By Olasunkanmi Akoni
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has asked the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja to order 36 state governors to use public funds budgeted for security votes, and life pensions for former governors to fund healthcare facilities and to address the impact of COVID-19 on millions of Nigerians.
SERAP also asked the court to order the state governors to publish details of spending on COVID-19 in their respective states.
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/757/2020, filed last Friday, by SERAP’s counsels, Kolawole Oluwadare and Atinuke Adejuyigbe, the organisation, in a release on Sunday, sought among others: “an order for leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus to direct and compel the 36 state governors to disclose how much they have individually collected from the Federal Government as COVID-19 support, from private donations and other sources, as well as details of spending of any such funds and donations.
“A declaration that the failure of the 36 state governors to respond in a satisfactory way to SERAP’s requests amount to a fundamental breach of the FoI Act, the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information (FoI) requests dated 25 April 2020, expressing concern that: “many state governors are spending scarce state resources to pay themselves security votes and their predecessors’ life pensions rather than using public funds to effectively respond to COVID-19 by investing in and improving public healthcare facilities in their states.”
The organization revealed that only two governors, Kaduna State, Mr Nasir El-Rufai and Kwara State, Mr Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, responded to its FoI requests.
It added that while El-Rufai claimed that the FoI is inapplicable in Kaduna State, Abdulrazaq stated that the information requested by SERAP is protected from disclosure by the FOI.
But SERAP, in the suit maintained by a combined reading of the FoI Act, the Nigerian Constitution, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which is applicable throughout the country, El-Rufai and Abdulrazaq and other 34 governors ought to be compelled to invest in healthcare facilities and to tell Nigerians how they are spending COVID-19 funds and donations in their states.
“The 36 governors have a responsibility to act in the interest of Nigerian citizens and residents in their states under the Code of Conduct for Public Officers [Fifth Schedule Part 1] of the Nigerian Constitution, and Oath of Office of Governor of a State in Seventh Schedule to the Constitution.
“This suit is of public concern as it bothers on issues of national interest, public welfare and interest, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability. The right to truth allows Nigerians to gain access to information on what their state governments have done or are doing to cushion the socio-economic effects of COVID-19 on Nigerians.”
However, no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.