Where’s the money? SERAP begs court to ask Okonjo-Iweala
A group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) on Tuesday asked a Federal High Court in Lagos to compel the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to explain the circumstances surrounding the alleged missing sum of N30tn from the national treasury.
The suit is consequent upon an allegation by a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Prof. Chukwuma Soludo that about N30tn was unaccounted for, or simply mismanaged under the watch of Okonjo-Iweala.
The suit marked FHC/L/CS/196/2015 came after the minister allegedly failed to oblige the organisation’s request to furnish it with information as regards the allegedly missing money pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.
SERAP, in the suit filed through its Senior Staff Attorney, Olukayode Majekodunmi, insisted that Okonjo-Iweala, as a trustee of public fund, was duty-bound in law to render an account of the controversial N30tn to Nigerians whenever she was called upon to do so.
The group noted that the Minister of Finance, as a key functionary in government, had a sacred duty to ensure that the country’s resources and wealth were used solely to fulfill the basic economic and social rights of all Nigerians and to achieve the country’s overall socio-economic development.
It said, “Therefore, it is necessary to provide clarity as to what exactly happened to the missing N30tn if the Ministry of Finance is to continue to play a leadership role in the transparent and accountable management of the country’s resources and wealth, and to enjoy the public trust and confidence essential for the Ministry’s effectiveness and impact.”
SERAP said the information it demanded bordered on “an issue of national interest, public peace and security, public concern, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability,” which Okonjo-Iweala was duty-bound to volunteer.
The organisation added that the minister would suffer no injury or perjury if she offered the information as requested.
It maintained that the request was in line with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
It said, “By virtue of Section 4 (a) of the FOI Act, 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 directed is under a binding legal obligation to provide the applicant with the information requested for, except as otherwise provided by the Act, within 7 days after the application is received.
“By Sections 2(3)(d)(V) & (4) of the FOI Act, there is a binding legal duty to ensure that documents containing information relating to spending of the alleged missing N30tn is widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means.”
SERAP is seeking a declaration of the court that by virtue of the provisions of Section 4 (a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2011, Okonjo-Iweala was under a binding legal obligation to provide it with up-to-date information relating to the spending of the alleged missing N30tn, which represented some accruable income to the Federal Government in the past four years.
It asked the minister to avail it any receipt, “however described arising from the operation of any law; any return, however described, arising from or in respect of any property held by the government of the federation; any return by way of interest on loans and dividends in respect of shares or interest held by the government of the federation in any company or statutory body.”
The court had yet to fix any date to hear the application.
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