Recovered Loot: SERAP Commences Contempt Suit against FG, Others

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Davidson Iriekpen

A civil society organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has commenced contempt proceedings against the federal government, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, and Alhaji Ahmed Idris Accountant-General of the Federation “for failing to comply with the judgment ordering publication of the spending of recovered stolen funds since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999.”
The form 48 contempt suit was filed at the Federal High Court in Lagos last week by SERAP’s Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, “following the service on Malami and Idris of the certified true copy of the judgment of March 24, 2016, by Justice Muhammed Idris.”

Form 48 which is the notice of consequence of disobedience of court orders reads in part: “Unless you obey the orders of the court contained on the reverse side of this process, you shall be deemed to have disobeyed the orders of the court and shall be liable to be committed to prison for contempt.”

Mumuni said despite the service of the certified true copy of the judgment on both the AGF and the Accountant-General of the Federation, they have failed to acknowledge the judgment let alone obey it.

He noted that it was unacceptable to take the court, which is the guardian of justice in this country, for a ride.
“A democratic state based on the rule of law cannot exist or function, if the government ignores and/or fails to abide by Court orders,” he said.

The 69-page judgment in suit no: FHC/IKJ/CS/248/2011 signed by Justice Mohammed Idris read in part: “Transparency in the decision making process and access to information upon which decisions have been made can enhance accountability.

“Obedience to the rule of law by all citizens but more particularly those who publicly took oath of office to protect and preserve the constitution is a desideratum to good governance and respect for the rule of law. In a constitutional democracy like ours, this is meant to be the norm.

“In respect of the SERAP reliefs on recovered stolen funds since return of democracy in 1999, the government had kept mute. Let me say that they have no such power under the law.

“There is public interest in public authorities and high-profile individuals being accountable for the quality of their decision making. Ensuring that decisions have been made on the basis of quality legal advice is part of accountability.

“I am of the view and do hold that the action should succeed in whole. Documents relating to the receipt or expenditure on recovered stolen funds since return of democracy in 1999 constitute part of the information which a public institution and authority is obligated to publish, disseminate and make available to members of the public. The government has no legally justifiable reason for refusing to provide SERAP with the information requested, and therefore, this court ought to compel the government to comply with the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, as the government is not above the law.

“Judgment is hereby entered in favour of SERAP against the federal government,” Mumuni noted.
It would be recalled that SERAP had on March 28, 2016, sent a copy of the certified true copy of the judgment to Malami and Idris, urging them to use their “good offices and leadership to ensure and facilitate fully, effective and timely enforcement and implementation of the judgment.”

SERAP letter read in part: “Given the relative newness of the Buhari government, the effective enforcement and implementation of the judgment will invariably involve setting up a mechanism by the government to invite the leadership and high-ranking officials of the governments of former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and former President Goodluck Jonathan, to explain, clarify and provide evidence on the amounts of stolen funds recovered by their respective governments (from abroad and within Nigeria), and the projects (including their locations) on which the funds were spent.

“SERAP therefore believes that the swift enforcement and implementation of this landmark judgment by the government of President Buhari will be litmus test for the president’s oft-repeated commitments to transparency, accountability and the fight against corruption, and for the effectiveness of the FoI Act in general.”