SERAP sues National Assembly leaders for failure to publish details of corruption probes

 

An advocacy group in Nigeria, the SOCIO-ECONOMIC Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has dragged the leaders of the two chambers of the National Assembly for not disclosing details of the several corruption investigations on federal parastatals. SERAP, accordingly, filed a lawsuit against the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, for “their failure to publish reports of all completed public hearings and corruption probes by the National Assembly since 1999″.

SERAP also dragged the National Assembly leaders to court for their failure to reveal the number of probes that have resulted in any indictment of suspects and to name such suspects.

It was explained that the suit followed recent public hearings by the National Assembly on corruption allegations in ministries, departments and agencies, including the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), and Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).

SERAP protested that the reports of the public hearings and corruption probes have remained secret, and the allegations unresolved.

SERAP in the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1065/2020 filed last week at the Federal High Court, Abuja, is seeking: “an order of mandamus to direct and compel Lawal and Gbajabiamila to send all reports of completed public hearings and corruption probes to appropriate anti-corruption agencies to consider if there is sufficient admissible evidence to pursue prosecution.”

The group is also seeking: “an order for leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus to direct and/or compel Lawal and  Gbajabiamila to widely publish all reports of completed public hearings and corruption probes by the Senate and the House of Representatives, and to disclose the number and names of any indicted suspects since 1999.”

SERAP is, therefore, demanding  the court to issue “an order of mandamus to direct and compel Lawal and Gbajabiamila to sponsor a resolution to stop lawmakers from directly getting involved in the execution of projects by MDAs, and to ensure the proper and effective exercise of their oversight functions over corruption allegations including in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).”

The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information (FoI) requests dated July 25, 2020, stating that: “The most effective way to deter corruption is to make the cost of engaging in these types of acts higher than the rewards. This end can only be accomplished by making public the reports and pursuing public accountability for corrupt acts.”

In the suit, SERAP is arguing that: “The court ought to compel Lawal and Gbajabiamila to publish the reports of hearings and probes and to send the reports to appropriate anti-corruption agencies for prosecution.”

It further argued that granting the reliefs sought would bolster public trust and confidence in the lawmakers’ oversight functions, and dispel the perception that many of the hearings and probes were politically motivated and serve personal interest, rather than the general public interests.

According to SERAP, Nigerians have the right to information, as guaranteed under Section 39(1) of the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which the country has ratified and domesticated as part of its national laws.

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, its lawyers read in part: “There is no legally justifiable reason why the information should not be made widely available to Nigerians, and why the prosecution of indicted suspects should not be pursued, where there is relevant admissible evidence.

“Public officers are mere custodians of public records. There is legitimate public interest in the publication of the reports of these public hearings and probes. The public hearings and probes can only serve as effective mechanisms to prevent and combat corruption if their reports are widely published.

“The exercise of oversight functions and powers by the National Assembly to conduct public hearings and corruption probes in MDAs should be regarded as a public trust. The National Assembly has a unique opportunity to enhance the integrity of its oversight functions on corruption matters in particular, and other constitutional roles, in general.”

The lawyers decried in the suit that the Senate and House of Representatives have over the years conducted several public hearings and corruption probes to expose pervasive problem of corruption in MDAs.

They maintained that “publishing the reports and pursuing prosecution would give Nigerians greater confidence that their lawmakers can use their constitutional oversight functions to address corruption in Nigeria.”

SERAP, therefore, argued that “Lack of transparency and accountability about the systemic and widespread corruption allegations in MDAs and among high-ranking public officials has continued to create a culture of impunity, and to have negative impacts on socio-economic development, as well as access of Nigerians to public goods and services, including quality education, adequate healthcare, clean water and regular electricity supply.”

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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