A rights group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sued the Federal Government over failure to release the names of suspected looters and the circumstances under which recovered stolen public funds were recovered.”
SERAP filed the suit after the Federal Government ‘refused’ to provide information about the names of high ranking public officials from whom public funds were recovered and the circumstances under which funds were recovered, as well as the exact amount of funds recovered from each public official.
Joined as defendants in suit number FHC/CS/964/2016 are: the Minister of Information Alhaji Lai Muhammed and the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture.
SERAP argued that by a letter with reference No MJ/FOI/GEN/014/1/54 and dated 21 June 2016, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN confirmed that the FOI request by SERAP was brought to the attention of the Defendants for handling. However, since the receipt of the FOI request and the confirmation by Mr Malami that the request was brought to the attention of the defendants for handling, and up till the filing of the suit, the defendants have failed, refused and/or neglected to provide SERAP with the details of the information requested.
The suit reads in part: “by virtue of Section 1(1) of the FOI Act 2011, the plaintiff 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. Under the FOI, when a person makes a request for information from a public official, institution or agency, the public official, institution or agency to whom the application is under a binding legal obligation to provide the Plaintiff/Applicant with the information requested for, except as otherwise provided by the Act, within seven days after the application is received.
“The information requested by SERAP does not come within the purview of the types of information exempted from disclosure by the provisions of the FOI Act. The information being requested for bothers on issue of national interest, public concern, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability.”
SERAP also averred that the defendants will not suffer any injury or prejudice if the information is released to the members of the public.
“It is in the interest of justice that the information be released. Unless the reliefs sought herein are granted, the defendants will continue to be in breach of the Freedom of Information Act, and other statutory responsibilities.”
“While the suspects generally are entitled to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction, the FOI Act implicitly prohibits blanket non-disclosure of names of high-ranking public officials from whom some of the funds were recovered.”
“It is further submitted that the recoveries, specifically from high-ranking public officials (and not private individuals), are matters of public interest. Publishing the names of those public officials will provide insights relevant to the public debate on the ongoing efforts to prevent and combat a culture of grand corruption and the longstanding impunity of perpetrators in the country.”
SERAP is seeking the following reliefs: a declaration that by virtue of the provisions of Section 4 (a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2011, the defendants are under a binding legal obligation to provide the Plaintiff with up to date records of those who have returned looted funds.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.
It would be recalled that the Ministry of Information recently published details of the recoveries, which showed that the Nigerian government successfully retrieved total cash amount N78,325,354,631.82, $185,119,584.61, £3,508,355.46 and €11, 250 between May 29, 2015 and May 25, 2016. Also released were recoveries under interim forfeiture, which were a combination of cash and assets, during the same period: N126, 563,481,095.43, $9,090,243,920.15, £2,484,447.55 and €303,399.17.