SERAP sues Tinubu govt over failure to account for loans by ex-presidents

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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against the government of president Bola Tinubu “over the failure to publish spending details of the loans obtained by the governments of former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari.”

The suit was filed against the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Mr Wale Edun, and the Debt Management Office (DMO).

In the suit number FHC/L/CS/353/2024 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Lagos, SERAP is asking the court to “direct and compel the Tinubu government to publish the loan agreements obtained by the governments of former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari.”

SERAP is also asking the court to “direct and compel the Tinubu government to publish the spending details of any such loans, including the interests and other payments so far made on the loans.”

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In the suit, SERAP is arguing that, “No one should be able to pull curtains of secrecy around decisions on the spending of public funds which can be revealed without injury to the public interest. Democracy requires accountability and accountability requires transparency.”

SERAP is also arguing that “The Tinubu government should make it possible for citizens to have access to the agreements and spending details to judge whether their government is working for them or not.”

According to SERAP, “The information may help to explain why, despite several billions of dollars in loans obtained by successive governments, millions of Nigerians continue to face extreme poverty and lack access to basic public goods and services.”

SERAP is arguing that, “Nigerians’ right to a democratic governance allows them to appreciably influence the direction of government, and have an opportunity to assess progress and assign blame.”

SERAP is also arguing that, “The accountability of government to the general public is a hallmark of democratic governance, which Nigeria seeks to achieve.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Andrew Nwankwo, read in part: “Publishing the loan agreements would improve public accountability in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).”

“Nigerians are entitled to information about what their government is doing in their name. This is part of their right to information.”

“Publishing the agreements and spending details would allow the public to see how and on what these governments spent the loans and foster transparency and accountability.”

“Publishing the loan agreements signed by the governments of former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari, and widely publishing the agreements would allow Nigerians to scrutinise it and to demand accountability for the spending of the loans.”

“According to Nigeria’s Debt Management Office, the total public domestic debt portfolio for the country’s is N97.3 trillion ($108 billion). The Federal Government’s debt is N87.3 trillion ($97 billion).”

“Nigeria paid $6.2 billion in 2019 as interest on loans while the country paid $6.5 as interest in 2018. Nigeria also paid $5 billion as interest on loans in 2017 while the country paid $4.4 billion as interest in 2016. For 2015, the interest paid on loans was $5.5 billion.”

“Substantial parts of the loans obtained by successive governments since the return of democracy in 1999 may have been mismanaged, diverted or stolen, and in any case remain unaccounted for.”

“Persons with public responsibilities ought to be answerable to the people for the performance of their duties including the management of the loans obtained between May 1999 and May 2023.”

“The Tinubu government has a responsibility to ensure transparency and accountability in how any loans obtained by the Federal Government are spent, to reduce vulnerability to corruption and mismanagement.”

“The Freedom of Information Act, Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantee to everyone the right to information, including to copies of the loan agreements obtained by successive governments since 1999.”

“By the combined reading of the provisions of the Constitution of Nigeria, the Freedom of Information Act 2011, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, there are transparency obligations imposed on the Tinubu government to widely publish the agreements and details of the projects on which the loans were spent.”

“The Nigerian Constitution, Freedom of Information Act, and the country’s anti-corruption and human rights obligations rest on the principle that citizens should have access to information regarding their government’s activities.”

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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