A group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has made an insistent and peremptory request that the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), compels compliance with a judgement by Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Lagos, ordering the government of Buhari and his predecessors to give a detailed account on how recovered stolen funds had been spent since the country returned to civilian rule in 1999.
The details of the judgment are recorded in the certified true copy which SERAP sent to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice. The 69-page judgment, signed by Justice Mohammed Idris and dated March 24, 2016 partly reads:
“Transparency in the decision-making process and access to information upon which decisions have been made can enhance accountability. 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 constitutional democracy like ours, this is meant to be the norm.”
“I am of the view that on receipt of SERAP request, the government had the duty to respond to same. If it does hold the information it must supply it within 7 days from receipt of the request. Where a decision to withhold information is taken, the government/relevant authorities must inform the plaintiff of its reason. In respect of the SERAP reliefs on recovered stolen funds since return of democracy in 1999, the government had kept mute. Let me say that they have no such power under the law.”
“There is public interest in public authorities and high-profile individuals being accountable for the quality of their decision-making. Ensuring that decisions have been made on the basis of quality legal advice is part of accountability.”
“The judiciary has no choice but to enforce compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. There is no doubt that the FOI Act is intended to act as a catalyst for change in the way public authorities approach and manage public resources and records. The judiciary cannot shirk its sacred responsibility to the nation to maintain the rule of law.”
“I am of the view and do hold that the action should and does succeed in whole. Documents relating to the receipt or expenditure on recovered stolen funds since return of democracy in 1999 constitute part of the information which a public institution and authority is obligated to publish, disseminate and make available to members of the public. The government has no legally justifiable reason for refusing to provide SERAP with the information requested, and therefore, this Court ought to compel the government to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, as the government is not above the law.”
In the letter written to Mr. Abubakar Malami by SERAP, the group asked the minister to make certain that the implementation of the judgement by Justice Idris, will be carried out in time, adding that considering the fact that the Buhari-led administration is still new, enforcing and implementing the judgement will require the government to put in place a mechanism to invite the leadership and top government officials of former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and President Goodluck Jonathan, to explain, clarify and provide proofs of the amount of stolen funds recovered by their respective governments (from abroad and within Nigeria), and the projects (including their locations) on which the funds were spent.
In conclusion, the organisation expressed their believe that the quick implementation of the judgement by President Buhari’s administration will be a litmus test of the president’s repeated commitment to transparency, accountability and the anti-graft war, and for the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act generally.