BY ALIJO SYLVESTER, LAGOS – A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos and presided over by Justice Hadiza Rabiu Shagari on Wednesday ordered the Federal Government to release to Nigerians detailed information about the names of high ranking public officials through whom public funds were recovered.
Justice Shagari also directed the Federal Government to equally make available the circumstances under which such funds were recovered and the exact amount of money recovered from affected public officers.
Justice Shagari gave the ruling upon a Freedom of Information (FOI) suit number: FHC/CS/964/2016 taken before it by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), which was filed following disclosure by the Federal government in 2016 of funds recovered from some high-ranking public officials and private individuals.
According to the trial judge; “The Federal Government has a legally binding obligations to tell Nigerians the names of all suspected looters of the public treasury past and present.
Justice Shagari ruled further; “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 information relating to the following:
“To widely disseminate including on a dedicated website information about the names of high ranking public officials from whom public funds were recovered since May 2015, the circumstances under which stolen public funds were returned.
Speaking after the judgement, SERAP Deputy Director, Legal, Mr. Timothy Adewale, who argued the case in court for the NGO, said the ruling is a victory for justice, rule of law, transparency and accountability in Nigeria. According to Adewale; “The judgment shows the way forward in the fight against corruption and impunity of perpetrators. We will do everything within the law to ensure full compliance by President Muhammadu Buhari and Acting President Yemi Osinbajo with this landmark judgment.”
The Federal Ministry of Information last year published details of the recoveries detailing how the Nigerian government successfully retrieved cash amounting to N78,325,354,631.82, $185,119,584.61, £3,508,355.46 and €11, 250 between May 29, 2015 and May 25, 2016.
This was separate from recoveries made under interim forfeiture, which were a combination of cash and assets, during the same period totaling N126,563,481,095.43, $9,090,243,920.15, £2,484,447.55 and €303,399.17. The government also said it was anticipating repatriation from foreign countries to the tune $321,316,726.1, £6,900,000 and €11,826.11.
The minister also said that 239 non-cash recoveries were made during the one-year period, adding that the non-cash recoveries included farmlands, plots of land, completed and uncompleted buildings, vehicles and maritime vessels.
Accordingly, SERAP issued an FOI request giving the Minister of Information, Lai Muhammed 14 days within which to disclose the names of all suspected looters.
SERAP had joined the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Muhammed and the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture as defendants in the suit.