Nigeria’s minister of finance Zainab Ahmed sued over failed Chinese $460 million Abuja CCTV project

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Nigeria’s Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against Mrs Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning over failure to “disclose information and specific documents on the total amount of money paid to contractors from the $460 million loan obtained in 2010 from China to fund the apparently failed Abuja Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) project, and failure to name the contractors involved and explain why the government has continued to re-pay the loan.”

In the suit filed last week 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 the Minister of Finance to disclose the details of local companies and Chinese contractors that have received funds from the $460 million loan for the finance of the failed Abuja CCTV project as well as details of the status of implementation of the project.”

SERAP is also seeking “an order of mandamus to direct and compel the Minister of Finance to disclose whether the sum of N1.5 billion Naira paid in 2010 for the failed project meant to construct the headquarters of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) was part of another loan obtained from China, and to clarify further whether the sum of N1.5 billion Naira mobilsation fee for the construction of the Headquarters of the CCB in Abuja was part of another loan from China.”

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The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information (FoI) request dated 25 October 2019 to Mrs Ahmed, expressing: “concern that Nigerians are being made to pay for the Chinese loans for failed and abandoned projects, and for which they have not benefited in any way, shape or form.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare, Opeyemi Owolabi and Ms Atinuke Adejuyigbe, read in part: “Transparency in the spending of Chinese loans is good for everyone, as this would help to increase the effectiveness, legitimacy, and contribution of the loans to the development of public goods and services, and the general public interests.”

“The information being requested does not come within the purview of the types of information exempted from disclosure under the Act. The Respondent has no legally justifiable reason for refusing to provide SERAP with the information requested.”

“Democracy cannot flourish if governments operate in secrecy. The citizens are entitled to know how the commonwealth is being utilized, managed and administered in a democratic setting.”

“By the combined provisions of Sections 1; 2; 3(4); 4; 7(1)&(5); 9; 14(2)(b); 19(2); 20 of the FoI Act, 2011, among other provisions; SERAP’s right of access to information is guaranteed and there is a statutory obligation on the Respondent, being public officer, to proactively keep, organize and maintain all information or records about her ministry’s operations, personnel, activities and other relevant or related information or records in a manner that facilitates public access to such information or record.”

“By virtue of Section 4 (a) of the FOI Act when a person makes a request for information from a public official, institution or agency, the public official, institution or agency to whom the application is directed is under a binding legal obligation to provide the applicant with the information requested for, except as otherwise provided by the Act, within 7 days after the application is received.”

“The Respondent is an appointee of the President of Nigeria and head of the Ministry of Finance. Her official duties include; collecting and disbursing government revenue, formulating policies on management of the Federal Government’s finance, preparing annual budget and accounts for ministries, departments and agencies and managing federal debt.”

“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 FoI request read in part: “As trustee of public funds, SERAP contends that your Ministry has a legal duty to disclose details of spending on the $460 million Abuja CCTV project and N1.5 billion for the construction of CCB headquarters, to the beneficiaries (Nigerians) of the trust, if and when called upon to do so. Any failure or refusal to provide the information will also be clearly inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the FoI Act.”

“Servicing Chinese loans for failed projects is double jeopardy for Nigerians—they can neither see nor benefit from the projects; yet, they are made to pay both the loans and the accrued interests.”

“The $460 million loan got for the failed Abuja CCTV project and the N1.5 billion for the construction of CCB headquarters, which may be part of another Chinese loan, may have been mismanaged or stolen, and in any case, remain unaccounted for.”

“As a key agency of government, the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning has a sacred duty to ensure that the country’s loans including those obtained from China are transparently and accountably used solely for the purposes for which the loans are obtained, and for the effective development of public goods and services as well as the general public interests.”

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

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