By Innocent Anaba
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has dragged President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua before aÂ Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, over alleged failure to provide information on the spending of recovered stolen public funds. Also joined as defendants in the suit are the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; Accountant-General of the Federation and the Auditor-General of the Federation.
SERAP in the suit is contending that â€œthe respondents have not shown transparency, accountability and openness in the spending of recovered stolen public funds, estimated at N600 billion, by both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC.â€
SERAPâ€™s counsel, Mr Adetokunbo Mumuni, is further contending in the suit that theÂ â€œlack of disclosure in the spending of recovered loot is aptly illustrated by the secrecy surrounding the spending of recovered funds from the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha (about $1.9 billion returned); the former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun (about N10 billion returned); and the former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha (about $1.9 million returned).â€
The group is meanwhile, asking the court to declare that the failure and/or refusal of the Respondents to individually and/or collectively carry out a transparent auditing of the spending of the recovered stolen public funds since the return of civil rule in 1999, and to publish widely the outcome of such auditing, including on a dedicated website, is illegal and unlawful as it violates Articles 9, 21 and 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoplesâ€™ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
*An order of mandamus compelling the Respondents individually and/or collectively to carry out a transparent auditing of the spending of the recovered stolen public funds since the return of civil rule in 1999, and to publish widely the outcome of such auditing, including on a dedicated website.
SERAP, which suit, which is based on the new Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009, argued that, â€œthe right of Nigerians to â€œreceiveâ€ information in Article 9(1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoplesâ€™ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act logically imposes a legal obligation on the government to â€œprovideâ€.
Implicit in Article 9(1) is a responsibility on the part of the Respondents to promote and ensure openness and transparency in the spending of government, including in this case the spending of recovered stolen public funds.â€
â€œThe people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way, by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing.
The right to know, which is derived from the concept of freedom of speech, though not absolute, is a factor which should make one wary when secrecy is claimed for transaction,â€ the group further argued. According to the group, â€œaccess to information of this nature is especially important in this country, which is struggling to establish the rule of law and democracy in the face of underdevelopment, including in the Niger Delta, continued sectarian violence, and where human rights conditions remain poor.
Transparent information flows contribute towards a culture of good governance and openness and also help to develop a sense of public trust in the authorities, at the federal, state and local level.