Code of Conduct Bureau: Help us help the President be transparent

On Sunday 24th June 2012, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, in his monthly media chat stunned the entire country when he brazenly stated that he will not make his asset declaration public. For him, publicly declaring his assets and liabilities was a matter of principle and he had elected not to so declare. Some have argued that the Presidents attack was on ’public’ declaration of assets and liabilities. Others insist his assault was on s.140 of the 1999 Constitution. I want to agree more with the former. I find it hard to believe the President was or could have been sworn into office in flagrant disregard of a clear constitutional requirement. However, these are strange times. Nothing is impossible in our country.

The President indeed does have a right to elect not to make his asset declaration public.  But the Code of Conduct Bureau has a duty to make the Presidents Declaration available to citizens.

S.140 1999 Constitution provides thus: ’’ a person elected to the office of President shall not begin to perform the functions of that office until he has declared his asset and liabilities as prescribed in this Constitution…….’’

S. 1 (3) (c ) Part 1 Third Schedule 1999 Constitution  empowers the Code of Conduct Bureau ‘’to retain custody of such declarations and make them available for inspection by citizens of Nigeria on such terms and conditions as the National Assembly may prescribe…’’

What this means is that declaration of assets and liabilities is obligatory. The President has no choice but to declare his assets and liabilities (to the Code of Conduct Bureau). The challenge over the years has been assessing these declarations of assets and liabilities in the custody of the Code of Conduct Bureau.  The Constitution empowers the National Assembly to draw up ‘terms’ and ‘conditions’ for public scrutiny and inspection of such declarations by public officers. These our legislators have consistently failed to do for obvious reasons.

There is however some hope - the Freedom of Information Act. It is an act of parliament and clearly contains ‘terms’ and ‘conditions’ for access to information. S.1 (1) establishes this right. It provides as follows:

Notwithstanding anything contained in any other Act, law or regulation, the right of any person to access or request information, whether or not contained in any written form, which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution however described, is established.

It is our hope that the Code of Conduct Bureau will in compliance with Freedom of Information Act heeds the demands of interested citizens and makes available the Presidents declaration of his assets and liabilities. The President clearly needs our help and we must help him to be transparent.

Collins Okeke
Legal/Program Officer
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