Nigerians who are itching to see the net worth of President Muhammadu Buhari and his vice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, may need to wait a bit longer, as the Code of Conduct Bureau, (CCB), which keeps custody of the assets declared by the two leaders, says it lacks the power to make them public for now.
Chairman of the CCB, Mr. Sam Sada, who spoke through his Special Assistant, Mr. Gwimi Sebastian Peter, said only the National Assembly is vested with the powers to decide the terms and conditions under which such documents could be made public.
The chairman said even though the Constitution of Nigerian made it clear that the agency should make available to the citizens the assets declared by public officials, the same law vested the National Assembly with the power to decide the terms and conditions for making such materials public.
Sada explained that the CCB was ready to comply with the terms and conditions specified by the National Assembly on the matter but would only do so once the law was amended.
He said: “While the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) and the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act give the bureau powers to receive assets declarations, verify, examine, keep in custody and enforce compliance when there is a breach, the responsibility of determining how and on what terms asset declarations will be made accessible to the public was left to the National Assembly.
“Several National Assemblies have come and gone since the establishment of the CCB without addressing the matter.”
Lacuna in FOI Act
When his attention was drawn to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, which makes it compulsory for the CCB to make available to media houses and other interested Nigerians the assets of public officers, the chairman said the FOI Act could not override the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution.
He said that there was a lacuna in the FOI Act, which makes it difficult for the bureau to make public the assets declared by public figures.
Regarding what Buhari and his vice submitted to the agency, the chairman said while it was rather too early for Nigerians to ask the President and his vice to make public their assets, it was necessary for them to exercise some patience and see what the two leaders would do after having voluntarily filed their assets with the CCB.
What the constitution says
Sub-section 3c of Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution actually takes away the right it intended to give to the CCB to publicly display the assets of public officers by stipulating that only the NASS can decide the terms and conditions for making such assets public.
The section is yet to be repealed many years after it was made.
The same section also seems to have rendered impotent Section 4 of the FoI Act 2011, which states: “A public institution shall ensure that information referred to in this section is widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources, and at the offices of such public institutions.”
Buhari and Osinbajo had last week secretly filed their assets with the CCB, thereby reneging on the pledge by the President to publicly declare his assets if elected into office.
But some aides of the President argued last night that Buhari might make a public declaration of his assets as his administration takes shape in the days to come.
They argued that the declaration of their assets by the two men was to demonstrate their determination to break away with the opaqueness that had attended government activities in the past and pave the way for change.