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SERAP sues governors, Wike ‘over failure to account for missing N40 trillion LGA allocations’

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against Nigeria’s governors and the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Mr. Nyesom Wike “over their failure to account for the alleged missing N40 trillion federal allocations meant for local governments in the states and the FCT.”

The suit followed the damning revelations by former president Muhammadu Buhari who, in December 2022, stated that, “If the money from the Federation Account to the State is about N100m, N50m will be sent to the chairman but he will sign that he received N100 million. The chairman will pocket the balance and share it.”

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/231/2024 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Abuja, SERAP is asking the court to “direct and compel the governors to publish details of LGA allocations and actual disbursement of the allocations to local governments in their respective states from 1999 to date.”

SERAP is also asking the court to “compel and direct Mr. Wike to publish details of federal allocations meant for the Area Councils in the FCT and the actual disbursement of the allocations to the Area Councils in the FCT from 1999 to date.”

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 and Mr. Wike to publish the details of LGA allocations and actual disbursement in their states and the FCT.”

SERAP is arguing that, “State governors and Mr. Wike cannot hide under the excuse that the Freedom of Information Act is not applicable to their states and the FCT. The legal obligations to publish the information sought are also imposed 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.”

SERAP is also arguing that, “Transparency in the actual disbursement and spending of federal allocations meant for local governments is fundamental to increase accountability, prevent corruption, and build trust in democratic institutions, and strengthen the rule of law.”

SERAP is also arguing that, “States and the FCT should be guided by transparency and accountability principles and proactively publish information pertaining to their actual disbursement and spending of federal allocations meant for local governments.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare, Kehinde Oyewumi and Andrew Nwankwo, read in part: “Opacity in the amounts of federal allocations actually disbursed to local governments in the states and FCT has continued to have negative impacts on the fundamental interests of the citizens.”

“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.”

“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.”

“Implicit in the freedom of expression is the public’s right to know what governments are doing on their behalf, without which truth would languish and people’s participation in government would remain fragmented.”

“Transparency would ensure that the allocations are not diverted into private pockets, and increase public trust that the money would be used to benefit Nigerians resident in these local government areas.”

“Many years of allegations of corruption and mismanagement of federal allocations meant for local governments have contributed to widespread poverty, underdevelopment and lack of access to public goods and services in several states.”

“Granting the reliefs sought would ensure transparency and accountability in the actual disbursement and spending of federal allocations in the states and FCT would also improve the enjoyment by Nigerians of their right to natural wealth and resources.”

“The governors and Mr. Wike have a legal responsibility to promote transparency and accountability in the actual disbursement and spending of federal allocations meant for local government areas in the states and FCT and to ensure that the allocations are dully and fully disbursed to the local governments.”

“Despite the country’s enormous oil wealth, ordinary Nigerians have derived very little benefit from oil money primarily because of widespread grand corruption, and the culture of impunity of perpetrators.”

“Combating the corruption epidemic in the spending of federal allocations meant for local government areas in the states and FCT would alleviate poverty, improve access of Nigerians to basic public goods, and enhance the ability of the local governments to effectively and efficiently discharge their constitutional and statutory responsibilities.”

“According to our information, the 36 states in Nigeria and the federal capital territory, Abuja, have collected over N40 trillion federal allocations meant for the 774 local governments areas in the country and FCT.”

“The Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) disbursed to states N225.21 billion federal allocations meant for local governments in November 2023 alone. States also collected N258,810,449,711.47 federal allocations meant for local government areas in December 2023.”

“However, there is opacity in the actual disbursement of federal allocations to the local government areas in the states and FCT. States and the FCT have over the years failed and/or refused to disclose the portion of federal allocations that are disbursed to local governments.”

“Former president Muhammadu Buhari recently alleged that state governors routinely pocket or divert federal allocations meant for local governments areas in their states.”

“According to Buhari, ‘If the money from the Federation Account to the State is about N100 million, N50 million will be sent to the chairman but he will sign that he received N100 million. The chairman will pocket the balance and share it with whoever he wants to share it with.’”

“Section 162(6) of Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended) provides that each state shall maintain a ‘State Joint Local Government Account’ into which all allocations to local government councils from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State shall be paid.”

“Section 162(5) makes it mandatory that amounts standing to the credit of the councils will be allocated to the States for the benefit of their local government councils.”

“Section 15(5) of the Nigerian Constitution requires public institutions to abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power. Section 16(2) further provides that, ‘the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good.’”

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