BY SEGUN ADEBAYO, ABUJA – The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has dragged the Federal Government through the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disasters Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadia Umar-Farouk and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Mr Godwin Emefiele, to court to account for the humongous monies allegedly spent as COVID-19 intervention fund.
SERAP under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, wants a judicial declaration that the failure of the minister and the Governor of the CBN to provide it with needed information on request amount to a fundamental violation of the FoI Act and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The case which was instituted on SERAP’s behalf by its counsels namely; Mr Kolawole Oluwadare and Mrs Joke Fekumo, noted that by a combined reading of the FoI Act and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the minister, Hajiya Umar-Farouk and the CBN governor, Mr Emefiele should be directed and compelled to make public details of the beneficiaries of the COVID-19 funds and donations.
SERAP specifically wants the minister and the CBN governor to give names of the beneficiaries, list of donors and donations to the tune of N500 billion COVID-19 intervention fund.
SERAP is praying a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, to direct the Federal Government and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to identify and name Nigerians that are beneficiaries of any cash payments, cash transfers, food distribution, other reliefs and palliatives during the lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/657/2020, SERAP also wants an order of mandamus to compel particularly the Minister and Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria to publish spending details of public funds and private sector donations to provide socio-economic benefits to the country’s poorest of the poor and vulnerable people.
Part of the suit before the Federal High Court include; “Any perception that the reliefs, funds and donations are not reaching intended beneficiaries would undermine public trust and the integrity of the entire processes and modes of distribution of reliefs/benefits to these Nigerians.
“Both the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disasters Management and Social Development, and the CBN governor have a legal duty to ensure that information on the details of those who have so far benefited from COVID-19 funds and donations is released to SERAP upon requests, and that the information is widely published. Yet, both have completely ignored SERAP’s requests.”
“SERAP and indeed the general public have a legitimate interest in ascertaining and scrutinizing the veracity of the claims of how the COVID-19 funds and donations have been spent, and to know that the intended beneficiaries actually received any benefits.
“Ms Umar-Farouk and Mr Emefiele also ought to be directed and compelled to make public details of any plan to provide social and economic reliefs to the over 80 million of the country’s poorest and the most vulnerable people, beyond the 11 million targeted by the Federal Government across 35 states,” SERAP demanded amongst others.
It however said that exceptions should apply only where there is a risk of substantial harm to the protected interest and where that harm is greater than the overriding public interest in having access to the information.