The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a complaint against President Muhammadu Buhari for failing to “disclose records and documentation linked to the identities of persons from whom N800 billion was retrieved from stolen public funds, relevant recovery dates, and specifics of the projects on which the money was spent.”
In paragraph 78 of his speech to mark Democracy Day on June 12, 2020, the President had claimed that: “the government has recovered stolen funds worth N800 billion. These funds are being plowed into construction programs and maintenance initiatives.
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1064/2020 filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja last Friday, SERAP seeks: ‘an order for leave to appeal for judicial review and a mandamus order to guide and/or force President Buhari to publish a complete list of names of people from whom N800 billion was recovered in looted funds, details of the spending of the money and precise dates of the looted funds
SERAP is also seeking: ‘a mandamus order to guide and force President Buhari to advise relevant anti-corruption agencies to investigate immediately, diligently and transparently the suspected transfer in 2019 of N51 billion of public funds into individual private accounts.’
Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, Federation Attorney General and Minister of Justice, and Mrs Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Economy, Budget and National Planning are entered in the suit as Respondents.
SERAP claims in the complaint that: “The Court should force the respondents to reveal the information and location of the public funds. There is no legally justifiable explanation why the details should not be made publicly accessible to the Nigerians, especially because the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) requires the government to eradicate all forms of corruption in section 15(5). That means promoting openness and responsibility in public assets and asset management.’
The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information (FoI) request to President Buhari dated 13 June 2020, alleging that: “The public has the right to know how recovered N800bn loot was invested, and the extent and intent of the suspected N51bn transfers into individual private accounts. Government accountability of transactions is essential to maintaining public confidence in the fairness of financial assets and asset management.
SERAP also claims that: “The awarding of the sought-after reliefs would guarantee openness and accountability, as the knowledge obtained would reveal the reality about where the money goes and why it is there;
And provide Nigerians the ability to determine the effect of any loot-recovered ventures and the suspected transfers to individual private accounts.’
The case brought by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi on behalf of SERAP reads in part: “As signatories to the UN Convention against Corruption, the African Union Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Corruption and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Nigeria has committed itself to ensuring open control of public resources and unhindered access to public records Such obligations should be completely upheld and fulfilled.
“Transparency in government and openness is in the public interest. Publishing the specifics of the N800 billion loot seized and reviewing suspected irregular transfers to personal accounts will be completely aligned with the international anti-corruption promises of Nigeria.
“The authorities are expected to maintain the highest level of openness, integrity and probity in handling certain resources and income, as well as the services they supervise.”
“Disclosing the specifics of the programs on which the N800bn seized loot was invested and releasing a detailed list of the names of the persons from whom it was retrieved, as well as investigating the suspected transfer of billions of naira in private accounts, would be fully compliant with the government’s often-expressed anti-corruption obligations.”
It will be recalled that BudgIT, a public tech organisation, recently announced that “in 2019, the federal government ‘s transparent treasury platform allegedly revealed transfers totalling N51bn were made into individual accounts.”
No date has been scheduled for the trial hearing.