Did Katsina State politicians declare their assets? Read this investigative report!
In the first media chat with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, which was widely published, one of the journalists asked the President about his assets as contained in the Code of Conduct Bureau’s form he filled.
The President responded by saying that the law permits, anybody interested in such information to go to the Code of Conduct Bureau and obtain the information, not only on his declaration but on any political officeholder who was required by the law to fill the assets declaration form.
That prompted me to start investigating whether all political appointees in Katsina State have filled the assets declaration form. I wrote a letter to that effect and distributed to all concerned. That letter helped in reminding all those who did not fill the forms to fill, making Katsina one of the states that mostly complied with the filling of the assets declaration forms.
Thereafter, on¬¬¬ 9th March, 2016, I wrote a letter to the Katsina office of the Code of Conduct Bureau, requesting for access to the assets declaration forms filled by some political officeholders in Katsina State, citing that media chat with the President, and the Federal Information Act.
I received a reply from the Code of Conduct Bureau on 19th August, 2016, stating that all forms filled by the political office holders are in the custody of the National Headquarters of the Bureau in Abuja. They further stated that the documents in their possession could not be released to anybody, except with the permission of the National Headquarters. So they advised me to go to Abuja for such information.
I wrote a letter to the headquarters of the Code of Conduct Bureau Abuja on 22nd August, 2016, seeking the same information and citing the same evidence that I deserved to be served the documents. I attached all correspondence on the matter to strengthen my argument.
I took the letter myself to Abuja without receiving any response. I went the second time to find out the bureau’s response which requested for the assistance of judge of the Code of Conduct Bureau, Justice Danladi Umar, to intervene, so that I could have access to the requested documents.
At the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Chairman, Mr. Sam Saba, received me warmly and friendly. Without mincing words, I told him about my mission and my reasons for seeking the documents. He commended me for all my efforts. I told him that my next line of action was to take them to court if I were not satisfied with his explanation he would give me. This made him burst into laughter.
Sam expressed his regrets that my request could not be granted. He told me that they wrote to the Attorney General of the Federation seeking for a way out, as there were a lot of such requests from journalists and lawyers demanding for the documents.
He told me that the reply they received from the Attorney General of the Federation was that the documents must not be released as that is contrary to some sections of the Federal Constitution. Any act or law that contradicts that of the Constitution is dropped and the Constitution takes precedence. We discussed the predicaments they found themselves and the numerous court cases they have before them.
I officially got their reply on 5th December, 2016, commending my efforts but categorically stated that they could not grant my request, because though their law indicated the possibility of serving us with such information, it is only possible after fulfilling the conditions and guidelines to be set by the National Assembly, which is yet to be actualized.
My investigation discovered that political officeholders have a special immunity by law regarding their assets declaration, no journalist can request and obtain such an information.
The best option is that the National Assembly should provide some guidelines and conditions that whoever fulfills them could be served the documents, or that any officeholder who is confident about himself should personally serve journalists with a copy of whatever assets he or she declared. Alternatively, the person making the declaration should leave a written permission with the bureau that whoever is interested in seeing the documents could be served.
The question is: Was the President not aware of these bottlenecks when he said anybody could go and obtain such information from the bureau? Now that the true situation is known, what are the appropriate actions to be taken to get out of the predicament with full satisfaction, as provided by the law?
Danjuma Katsina is a journalist, writer and secretary of MD Yusufu Research and Documentation Centre