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N4.82trn Security votes: Court okays SERAP suit on Buhari, Lawan, Gbajabiamila, others

By Olawale Abdul-Fatah

After much arguments, a Federal High Court in Abuja has granted Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) right to sue President Muhammadu Buhari, Senate president, Ahmed Lawan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, over failure to disclose details of security votes since 1999.

Others joined in the suit were Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, and Auditor General for the Federation, Anthony Ayine.

SERAP, in the suit, prayed the court to compel the defendants to disclose details of allocations, disbursement and spending of security votes by the Federal Government, 36 state governors and 774 local governments between 1999 and 2019.

The organization argued the N241.2 billion spent annually which amounted to N4.82 trillion was spent without providing details of how they were allocated and spent by the receivers.

Justice Ahmed Ramat Mohammed, who gave the ruling following the hearing of an argument on ex parte motion by SERAP’s counsel, Opeyemi Owolabi, expressed satisfaction that the leave ought to be granted and adjourned the motion on notice to December 10, 2019, for hearing.

In his ruling, the judge ordered that hearing notices be issued and served on all the respondents within 8 days.

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1369/2019, SERAP is applying for judicial review and an order of mandamus directing and compelling the President Buhari, Lawan, and Gbajabiamila to disclose details of spending of budgetary allocations as security votes since 1999.

The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information requests and “the respondents’ failure to account for some N241.2 billion of public funds allocated, disbursed and spent yearly as security votes, and the corresponding lack of effective protection of the rights to security and welfare, life and physical integrity of millions of Nigerians.”

The suit read in part: “Nigerians have the constitutional and international human right to know details of the exact amounts that have been spent as security votes and specific areas and projects covered by the allocations, disbursement and spending. There is overriding public interest in Nigerians having access to these details, and the respondents have legal obligations to facilitate public access to such information.”

“Constitutional provisions requiring governments to ensure the security and welfare of the people are intended to protect the security and safety of citizens and not the security of a few individuals in government. Without transparency and accountability, the mismanagement and corruption in the allocation, disbursement and spending of security votes will continue with devastating consequences.”

“Public officials receiving and spending security votes ought to come clean with Nigerians on how exactly these public funds are spent. Unless the reliefs sought are granted, Nigerians would continue to see the appropriation of public funds as security votes as a tool for self-enrichment.”

“The suit is seeking to offer governments at all levels an important opportunity to be transparent and accountable with the exercise of their discretionary powers in the allocation, disbursement and spending of security votes. The public interest in the disclosure of these details outweighs any private interest the respondents may be seeking to protect.”

“As revealed by a 2018 report by Transparency International (TI), most of the funds appropriated as security votes are spent on political activities, mismanaged or simply stolen. It is estimated that security votes add up to over N241.2 billion every year. On top of appropriated security votes, governments also receive millions of dollars yearly as international security assistance.”

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