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Compel Buhari to publish government loan details since 2015, SERAP tells Abuja court

President Muhammadu Buhari

ABUJA – The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked the Federal High Court in Abuja to order President Muhammadu Buhari to publish the details of loans that have been obtained by his administration since May 29, 2015.

In a statement on Sunday by its deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, SERAP also sought the details of the interest rate on such loans, the total amount of debts that have so far been incurred by the government, and details of the projects on which the loans have been spent.

It made the request in a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/785/2020 filed before the court in the nation’s capital.

Also joined as respondents include the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed; and Director-General of the Debt Management Office, Patience Oniha.

However, no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

The National Assembly had approved a loan of N850 billion and another $22.79 billion loan requested by the President for government projects and others.

Stolen Loans?

In its reaction, SERAP sought “an order of mandamus to direct and compel President Buhari to tell Nigerians the names of countries and bodies that have given the loans, specific repayment conditions, and whether any public officers solicited and/or received bribes in the negotiations for any of the loans, and if there is plan to audit the spending of the loans, to resolve any allegations of mismanagement and corruption.”

It also asked the court to “direct and compel President Buhari to tell Nigerians if he would instruct the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to monitor the spending of all loans obtained since May 2015.”

The group believes the opacity in the spending of loans will continue to have negative impacts on the fundamental interests of citizens.

It, however, stressed that transparency would ensure that the loans were not diverted to private pockets, increase public trust that such loans would be used to benefit Nigerians, provide good value for money, and reassure Nigeria’s creditors.

“This suit is permitted under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.

“While access to loans can provide indispensable resources, the mismanagement and squandering of any such resources would be counter-productive. Nigerians should no longer be made to repay debts incurred in their name, but which have not benefited them in any manner, shape, or form,” the group said.

It explained that the suit followed its FoI request dated May 30, 2020 and addressed to the President in which it raised concerns that while governments since 1999 have borrowed money in the name of Nigeria and its citizens, much of the funds have reportedly been mismanaged, stolen or squandered, leaving the citizens with the burden of having to repay such loans.

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Oluwadare and Adelanke Aremo, read,

“The massive and growing national debts have continued to have negative impacts on socio-economic development and on Nigerians’ access to public goods and services, including quality education, adequate healthcare, clean water, and regular electricity supply.

“SERAP is praying the court to hold that the interest of the public in publishing the information sought is far greater than any other interest President Buhari may be trying to preserve.

“Transparency and accountability in the spending details of all the loans that have so far been obtained by the government, and those obtained by previous administrations would mean that the loans can help Nigeria to overcome its acute development challenges, and reduce the possibility of mismanagement and corruption.

“SERAP is seeking an order to direct and compel President Buhari to disclose information on details of spending of loans obtained by successive governments since the return of democracy in 1999, list of countries and bodies that have given the loans, and specific conditions of repayment of the loans.

“Obedience to the rule of law by all citizens but more particularly those who publicly took the oath of office to protect and preserve the constitution is a desideratum to good governance and respect for the rule of law.

“The Nigerian Government has signed on to the Open Government Partnership [OGP], and the country is a state party to the UN Convention against Corruption and the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption.”

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