Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court to: “compel governor Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa of Delta State to explain the disparity between budgetary allocations to primary education and the reality that several of the around 1,124 primary schools across the State are in shambles, and with very poor teaching facilities.”
SERAP protested: “tens of thousands of Nigerian children are being left behind in Delta State and their futures put in jeopardy. These children are being short-changed and they deserve to know how much exactly the state government has spent between 2015 and 2019 on their education.” Joined in the suit as defendants are the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and Delta State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB).
In the suit number FHC/L/CS/803/2019 filed Friday before the Federal High Court in Lagos, SERAP argued: “The refusal by the governor, UBEC and SUBEB to respond to SERAP’s FOI requests can only be construed to mean denial of the information sought. We shouldn’t have to ask for the information on spending on primary schools in the state. The poor conditions of primary schools across the state would seem to suggest that the government has abandoned poor children in Delta state.”
SERAP had in separate Freedom of Information requests to the governor, UBEC and SUBEB last month remarked: “The evidence of education deficit in the state is further buttressed by the case of Success Adegor, who was sent home because her parents could not pay the illegal school fee/levy of N900 and the insufficient and poor-quality education infrastructure of Okotie-Eboh Primary School 1, Sapele.”
The suit read in part: “We seek an order of the court granting leave to apply for judicial review and to seek an order of mandamus compelling governor Okowa, UBEC and SUBEB to provide to SERAP details of disbursement and spending of UBEC funds disbursed to the Delta State government.
“The governor, UBEC and SUBEB have nothing to lose if the information is released to SERAP and members of the public. It is in the interest of justice that the information be released. Unless the reliefs sought herein are granted, the governor, UBEC and SUBEB will continue to be in breach of the Freedom of Information Act, and other constitutional and statutory responsibilities.
“The information is needed to verify and establish the truth about the spending on education by the government, for the purposes of transparency and accountability. There must be accountability for the massive budgetary allocations to primary education in the state, including the funds provided by UBEC. Providing the requested information will also allow the citizens to track the level of execution of education projects in the state.
“Access to information held by public authorities is a fundamental element of the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) and vital to the proper functioning of any democratic system.
“We seek an order of the court for disclosure of details of budgetary allocations and actual spending by Delta State government between 2015 and 2019, including specific projects carried out to improve access to free and quality primary education in the state, the locations of such projects and the primary schools that have benefited from the projects, and details of what the government is doing to improve access to education for children with disabilities.
“We also seek disclosure of details of reports, if any, made to UBEC by the Delta state government on specific projects carried out to ensure improvement of access to free and quality primary education in Delta state between 2015 and 2019, the locations of such projects and the primary schools that have benefited from the projects.
“We seek an order of the court for disclosure of details of the steps the government is taking to improve the overall welfare of children in primary schools across Delta State as well as details of the government’s fee-free programme, if any, across primary schools in the State and information on indirect costs, including uniforms, exercise books, and transport costs to students and their parents.
“We seek an order of the court for disclosure of specific details of the steps the UBEC is taking to ensure improvement of the overall welfare of children in primary schools across Delta State as well as details of specific projects by the UBEC to ensure improvement of access to education for children with disabilities in Delta State.
“We seek an order of the court for disclosure of details of disbursement by the UBEC and SUBEB to the Delta State government and actual spending by the government on primary school education monitored, including specific projects carried out to improve access to free and quality primary education in Delta State, the locations of such projects and the primary schools that have benefited from the projects.”
SERAP’s FOI requests to the governor, UBEC and SUBEB read in part: “Full development of human personality is essential objective of education. A strong Delta State in the future requires a strong education system today. A poor education system will severely cripple Delta State’s future growth, development and sustainability, both socially and economically.
“SERAP notes that since assuming office, your government has received over N7.8 billion from Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC). Your government has also received funds from federal allocations to Delta State. Your government accessed over N3 billion of UBEC funds between 2015 and 2016, while also reportedly approved the release of N1.28 billion counterpart funds to enable it access UBEC funds for 2017. Your government also received N213 billion from Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) in 2018, at an average of N17.8 billion monthly.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.