Justice Mohammed Idris of a Federal High Court in has ordered successive governments since 1999 till date to disclose the total amount of recovered stolen public funds.
The court also ordered that each successive governments from 1999 till date must account for the amount of recovered stolen public assets spent as well as the objects of such spending and the projects on which such funds were spent.
Justice Mohammed Idris gave the order while delivering judgement in a Freedom of Information suit no: FHC/IKJ/CS/248/2011 filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
The court held that successive governments since the return of democracy in 1999 “breached the fundamental principles of transparency and accountability for failing to disclose details about the spending of recovered stolen public funds, including on a dedicated website.”
Consequently, the court ordered 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.”
Justice Idris dismissed all the objections the preliminary objections by the Federal Government.
The Federal government had through its Counsel, Sheba Olugbenga filed a Notice of Preliminary Objection dated March 26, 2012 contending that SERAP lacked the locus standi to institute the action.
But, in response, SERAP argued that the FOI Act is special specie of legislation to liberalize and expand access to information for all Nigerians adding that the FOI Act does not impose any requirement of locus standi on applicants.
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.
It further stated that by the provisions of Section 2(7) and 31 of the FOI Act 2011, the Accountant General of the Federation is a public official.
The organisation 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.”
“The information requested does not come within the purview of the types of information exempted from disclosure by the provisions of the FOI Act. The government has no reason whatsoever to deny SERAP access to the information sought.
The requested information, apart from not being exempted from disclosure under the FOI Act, bothers on an issue of national interest, public concern, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability.”
SERAP had in its statement of claim sought for an order of mandamus directing and or compelling the defendants/respondents to provide the Plaintiff/Applicant with up to date information on recovered stolen funds since the return of civilian rule in 1999, including:
It further sought for detailed information on the total amount of recovered stolen public assets that have so far been recovered by Nigeria
Meanwhile, 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.”