SERAP seeks court order to release documents on Jonathan

A civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has asked the Federal High Court (FHC) sitting in Ikeja, Lagos state for an order compelling the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), Sam Saba, to release documents on President Goodluck Jonathan’s asset declaration.

The suit number FHC/IKJ/CS/159/2012 was filed on Thursday as a follow up to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by SERAP to Mr.  Saba dated 27th June 2012.

The motion exparte with the suit was brought pursuant to section 20 of the FOI Act, and Order 34 of the FHC (civil procedure) rules, 2009, and signed by the organization’s staff attorney, Chinyere Nwafor.

SERAP is arguing that under the FOI  Act, “it has the right to request for or gain access to documents relating to President Jonathan’s assets declaration, which is in the custody or possession of the Code of Conduct Bureau, which is a public institution is as defined by the FOI Act. The Defendant has no right whatsoever to deny the Plaintiff to the documents sought.”

SERAP also said that, “the information requested for by the Plaintiff/Applicant stems from the Constitutional requirement which provides in section 153 for the establishment of a Code of Conduct Bureau to ensure, among other things, that all public officers, as defined in Part II of the Fifth Schedule, declare their assets on assuming office and immediately their terms of office expire.”

“In Paragraph 3(C) the Bureau shall have the power to retain custody of such declarations and make them available for inspection by any citizen of Nigeria on such terms and conditions as the National Assembly may prescribe,” the suit also stated.

SERAP further argued that, “the power or discretion to refuse to give access to information requested for and within the custody of the Code of Conduct Bureau cannot be exercised in vacuum. Such a power or discretion it said must be provided for by the FOI Act itself. This means that a denial of such information must be justifiable within the Freedom of Information Act as provided by Section 4(b).”

Among the reliefs sought by the group in the suit include a declaration that by virtue of the provisions of Section 4 (a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2011, the CCB is under a binding legal obligation to make available to SERAP the information within its custody as requested for in the letter dated 27th June 2012.

Another relief sought is a declaration that the failure of the bureau to make available the information requested for within the stipulated time required by law, under section 4(a) of the FOI Act, is a violation of the SERAP’s right to information guaranteed by the 2011 information law. The suit also seeks an order of mandamus directing and or compelling the Code of Conduct Bureau to make available to the SERAP the information requested as contained in a letter dated 27th June 2012 to the bureau

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