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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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SERAP drags Govs, Wike before court over N5.9trn, $4.6bn loans

By Monsurudeen Olowoopejo

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against State Governors and the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nyesom Wike, over failure toake public contents of the N5.9 trillion and $4.6 billion loans obtained by their states and FCT.

SERAP stated that the suit was initiated after they refused to publish copies of the loan agreements, including details and locations of projects executed with the loans, despite all appeals made to their offices.

The suit followed the disclosure last month by Kaduna State Governor, Uba Sani, that the immediate past administration of Nasir El-Rufai left $587 million, N85 billion debt and 115 contractual liabilities, making it impossible for the state to pay workers salaries.

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/592/2024 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Abuja, SERAP is asking the court to “direct and compel the governors and Mr Wike to account for N5.9trn and $4.6bn loans obtained by their states and the FCT and to publish copies of the loan agreements, location of projects executed with the loans.”

The organization also asked the court to “direct and compel the governors and Mr Wike to invite the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC] and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission [ICPC] to investigate the spending of all the loans obtained to date by their states and the FCT.”

In the suit, SERAP is arguing that, “It is in the public interest to grant the reliefs sought. Nigerians have the right to see and scrutinise the loan agreements and know the details of how the domestic and external loans obtained by the governors and FCT minister are spent.”

According to SERAP, “Opacity in the spending of the loans obtained by the governors and Mr Wike would continue to have negative impacts on the fundamental interests of the citizens.”

SERAP is also arguing that, “Many states and the FCT are reportedly spending public funds which may include the loans obtained by them to fund unnecessary travels, buy exotic and bulletproof cars and generally fund the lavish lifestyles of politicians.”

SERAP is also arguing that, “Many states and the FCT are also allegedly mismanaging public funds which may include domestic and external loans obtained from bilateral and multilateral institutions and agencies.”

According to SERAP, “Many states and the FCT reportedly owe civil servants’ salaries and pensions. Several states are borrowing to pay salaries. Millions of Nigerians resident in the state and FCT continue to be denied access to basic public goods and services such as quality education and healthcare.”

“Transparency in the spending of the loans obtained by the states and FCT is fundamental to increase accountability, prevent corruption, and build trust in democratic institutions with the ultimate aim of strengthening the rule of law.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare, Kehinde Oyewumi and Ms Valentina Adegoke, read in part: “States and the FCT should be guided by transparency and accountability principles and proactively account for the loans obtained and publish copies of the loan agreements.”

“Widely publishing copies of the loan agreements and spending details of the loans obtained would ensure that persons with public responsibilities are answerable to the people for the performance of their duties in the management of public funds.”

“State governors and Mr Wike cannot hide under the excuse that the Freedom of Information Act is not applicable to their states and the FCT. The legal obligations to publish the information sought are also imposed by the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”

“According to Nigeria’s Debt Management Office, the total public domestic debt portfolio for the country’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory is N5.9 trillion. The total public external debt portfolio is $4.6 billion.”

“The domestic and external loans obtained by the states and the FCT are vulnerable to corruption and mismanagement. The states and FCT have a responsibility to ensure transparency and accountability in how any loans obtained by the states and FCT are spent, to reduce vulnerability to corruption and mismanagement.”

“Directing and compelling the states and FCT to publish copies of the loan agreements would allow Nigerians to scrutinise them, and promote transparency and accountability on the spending of public funds including the loans obtained.”

“Providing and widely publishing the details of the spending of the domestic and external loans obtained by the states and FCT would enable Nigerians to effectively and meaningfully engage in the management of the loans.”

“The constitutional principle of democracy also provides a foundation for Nigerians’ right to know the details of loan agreements and how the loans obtained are spent. Citizens’ right to know promotes openness, transparency, and accountability that is in turn crucial for the country’s democratic order.”

“The effective operation of representative democracy depends on the people being able to scrutinize, discuss and contribute to government decision making, including on the spending of loans obtained by the states and FCT.”

“To do this, they need information to enable them to participate more effectively in the management of public funds by their state governments and the FCT.”

“The public interest in obtaining information about expenditures relating to the loans obtained by the states and FCT outweighs any privacy or other interest.”

“The oversight afforded by public access to such details would serve as an important check on the activities of the states and FCT and help to prevent abuses of the public trust.”

“There is a significant risk of mismanagement or diversion of funds linked to loans obtained by state governments and the FCT. The accounts of Nigeria’s 36 states and the FCT are generally not open to public scrutiny.”

“The Nigerian Constitution, human rights and anticorruption treaties to which Nigeria is a state party also impose obligations on the states and FCT to prevent mismanagement or diversion of public funds including the loans obtained.”

“Many years of allegations of corruption and mismanagement of public funds including the loans obtained by the states and FCT have contributed to widespread poverty, underdevelopment and lack of access to public goods and services.”

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

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