Tuesday, March 1, 2016 4:02 pm
The court then ordered the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to “ensure that his government, and the governments of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and former President Goodluck Jonathan account fully for all recovered loot.”
The judgment was delivered on Friday by Justice M.B. Idris following a Freedom of Information suit brought by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
The details ordered by the court to be disclosed include: information on the total amount of recovered stolen public assets by each government; the amount of recovered stolen public assets spent by each government as well as the objects of such spending and the projects on which such funds were spent.
Justice Idris dismissed all the objections raised by the Federal Government and upheld SERAP’s arguments.
Consequently, the court entered judgment in favour of SERAP against the Federal Government and granted all the reliefs sought.
SERAP deputy executive director Olukayode Majekodunmi said: “This judgment confirms the persistent failure of successive governments starting from the Obasanjo government, to respect Nigerians’ right to a corruption-free society and to uphold constitutional and international commitments on transparency and accountability.
”The judgment is an important step towards reversing a culture of secrecy and corruption that has meant that high-ranking government officials continue to look after themselves at the expense of the well-being of majority of Nigerians, and development of the country.”
“This is a crucial precedent that vindicates the right to a transparent and accountable government and affirms the human right of the Nigerian people to live a life free from want and fear. We are in the process of obtaining a certified copy of the around 60 pages judgment. SERAP will do everything within its power to secure the full and effective enforcement of this judgment.”
The Federal Government through its Counsel, Sheba Olugbenga filed a Notice of Preliminary Objection dated 26th day of March, 2012 on the following grounds: that SERAP lacked the locus standi to institute the action; that the action was statute barred; and that SERAP’s affidavit evidence offends the provisions of the Evidence Act.
On May 8th 2012 the Federal Government filed additional written address in support its Preliminary Objection, arguing most extensively on the retroactive nature of SERAP’s request; that is, the Freedom of Information Act, having been enacted in 2011, does not apply to spending by governments since 1999.
In response, SERAP argued that the FOI Act is a special specie of legislation to liberalize and expand access to information for all Nigerians; that the FOI Act does not impose any requirement of locus standi on applicants; that the only relevant limitation period in the case is that which requires filing of suit within 30 days if information is not given; that the right which the FOI Act seeks to protect is the right of the public to have access to information which is in custody of a public official or institution; and that the information sought by SERAP is not caught by the law against retroactivity, noting that the right in question is expropriatory in nature which justifies the granting of access to the requested information on the ground of overriding public interest.
SERAP also argued in its pleadings that “By virtue of Section 1 (1) of the FOI Act 2011, it is entitled as of right to request for or gain access to information which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution. By the provisions of Section 2(7) and 31 of the FOI Act 2011, the Accountant General of the Federation is a public official. 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 organization also argued that, “The information requested relates to the spending on recovered stolen funds since the return of civilian rule in 1999. By Sections 2(3)(d)(V) & (4) of the FOI Act, a public official is under a binding legal duty to ensure that documents containing information relating to the receipt or expenditure of recovered stolen funds are widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means.”