By Paul Adaji (ABUJA) –
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court in Lagos, seeking from from the Nigerian government, details of claims of payment of N729 billion (about $1.8 billion) to poor Nigerian as a palliative measure.
In the suit number FHC/L/CS/853/2021 filed at the Federal High Court, Lagos, SERAP is specifically seeking an order of the court “to compel the Federal Government to disclose details of proposed payments of N729bn to 24.3 million poor Nigerians, including the mechanisms and logistics for the payments, list of beneficiaries, and how they have been selected, and whether the payments will be made in cash or through Bank Verification Numbers or other means.”
SERAP is also seeking “an order directing and compelling the Federal Government to explain the rationale for paying N5,000 to 24.3 million poor Nigerians for six months, which translates to five-percent of the country’s budget of N13.6 trillion for 2021.”
The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information (FoI) request to Ms Sadia Umar-Farouk, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disasters Management and Social Development, stating that: “Disclosing the details of beneficiaries and selection criteria, as well as the payment plan would promote transparency and accountability, and remove the risks of mismanagement and diversion of public funds.”
The organisation is also seeking: “an order directing and compelling the Federal Government to clarify whether the proposed payment to poor Nigerians is part of the N5.6 trillion budget deficit.”
In the suit filed against Ms Sadia Umar-Farouk, SERAP is arguing that “Providing support and assistance to poor Nigerians is a human rights obligation but the programme to spend five-percent of the 2021 budget, which is mostly based on deficit and borrowing, requires anti-corruption safeguards to ensure the payments go directly to the intended beneficiaries, and that public funds are not mismanaged or diverted.”
According to SERAP: “The Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], UN Convention against Corruption, and African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party require the government to set the highest standards of transparency, accountability and probity in programmes that it oversees.”
SERAP is also arguing that “The government has a responsibility to ensure that these requirements and other anti-corruption controls are fully implemented and monitored, and that the payments are justified in light of the huge budget deficit and borrowing, and whether there are better ways to spend N729bn to support poor Nigerians.”
According to SERAP: “The Federal Government has repeatedly failed to ensure transparency and accountability in the spending of public wealth and resources.”
The suit filed last week on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part: “Transparency and accountability in the programme would improve public trust, and allow Nigerians to track and monitor its implementation, and to assess if the programme is justified, as well as to hold authorities to account in cases of diversion, mismanagement and corruption.”
“Obedience to the rule of law by all citizens but more particularly those who publicly took oath of office to protect and preserve the constitution is a desideratum to good governance and respect for the rule of law. In a democratic society, this is meant to be a norm; it is an apostasy for government to ignore the provisions of the law and the necessary rules to regulate matters”
“The right to truth allows Nigerians to gain access to information essential to the fight against corruption. This is in line with the Government’s anti-corruption strategy of citizen involvement in the fight against corruption. As a positive development strategy, access to information will foster development of democratic institutions in Nigeria.”
“Democracy cannot flourish in the absence of citizen’s access to information. Public officers are mere custodians of public records. The citizenry is entitled to know how the common wealth is being utilized, managed and administered. This right to know will no doubt help in promoting a transparent democracy, good governance and public accountability.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.