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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.
No Casualty as Three-storey Building Collapses Story Building — NEMA
The National Emergency Management Agency on Saturday confirmed that there was no casualty in the three-Storey building that collapsed at Ikpoh Street, Surulere, Lagos.
Mr Ibrahim Farinloye, Territorial Coordinator, NEMA, confirmed the incidence to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos.
The building came down at about 10.00 p.m. on Friday night at No. 14 Ikpoh Street Surulere.
Meanwhile, an occupant of the building, Mr Gervase Anyanwu, a buisiness man, told NAN that all the other occupants were able to run out of the building before it came down completely.
Anyanwu said that before the building came down, there was a large sound at one of its wings.
“Immediately we heard the sound, all the occupants of the building gathered at the mustard point, before evacuating for safety.
“No casualty was recorded,” Anyanwu said.
Anyanwu said the immediate evacuation of the occupants was “simply by the grace of God”.
However, NAN gathered from another resident of the street that the building had shown serious signs of distress before it came down.
As at the time of this report, excavation of the rubbles from the building was yet to commence, but all the relevant government agencies in charge of emergency had shown their presence at the site. (NAN)(
Minister of Information Charges Advertising Agencies on Value Orientation
Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, has urged the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) to support the Ministry in its quest to promote value orientation in the country. He was speaking at the 50th Annual General Meeting of AAAN, held at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, on Friday 21st September 2023
The Minister, who was represented by the Director of Public Communication and National Orientation, Sunday Baba, pledged the government’s commitment to delivering good governance.
The Minister, while acknowledging the immeasurable contributions of the association to national development, commended it for achieving the milestone of 50 years, adding that in the past five decades, AAAN has demonstrated a commitment to excellence.professionalism and ethical standards in the field of advertising.
“Advertising plays a pivotal role in shaping public perception, driving economic growth, and fostering creativity and innovation,” He said, adding that the dedication shown by the association has not only propelled the industry forward but has also inspired countless individuals and organizations to strive for greatness,” the minister said.
The Minister further explained that the Ministry is mindful of the critical importance of effective communication, a role that advertising Agencies play when disseminating information, promoting national unity, and positive change.
He thanked the Association for its unwavering commitment to promoting and upholding ethical standards in the advertising profession, which has contributed to the growth and development of the nation.
Speaking earlier, Steve Babaeko, The president of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) paid tribute to the founding fathers of the association, saying the small seed they planted in 1973, has grown into a mighty tree, providing shade and job security for countless professionals across our great nation.
“Despite challenges faced by the industry, I firmly believe that the future of our industry holds promise. By standing united as members of the same family, we can navigate these challenges and emerge stronger,” he said.
He extended his gratitude to the numerous brands that they nurtured over the past five decades, for their unwavering support and patronage.
Group Moves to End Cultism in Benue South
From David Torough, Makurdi
A Socio-cultural organization, Ede-ma Development Association (EDE-MA), has backed Edumoga Youth Movement (EYM) and Edumoga Youth Association in its efforts to abolish cultism in Edumoga District of Okpokwu local government area of Benue State.
EYM had recently embarked on a land cleansing ritual, which involved oath-taking by especially youths living in Edumoga District to denounce cultism following a bloodbath arising from cult killings among rival groups.
The cult killings had shutdown the Polytechnic town of Ugbokolo, Ichakwu and Efoyo as well as Amejo Council Ward in the local government area for over two weeks as rival cult groups went on rampage and killed members of rival groups..
In a statement signed by EDE-MA’s National President and Secretary, Okoh Michael Agbam and Matthew Oboyi, on Friday, the organisation declared total support to the EYM in their battle but cautioned the group to carry out the initiative in accordance with the culture and tradition of the Idoma nation.
EDA questioned alleged inaction by the police in Okpokwu local government when rival cult groups reportedly killed about 10 persons including an innocent youth, which led to a protest.
The police hastily arrested the youth leader of EYM in charge of Ugbokolo, John Agboji Audu, following a petition with unproven allegations by a suspected cult leader in Benue South, John Okwori.
EDE-MA urged the police to do a background check on the petitioner and release the youth leader unconditionally.
It also called on the Benue State Government to set up a panel to investigate increasing cult activities in Benue South, in particular and the state in general.
The socio- cultural organization said, it had kept mute since the commencement of the cult killings because it had thought that security agencies, especially the police, were on ground in the crisis areas to restore public order and confidence.
“Our calm resolve not to immediately speak out was informed by the logic that doing so might be too pre-emptive without proper understanding of the underlying issues surrounding the violence, and of course, it could also be mistaken for outright bias.
“Secondly, we had also expected that the security agencies, especially the Nigerian Police Force, are fully on ground and therefore ought to have quickly responded to such open criminality to restore public order and confidence. This was however not the case in view of the litany of violence in which cult groups openly chase and hack perceived rivals to death in broad day light,” Agbam and Oboyi said in the statement.
“We believe that the vacuum created by police inaction may have inspired protests that ultimately degenerated to mob actions by angry residents following the cult killings, which the Edumoga Youth Association (EYA) and Edumoga Youth Movement (EYM) eventually had to intercede and moderate to restore order,” it also said.
EDE-MA commended EYA and EYM for what it described as strategic initiative to end the malaise of cultism in Edumoga land by enjoining the youth, community and traditional leaders in Amejo, Okonobo and Ugbokolo wards to take oath not to belong to any cult group.
“We had restrained ourselves from making any public comment on the recent unfortunate cult violence that had rocked and literally grounded Ugbokolo Town and surrounding communities of Amejo and Okonobo wards in Edumoga District of Okpokwu Local Government Area of Benue State.
“Secondly, we had also expected that the security agencies, especially the Nigerian Police Force, are fully on ground and therefore ought to have quickly responded to such open criminality to restore public order and confidence. This was however not the case in view of the litany of violence in which cult groups openly chase and hack perceived rivals to death in broad day light.
“We believe that the vacuum created by police inaction may have inspired protests that ultimately degenerated to mob actions by angry residents following the cult killings, which the Edumoga Youth Association (EYA) and Edumoga Youth Movement (EYM) eventually had to intercede and moderate to restore order.
“We wish to use this opportunity to commend the resolve of both EYA and EYM for their intervention that ended the daily cult killings. We equally commend them for the strategic initiative to end the malaise of cultism in Edumoga land by enjoining the youth, community and traditional leaders in Amejo, Okonobo and Ugbokolo wards to take oath not to belong to any cult group.
“While the initiative or strategy of oath-taking to renounce cultism may not be fool proof, it is however a traditional method with proven capacity to eliminate or appreciably reduce the menace of cultism and other forms of criminality from Edumoga. In this regard, we enjoin especially the traditional rulers in Edumoga District to give their support and ensure that the exercise is conducted with utmost decorum and civility in line with our culture and tradition.
“As a law-abiding and development-conscious organisation, Ede-ma Development Association (EDE-MA) is worried that the police who are on ground in Ugbokolo and Okpokwu LGA, and who were helpless in the face of the rampant cult killings in Ugbokolo for over two weeks without making a single arrest suddenly leapt to action on the basis of a mere petition by no other person but an alleged cult leader, John Okwori, against Agboji John Audu and some EYA and EYM leaders.
“While we do not, and will never, support a resort to self-help, jungle justice or any form of criminality, we are surprised that the police responded to Mr Okwori’s petition in the manner they did when they failed to undertake any preliminary investigation of the matter, including background checks on the character of the petitioner.
“We are appalled that the police seem to have ignored about 10 homicide incidents and prioritised and prosperity everywhere,” the statement concluded.
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