Diploma in Petroleum Economics from Oxford University.

Also, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Federal University of Technology Yola.

Barkindo previously served as the acting Secretary-General in 2006 and represented Nigeria on OPEC’s Economic Commission Board from 1993 to 2008.

He also led the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation during 2009 to 2010 and headed Nigeria’s technical delegation to UN climate negotiations since 1991.

Barkindo will be replaced by Mr Haitham Al-Ghais, a veteran of the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC), as the organisation’s Secretary-General following his demise.

In a tribute to Barkindo on his contributions to the global energy industry, OPEC said he was instrumental in expanding the organisation’s historical efforts to support sustainable oil market stability.

“This was through enhanced dialogue and cooperation with many energy stakeholders, including the landmark Declaration of Cooperation (DoC) since its inception in December 2016.

“These efforts are widely credited with helping to stabilise the global oil market since the unprecedented market downturn related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and providing a platform for recovery, “OPEC said in the statement posted on its website.

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The statement noted that before being appointed the Secretary-General, Barkindo held a number of key roles at OPEC between 1986 and 2010, including as acting Secretary-General in 2006.

“He is known internationally for helping to produce the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto protocol as the leader of Nigeria’s technical delegation to the UN negotiations in 1991.

“He has remained a key contributor to the UNFCCC process, including most recently at the 26th Conference of Parties (COP) meeting in Glasgow in October and November 2021,” it said. (NAN)

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