SERAP, a non-governmental organisation, has mastered the art of dragging the federal government to court on every issue. Daily Trust looks into some of these cases and how the judgements have been ignored by the government.
The Nigerian government is facing several court cases from different individuals and organisations. A good number of them are by a human rights and transparency organisation, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
This organisation has developed the habit of suing the Nigerian government for a range of issues from rights abuses to petrol price hikes. They have won some. They have lost others too.
Following the shooting at Lekki Toll Gate recently, SERAP, in keeping with tradition, announced plans to drag President Muhammadu Buhari to the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the October 20 incident.
They are also suing for alleged police brutality in Abuja, Lagos, Edo, Oyo, Osun, Plateau, and Kano states, leading to the deaths of some 60 persons.
Before that, when the federal government announced plans to increase electricity tariff and petrol pump price at the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic, SERAP also filed a suit before an Abuja Federal High Court, arguing that the move was antithetical to public interest, the common good, and a fundamental breach of the constitutional oath of office.
Among other reliefs, SERAP seeks a declaration that the exercise of President Buhari’s power to “increase the price of petrol under Section 6 of the Petroleum Act 1969 and the increase of electricity tariff is arbitrary, unjust, unfair, and in breach of the Oath of Office of the President, contained in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).”
SERAP had also sought an injunction from a Federal High Court, Lagos to stop ‘police from harassing the #EndSARS protesters, and any other peaceful protests to wit: “their rights to life, dignity, personal liberty, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
The federal government, Daily Trust observes, has not complied with some of the previous judgments delivered by the courts in favour of SERAP to publish information on recovered loot and for accountability on public funds.
Some of them are SERAP v. Minister of Information (suit no: FHC/L/CS/964/2016), SERAP v. The Accountant General of the Federation and Attorney General of the Federation (suit number: FHC/IKJ/CS/248/2011), and SERAP v. President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Attorney General of the Federation (FHC/L/CS/1821/2017), and SERAP v. Attorney General of the Federation (suit number: FHC/L/CS/1497/2017).
Others are SERAP v. Minister of Power (suit no FHC/L/CS/1821/2017), and SERAP v. Federal Republic of Nigeria & Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) (suit number: ECW/CCJ/APP/2008) at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice.
On the suit against the Minister of Information, the court held that the relief sought by SERAP succeeds being a “declaration that by virtue of Section 4(a) of the FOI Act 2011, the Defendants/Respondents are under a binding legal obligation to provide the Plaintiff/Applicant with up to date information relating to the following: a. information about the names of high-ranking public officials from whom funds were recovered since May 2015”; and “the circumstances under which the funds were recovered.”
Delivering judgement in the suit by SERAP vs Accountant General of the Federation and the Attorney General of the Federation on February 26, 2016, Justice M.B. Idris ruled that “a declaration is hereby made that the failure and/or refusal of the Respondents to individually and/or collectively disclose detailed information about the spending of recovered stolen public funds since the return of civil rule in 1999, and to publish widely such information, including on a dedicated website, amounts to a breach of the fundamental principles of transparency and accountability and violates Articles 9, 21 and 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
“A declaration is hereby made that by virtue of the provisions of Section 4(a) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, the 1st Defendant is under a binding legal obligation to provide the Plaintiff with up to date information on the spending of recovered stolen funds, including: (i) Detailed information on the total amount of recovered stolen public assets that have so far been recovered by Nigeria; (ii) the amount that has been spent from the recovered stolen public assets and the objects of such spending; (iii) Details of projects on which recovered stolen public assets were spent.
“An order of mandamus is made directing and or compelling the Defendants to provide the Plaintiff with up to date information on recovered stolen funds since the return of civilian rule in 1999, including (i) Detailed information on the total amount of recovered stolen public assets that have so far been recovered by Nigeria, (ii) The amount that has been spent from the recovered stolen public assets and the objects of such spending.
“Details of projects on which recovered stolen public assets were spent.”
Delivering judgment in the suit between SERAP and the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Attorney General of the Federation on May 28, 2018, Justice M.B. Idris made an order of Mandamus directing and or compelling the president to do the following:
“Direct the publication of the report of investigations by security and anti-corruption bodies into the alleged padding of the 2016 budget;
“Urgently halt alleged ongoing attempt by some principal officers of the National Assembly to steal N40 billion of the N100 billion allocated by his government as “zonal intervention” in the 2017 budget;
“Closely monitor and scrutinize the spending of N131 billion (accrued from increased oil benchmark) allocated for additional non-constituency projects expenditure, to remove the possibility of corruption.
However, the court noted that the 2nd relief, for the president to instruct security and anti-corruption agencies to forward to him reports of their investigations into allegations of padding and stealing of some N481 billion from the 2016 budget by some principal officers of the National Assembly, and to direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), and/or appropriate anti-corruption agencies to commence prosecution of indicted officers, did not succeed.
Delivering judgment in the suit between SERAP and the AGF on November 11, 2019, Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo ordered the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to institute appropriate legal actions to challenge the legality of states’ laws permitting former governors, who are now senators and ministers, to enjoy governors’ emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices, and to identify those involved and seek full recovery of public funds from the former governors.
In the judgment on July 4, 2019, Justice Chuka Austine Obiozor granted the application of SERAP demanding the federal government and the Ministry of Power to provide it with documents and information of specific names and details of contractors and companies that have been engaged in the power sector by succeeding governments since 1999 under the FOI Act.
Also, in the suit filed by SERAP v. Federal Republic of Nigeria & Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) before the ECOWAS Court, on November 11, 2009, the court held that that all Nigerians are entitled to education as a legal and human right; the right to education can be enforced before the court and dismissed the objection of the Federal Government that education is a mere directive policy of the government and not an entitlement of the citizens.
But after these judgments have been obtained in its favour, the Deputy Director of SERAP, Kolawole Oludare said the federal government is yet to comply with any of them.
A public affairs analyst, Sonala Olumhense had said that the orders obtained from Nigerian courts by SERAP between 2016 and 2017N on recovered loots since 1999 has been “ignored until this day.”
“But in July 2017, Malami promised that his government would indeed honour those famous court orders, telling State House journalists the government agreed with the courts.
“Again, in October of that year, in a meeting with SERAP in Abuja, Malami repeated the promise, claiming that Buhari had directed all the relevant agencies to compile documents on names of all “looters”, towards enforcing the court orders.
“But it was a ruse, and just weeks ago, as the world awaited the return of the latest Abacha account, the government owned up. In response to an FOI request, Malami told SERAP the government has “no records of the exact amount of public funds stolen by a former military head of state, Sani Abacha, and no records of the spending of about $5 billion recovered loot for the period between 1999 and 2015.”
The media aide to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), Dr Umar Gwandu pledged to reply this newspaper’s request about actions taken by the federal government on the orders. He still has not done so weeks later.