PRESS RELEASE (2) AGAINST ABBA-AJI'S 'LEGAL' INTERPRETATION OF FoI BILL
There is no conflict of any sort whatsoever between the Freedom of Information Bill, on one hand and on the other, the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended and the Oath of Secrecy as embodied in the Oaths Act, Laws of the Federation 2004, except one imagined and contrived in Senator Abba-Aji’s mind following the mischievous interpretation expressed in his press release published on Friday 4th March 2011.
By virtue of the Oaths Act 2004, all public officers are enjoined to bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and to place public service above personal interests. Senator Abba-Aji should know that if the official duties of our public officers were performed diligently and efficiently not conflicting with this pledge, Nigeria would have been a better society free from the shackles of poverty, disease, endemic corruption and mal-governance that has shamefully kept Africa’s giant limping and stumbling, disrespected across continents.
Because so many we put public trusts and confidence in failed in the face of their Oaths of office that is why we are campaigning and clamouring for the quick passage of the piece of legislation by the Senate to allow the Right of Access to Information as the required check against abuse of public office and the impunity we often frequently encounter in regimes. Senator Abba-Aji as the Special Adviser to Mr. President must have taken a pledge not to allow a conflict of the sort he is brewing hence he must quit office now that he has certain obvious personal interests conflicting with his public duties. This is why the civil and human rights community call on Mr. President to sack him in addition to disowning his views.
It is imperative to state that the oath of secrecy actually compels a disclosure of official information required only those information required in the discharge of official duties are to be disclosed and not personal information as misconstrued by Abba-Aji. The relevant portion of the Oath of Secrecy says “ I…swear that I will not directly or indirectly communicate or reveal any matter to any person which shall be brought under my consideration … except as may be required for the discharge of my official duties or as may be specially permitted by the President. So help me God.” Bear in mind that the official oath under the First Schedule of the Oaths Act 2004, enjoins public officers to be “diligent and efficient”, to “eschew corruption” and to “always follow the path of justice, honesty and concord amongst all the people of Nigeria in all I do. So help me God.” These are the wordings of the Oaths Act, not mine. And Senator Abba-Aji did subscribe to it.
On the seventh schedule of the Constitution, cited by Abba-Aji, who should allow the Attorney General of the Federation and the Chief Law Officer of the Federation to do the work of legal counseling and statutory legal interpretation, rather than usurp it, Abba-Aji should know that the oath of office of the President is no less demanding for the purpose of acting in public interest to preserve, protect and defend the Nigerian Constitution and for the integrity of good governance and the people of Nigeria. It says’ “I, ………………do solemnly swear/affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria; that as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I will discharge my duties to the best of my ability, faithfully, and in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the law, and always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being, and prosperity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; and I will strive to preserve the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy contained in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; and I will not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct or my official decisions; that I will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; that I will abide by the code of conduct contained in the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; that in all circumstance, I will do right to all manner of people, according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will; that I will not directly or indirectly communicate or reveal to any person any matter which shall be brought under my consideration or shall become known to me as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, except as may be required for the due discharge of my duties as President; and I will devote myself to the service and well being of the people of Nigeria. So help me God.”
Nowhere throughout the Oaths Act, the Oath of secrecy and Oath of office is a public officer required to hoard official information in the discharge of his/her duties, therefore a Freedom of Information Act will strengthen the constitutional provision giving vent to people’s right of participation in government, rather than detract from it as illegally, erroneously argued by Senator Mohammed Abba-Aji.
Dame Carol Ajie, Rule of Law Advocate and Civil and Human Rights Activist.