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Nigerian President sued over failure to break down how 800 billion naira recovered loot was spent as activists fear the funds may have been relooted

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Nigeria’s Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari over failure to “disclose information and documents relating to the names of people from whom N800 billion in looted public funds have been recovered, specific dates of the recovery, and details of projects on which the money has been spent.”

The President had in paragraph 78 of his speech to mark the occasion of the Democracy Day on June 12, 2020, said “the government has recovered looted funds in excess of N800 billion. These monies are being ploughed into development and infrastructure projects.”

In the suit filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Abuja, SERAP is seeking: “an order for leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus to direct and/or compel President Buhari to publish a comprehensive list of names of people from whom N800 billion in looted funds have been recovered, the details of spending of the money, and the specific dates of the recovery.”

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SERAP is also seeking: “an order of mandamus to direct and compel President Buhari to instruct appropriate anti-corruption agencies to promptly, thoroughly and transparently investigate alleged payment of N51 billion of public funds into individual private accounts in 2019.”

Joined in the suit as Respondents are Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, and Mrs Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning.

In the suit, SERAP is arguing that: “The court ought to compel the Respondents to disclose the details and whereabouts of the public funds. There is no legally justifiable reason why the information should not be made widely available to Nigerians, especially as the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) requires the government in section 15(5) to abolish all forms of corruption. That means ensuring transparency and accountability in the management of public resources and wealth.”

The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information (FoI) request dated 13 June, 2020 to President Buhari, stating that: “The public has a right to know how recovered N800bn loot has been spent, and the details and purpose of the alleged payments of N51bn into individual private accounts. Transparency over transactions by the government is critical to ensuring public confidence in the integrity of management of public resources and wealth.”

SERAP is also arguing that: “Granting the reliefs sought will ensure transparency and accountability, as the information sought to be published will reveal the truth of where money is going and why it is there, and allow Nigerians an opportunity to assess the impacts of any projects carried out with the recovered loot and the alleged payments into individual private accounts.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part: “As a signatory to the UN Convention against Corruption, the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Nigeria has committed to ensure transparent management of public resources, and unhindered access to public information. These commitments ought to be fully upheld and respected.”

“Transparency and accountability in governance is in the public interest. Publishing the details regarding the N800 billion recovered loot and investigating the alleged suspicious payments into personal accounts would be entirely consistent with Nigeria’s international anti-corruption commitments.”

“The authorities are required to set the highest standards of transparency, accountability and probity in the management of these resources and wealth, and the programmes that they oversee.”

“Disclosing the details of projects on which the N800bn recovered loot have been spent and publishing a comprehensive list of names of people from whom they have been recovered, as well as investigating alleged payment of billions of naira into individual private accounts, would be entirely consistent with the oft-expressed anti-corruption commitments by the government.”

It would be recalled that BudgIT, a civic tech organization, recently reported that “the open treasury portal by the federal government allegedly showed that payments totalling N51bn were made into individual accounts in 2019.”

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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