The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has opened a case against the Federal Government at the Federal High Court in Lagos over failure to release the names of suspected looters and the circumstances under which the stolen public funds were recovered.
SERAP said it filed the suit after the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed failed to oblige to its request of providing information about the names of high ranking public officials from whom public funds were recovered.
The Rights Advocacy Group 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.Hence, the need for the suit
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 said publishing the looters’ names would provide an insight into the debate on the ongoing ant-corruption fight and how looters had been evading punishment.
It added, “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.
“SERAP believes that the right to truth allows Nigerians to gain access to information essential to the fight against corruption and in turn development of democratic institutions as well as provides a form of reparation to victims of grand corruption in the country.”
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.
No date has however, been fixed for the hearing of the suit.