SERAP sues Wike, Okowa, others over failure to account for N625bn derivation refunds

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP has filed a lawsuit against oil-producing states in Nigeria over alleged ”failure to account for the spending of the oil derivation refunds of N625bn recently paid to them by the Federal Government, including details and locations of projects executed with the money.”

It was learnt this on Sunday in a statement by the group’s Deputy Director, Kolawale Oluwadare.

The Federal Government recently paid N625.43 billion in oil derivation refunds to the governors of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Rivers, Ondo, Imo and Cross River States.

The payments covered 13 percent oil derivation, subsidy, and SURE-P refunds. The refunds date from 1999 to 2021.

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/2371/2022 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Abuja, SERAP is asking the court to “direct and compel the governors to disclose and widely publish the details of spending of the oil derivation refunds, subsidy, and SURE-P refunds.”

SERAP is also asking the court to “compel President Muhammadu Buhari to direct anti-corruption agencies to thoroughly investigate the spending of the public funds collected by the governors and where appropriate, ensure the prosecution of suspected perpetrators of corruption, and the recovery of proceeds of corruption.”

In the suit, SERAP is arguing that “The Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], the Freedom of Information Act, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights impose transparency obligations on the governors to disclose the spending of the oil derivation refunds, subsidy, and SURE-P refunds.”

SERAP is also arguing that “State governors cannot hide under the excuse that the Freedom of Information Act is not applicable to their states. The governors also have clear legal obligations to provide the information, as prescribed by the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”

According to SERAP, “It is in the public interest and the interest of justice to grant this application. Nigerians are entitled to their constitutionally and internationally recognized human right to information.”

“The constitutional principle of democracy provides a foundation for Nigerians’ right to know details of spending of public funds. Citizens’ right to know promotes openness, transparency, and accountability that is in turn crucial for the country’s democratic order.”

SERAP is also arguing that “The public interest in obtaining the information about expenditures relating to the refunds outweighs any other interests. The oversight afforded by public access to such details would serve as an important check on the activities of the governors, and help to prevent abuses of the public trust.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Valentina Adegoke read in part: “The Nigerian Constitution, Freedom of Information Act, and the country’s international obligations rest on the principle that citizens should have access to information regarding their government’s activities.”

“Disclosing details of the spending of the oil derivation refunds, subsidy and SURE-P refunds would allow Nigerians to scrutinise it, and to monitor the spending of the refunds to ensure that the money is not mismanaged, diverted or stolen.”

“Under the 13 per cent derivation fund, Abia State received N4.8bn; Akwa-Ibom received N128bn; and Bayelsa got N92.2bn. Cross River got a refund of N1.3bn; Delta State received N110bn; Edo State received N11.3bn; Imo State, N5.5bn; Ondo State, N19.4bn; and Rivers State received 103.6bn.”