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SERAP sues Wike, Okowa, others over ‘N625b’ largesse

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Social-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sued oil-producing states for allegedly failing to account for the N625.43 billion recently paid to them by the Federal Government.

The payment to Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Rivers, Ondo, Imo and Cross River states covered 13 per cent oil derivation, subsidy, and SURE-P refunds. The refunds date from 1999 to 2021.

In the suit, numbered FHC/ABJ/CS/2371/2022 and filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Abuja, SERAP is asking the court to direct and compel the governors to disclose and publish spending of the derivation, subsidy and SURE-P refunds.

The group is also asking the court to compel President Muhammadu Buhari to direct anti-corruption agencies to investigate spending of the public funds collected by the governors, and where appropriate, ensure prosecution of suspected perpetrators and recovery of proceeds of corruption.

In the suit, the organisation is arguing that the 1999 Constitution (as amended), Freedom of Information Act and African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights impose transparency obligations on governors to disclose spending of oil derivation, subsidy and SURE-P refunds.

The rights body is also insisting that governors cannot hide under the excuse that the Freedom of Information Act is not applicable to their states, noting: “The governors also have clear legal obligations to provide information as prescribed by provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”

According to SERAP, it is in the public interest and interest of justice to “grant this application. Nigerians are entitled to their constitutionally and internationally recognised human right to information.

“The constitutional principle of democracy provides a foundation for Nigerians’ right to know details of spending of public funds. Citizens’ right to know promotes openness, transparency and accountability that is in turn crucial for the country’s democratic order.”

The group added: “The public interest in obtaining the information about expenditures relating to refunds outweighs any other interests. The oversight afforded by public access to such governors and help to prevent abuses of public trust.”

The suit, filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Valentina Adegoke, reads in part: “The Nigerian Constitution, Freedom of Information Act and the country’s international obligations rest on the principle that citizens should have access to information regarding their government’s activities.

“Disclosing details of spending of oil derivation, subsidy and SURE-P refunds would allow Nigerians to scrutinise and monitor spending to check diversion.

“The effective operation of representative democracy depends on the people being able to scrutinise, discuss and contribute to government’s decision-making, including spending of the oil derivation refunds.

“To do this, they need information to enable them to participate more effectively in the management of public funds by their state governments.”

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