(Being Comments by Femi FALANA, SAN at the 2021 NBA-SPIDEL, held at Ibadan, Oyo State on 25th May 2021. )
Our discourse on corruption is usually an elitist affair as the masses who are victims of corrupt are completely excluded. Furthermore, the discourse is limited by the failure to analyze corruption within the context of the peripheral capitalist system operated by the Government. It is a political system which facilitates corrupt enrichment and criminal diversion of public fund by members of the political class. Section 16 of the Constitution provides that the natural resources of the nation shall be used to promote the welfare and happiness of the Nigerian people. But the criminal diversion of public fund by the political class has made it impossible for majority of citizens to access to education, health and other social services. As lawyers have a role to play in the fight against corruption we shall examine the relevant provisions of the Constitution and other laws on public accountability.
DUTY TO PROMOTE PUBLIC ACCOUNTABILITY
It is submitted that access to information is a fundamental right by virtue of section 38 of the Constitution which stipulates that “every citizen shall have the right to freedom of expression including the right to obtain information and impart ideas”. Access to information is equally protected by article 9 (2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act which provides that “Every individual shall have the right to receive information”. In Dododo v EFCC the Court of Appeal upheld the human right of the appellant to access information when it was said that he was entitled to a copy of the report of the investigation in respect of his petition alleging corruption involving a former governor.
In order to promote transparency and accountability in government and open up the government to the public the Freedom of Information Act was enacted by the National Assembly in 2011. Accordingly, it is the duty of all public institutions to allow citizens to access public records. . Sometime in 2019, the Socio Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) requested for certified true copies of asset declaration forms submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) by President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. The request was rejected by the CCB on the ground that it is not covered by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. Completely dissatisfied with the decision of the CCB the SERAP approached the Federal High Court for redress.
In dismissing the application the learned trial judge, Musiliu Hassan J. (as he then was) held that by virtue of paragraph 3(a,b&c) of part 1, 3rd schedule of the constitution it is the duty of the National assembly to prescribe the conditions for the release of Asset declaration forms for inspection and to achieve this, the National assembly has to pass an Act to that effect which has not be done. The court also held that the terms and conditions to be prescribed by National assembly must be specific and related to Asset declaration of Public officers and not a legislation of general nature such as the Freedom of information Act, 2011. Even though SERAP has filed an appeal against the judgment the Buhari administration has deliberately prevented the Nigerian people from monitoring the illicit acquisition of assets by public ofofficers.
Furthermore, the decision of the CCB to withhold information on asset declaration of public officers has made it impossible for citizens to exercise their constitutional duty of reporting non compliance with the provisions of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers set out in the Constitution. The attention of the CCB ought to be drawn to the meaning of the word “declaration”. According to the Jowitts Dictionary of English Law, declaration means “a proclamation or affirmation, open expression or publication, a formal statement intended to create, preserve, assert or testify to a right.” Collins Dictionary has also been defined declaration as “an official announcement or statement.” Since declaration means official announcement it is submitted that the declaration means the official announcement of the assets and liabilities of public officers. To that extent, it is illegal and unconstitutional on the part of the CCB to continue to treat the asset declaration forms of public officers as private documents whose contents are known to the declarants and top officials of the CCB. Even though his administration did not declare any war against corruption the late President Umoru Yaradua declared his assets and caused the media to publish the details. President Buhari ought to demonstrate leadership by example by causing the media to publish his assets and those of other public officers in the aadministration.
RANCHES OR GRAZING RESERVES?
More than ever before the media and the Nigerian Bar Association ought to intensify the campaign for the actualisation of the provisions of the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. In particular, this is the time to mount sufficient pressure on all governments to provide for the welfare and security of the people pursuant section 14 of the Constitution. However, in its belated response to the reckless killing of farmers, destruction of farms, kidnapping and raping of women by killer herders the federal government has decided to revive grazing reserves as a knee jerk reaction to the decision of the Southern Governors Forum to ban open grazing. Thus, the reaction of the Presidency has further polarised a country whose unity is being seriously threatened by separatist groups. But the reaction is uncalled for having regard to the fact that the National Economic Council and the Nigeria Governors Forum had banned open grazing and resolved to embrace ranching. Whereas the Presidency has said that the fundamental right of armed herders cannot be abridged why has the Federal Government decided to restrict the movement of cattle to grazing reserves? herders have the unquestionable right
Last Friday, the Federal High Court ruled that state governments have the power to enact anti grazing laws. Therefore, it smacks of brazen official impunity on the part of the Presidency to have said that the ban on open grazing is of doubtful legality. Even though it has been said that the policy would take off in June not a single grazing reserve has been identified, prepared and put into use. Similarly, the Federal Government had announced in 2016 that 55000 hectares of land had been acquired in 11 States for the establishment of ranches. By April 2018, the Federal Government launched the National Livestock Transformation Plan with emphasis on the establishment of ranches. The Federal Government later turned round to adopt Cattle Colony and Ruga policies which were rejected by a number of State Governments. Instead of further dividing the country along ethnic lines we call on the Federal Government to halt the mindless killing of farmers and kidnapping of innocent people by killer herders.
Instead of weeping more than the bereaved the Federal Government should listen to the Miyetti Allah which has accepted the ban on open grazing and demanded for the establishment of ranches. Since there is a popular demand for the proscription of open grazing all hands should now be on deck to establish ranches without any further delay. From the information at our disposal not less than 24 States have applied to the Federal Government for grant to establish ranches. The Presidency should not compound the crisis by giving the erroneous impression that grazing reserves are different from ranches. The Federal Government is advised to study the Grazing Reserves Act of 1964 which provided for the establishment and operation of grazing reserves in the northern part of the country. The Kano State Government has braized the trail by setting up Ruga Settlements which provide opportunities for thousands of herders to practice cattle business without violating the rights of farmers and other citizens.
(Cambridge University Press, January, 2021) By Professor Damilola S. Olawuyi, SAN, FCIArb, Professor of Law and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti
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