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SERAP drags NASS before court over unpublished probes’ details

By Monsurudeen Olowoopejo

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has dragged Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, before a Federal High Court in Abuja for not publishing reports of all completed public hearings and corruption probes by the National Assembly since the country return to democracy in 1999.

SERAP stated that the suit was initiated after the leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives declined all pleas made to them to release number of probes conducted by both houses and those that had resulted in an indictment of suspects, and to name such suspects.

In the suit filed with number FHC/ABJ/CS/1065/2020 at the Federal High Court in Abuja, SERAP was said to be seeking the court assistance to get the lawmakers’ release reports of several public hearings and corruption probes conducted in the last 21 years which have remained secret, and the allegations raised unresolved.

The suit came days after the National Assembly on corruption allegations in ministries, departments, and agencies, including the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), and Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).

SERAP, through a statement made available to The Guild on Sunday, said that it was asking the court to compel Lawan and Gbajabiamila to send reports of completed public hearings and corruption probes to Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), and others anti-graft agencies to consider allegations raised and determine if there was sufficient admissible evidence to pursue prosecution.

SERAP is also seeking: “an order for leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus to direct and/or compel Lawan and Gbajabiamila to widely publish all reports of completed public hearings and corruption probes by the Senate and the House of Representatives, and to disclose the number and names of any indicted suspects since 1999.

SERAP is asking the court for “an order of mandamus to direct and compel Dr Lawal and Mr Gbajabiamila to sponsor a resolution to stop lawmakers from directly getting involved in the execution of projects by MDAs, and to ensure the proper and effective exercise of their oversight functions over corruption allegations including in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, was said to have followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information (FoI) requests sent to both leaders several weeks ago explaining importance of the publication to the ongoing anti-graft fight.

SERAP said: “The most effective way to deter corruption is to make the cost of engaging in these types of acts higher than the rewards. This end can only be accomplished by making public the reports and pursuing public accountability for corrupt acts.

“Granting the reliefs sought would bolster public trust and confidence in the lawmakers’ oversight functions, and dispel the perception that many of the hearings and probes are politically motivated and serve personal interest, rather than the general public interests.”

“There is no legally justifiable reason why the information should not be made widely available to Nigerians, and why the prosecution of indicted suspects should not be pursued, where there is relevant admissible evidence.

“Public officers are mere custodians of public records. There is legitimate public interest in the publication of the reports of these public hearings and probes. The public hearings and probes can only serve as effective mechanisms to prevent and combat corruption if their reports are widely published.

“The exercise of oversight functions and powers by the National Assembly to conduct public hearings and corruption probes in MDAs should be regarded as a public trust. The National Assembly has a unique opportunity to enhance the integrity of its oversight functions on corruption matters in particular, and other constitutional roles, in general.

“Both the Senate and House of Representatives have over the years conducted several public hearings and corruption probes to expose pervasive problem of corruption in MDAs. Publishing the reports and pursuing prosecution would give Nigerians greater confidence that their lawmakers can use their constitutional oversight functions to address corruption in Nigeria.

“Lack of transparency and accountability about the systemic and widespread corruption allegations in MDAs and among high-ranking public officials has continued to create a culture of impunity, and to have negative impacts on socio-economic development, as well as access of Nigerians to public goods and services, including quality education, adequate healthcare, clean water, and regular electricity supply.”

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