Following the recent disclosure of funds recovered from some high-ranking public officials and private individuals, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) has sent a Freedom of Information request to the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, asking him to use his good offices to “with 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this request provide information about the names of high ranking public officials from whom public funds were recovered and the circumstances under which funds were recovered, as well as the exact amount of funds recovered from each public official.
“If we have not heard from you by then, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions under the Freedom of Information Act to compel you to comply with our request,” the group threatened.
The FoI request dated June 8, 2016 and signed by SERAP Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, was copied to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN).
The request read in part: “While we believe that suspects generally are entitled to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction, SERAP opposes blanket non-disclosure of names of high-ranking public officials from whom some of the funds were recovered.
“SERAP insists that the public interest to know is greater than any other legitimate interest that the government might wish to protect. The Nigerian government has an obligation to balance whether the risk of harm to the legitimate aim (that is secrecy of ongoing corruption investigation and presumption of innocence) from disclosure of the names of public officials is greater than the public interest in accessing the information.
“According to public interest test, even if the government demonstrates that the publication of the names of public officials would substantially harm a legitimate interest, it is nevertheless obliged to disclose the requested information if, as it is the case here, the public interest in disclosure is sufficient enough to overweigh the harm.
“SERAP believes that the recoveries, specifically from high-ranking public officials (and not private individuals), are matters of public interest. Publishing the names of those public officials will provide insights relevant to the public debate on the ongoing efforts to prevent and combat a culture of grand corruption and the longstanding impunity of perpetrators in the country.
“The gravity of the crime of grand corruption, the devastating effects on the socially and economically vulnerable sectors of the population, and the fact that recovery of huge funds from high-ranking public officials entrusted with the public treasury raise a prima-facie case and therefore amount to exceptional circumstances that justify naming those high-ranking officials in the public interest.
“SERAP also argues that Nigerians are entitled to the right to truth derived from the obligations of the government to carry out an investigation of violations of human rights and crime of corruption committed within its jurisdiction; to identify, prosecute and punish those responsible; and to ensure that victims have the simple and prompt recourse for protection against violation of fundamental rights, as well as to ensure transparency in public administration.
“SERAP believes that the right to truth allows Nigerians to gain access to information essential to the fight against corruption and in turn development of democratic institutions as well as provides a form of reparation to victims of grand corruption in the country.