By Monsuru Olowoopejo
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked the Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos to set aside a judgment delivered by a Federal High Court and order public disclosure of asset declaration details submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the state Governors, their deputies and other public officeholder since 1999 to Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
SERAP, in the appeal filed before the Appellate court, contended that the High court misinterpreted the provisions of the constitution while delivering its judgement on the suit.
The case was filed by SERAP hours after Justice Muslim Hassan of Federal High Court, Lagos dismissed the suit seeking to compelled CCB to make available to the public specific details of asset declarations submitted to it by successive presidents, vice-presidents, senate presidents, speakers of House of Representatives, state governors and their deputies since 1999.
In the appeal filed before the court of appeal, the organization argued that the trial judge misinterpreted the provision of the law and did not consider that the Freedom of information was enacted by the National Assembly in 2011 to grant public access to public documents.
SERAP said: “The learned trial Judge erred in law by holding that the Freedom of information Act is a legislation of general nature in relation to public access to asset declaration forms of public officers. The judge erred in law when he held that SERAP’s application ‘is unmeritorious and it is accordingly dismissed.
“Also, the learned trial judge failed to apply the provisions of Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act Cap A9 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, which allows access to public documents to the facts of this case.
“The failure or refusal by the CCB to provide the information requested by SERAP constitutes a violation of their right to freedom of information guaranteed by Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights”.
Although no date has been fixed to hear the appeal filed on SERAP’s behalf by its lawyers but the organization further argued that the judge failed to determine whether the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs whatever injury that the disclosure would cause the CCB and public officers.
“Asset declaration forms submitted by public officers are public documents in the custody of the CCB. The CCB is under a legal obligation to provide the information requested by SERAP in accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
SERAP is also asking the Court of Appeal for “an order granting all the reliefs sought by the Appellant in the Appellant’s motion on notice dated 4th October 2019 before the lower court including an order of mandamus directing and compelling the CCB to publish details of asset declarations as prayed; and a declaration that the failure of the CCB to publish the asset declarations amounts to a breach of legal obligation.”
SERAP is asking the Court of Appeal for “a declaration that the failure of the CCB to provide specific documents and information on the number of asset declarations so far verified by it, 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 violates the Freedom of Information Act and the African Charter.”
SERAP is also seeking an “order of mandamus directing and compelling the CCB 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.”
SERAP is asking for “any other relief or reliefs the Court of Appeal may deem fit to grant in the circumstances and pursuant to its inherent powers.”