How States Spent Paris Club Refund is Confidential, FG Tells Court

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Muhammadu-Buhari
Muhammadu-Buhari

By Tobi Soniyi    

The federal government has told the Federal High Court in Lagos that the record of spending of N388.304 billion London and Paris Club Loan refunds by 35 states is “protected by professional privilege and therefore confidential”.

The federal government has released the Paris and London Club refunds to the states in two tranches to, among other obligations, pay overdue pensioners’ entitlements and workers’ salaries 

However, in its response to a suit filed by civil society organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), seeking an order of mandamus directing and/or compelling the government to publish details of spending on the first tranche of N388.304 billion allegedly diverted and mismanaged by 35 states of the federation, the federal government through the Accountant General of the Federation Alhaji Ahmed Idris, said it could not make the disclosure.

A statement issued by the Deputy Director of SERAP, Mr. Timothy Adewale, said the federal government’s response was filed last Friday, followed the ruling in June by Justice Muslim Hassan that the CSO could proceed with the legal challenge to unravel how 35 states spent the London and Paris Club loan refunds.

Justice Hassan had while granting leave, stressed that it was important for the authorities “to come and tell us how they spent our money”.

But in its defence the federal government argued: “The relationship between the accountant general and the 35 states is professional and confidential.

“It is a fiduciary one akin to that between a bank and its customer and allied professionals. On that score, record of the spending of N388.304 billion London and Paris Club Loan refunds by the 35 states is exempted from publication, assuming the federal government has the information sought by SERAP.”

The federal government further averred that the accountant general does not have custody or possession of the information or records relating to the spending of N388.304 billion London and Paris Club Loan refunds by 35 states, as the Accountant general did not release the funds to the states.

The accountant general also argued that assuming the federal government had the information sought, it was not obliged to comply with the request.

“States have exclusive control over their revenue and expenditure and the Accountant General of the Federation cannot demand obligatorily from any tier of government, including the 35 states’ information on how they have spent the Paris Club refunds,” the federal government informed the court/ 

The federal government was however of the view that SERAP had the right to the information sought, but not to request that the information be passed to the Attorney General of the Federation.

“In any case, the accountant general has no record of the spending of N388.304 billion London and Paris Club Loan refunds by 35 states and therefore cannot be compelled to release the record, as the court does not act in vain.

“An order of mandamus should not be issued because it will be unnecessary and not effective and will not serve the purpose.”

But SERAP’s counsel had argued that due to non-payment of overdue pensions and salaries of workers by the states, Nigerian citizens have continued to languish in untold hardship and poverty.

“Therefore, there is compelling public interest in knowing how exactly the Paris Club loan refunds were spent by the 35 states. There is also no professional relationship or privilege between the accountant general and the 35 states as to warrant any duty of confidentiality on the part of the accountant general,” the CSO, through is counsel, told the court.

According to SERAP, “There must be transparency and accountability in the spending of the refund, in line with the principle of Open Government Partnership (OGP) to which Nigeria is a signatory.

“In addition, Section 15(5) of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 provides that the state shall abolish corrupt practices and abuse of power.

“Citizens must be able to assess the performance of government, and this depends on access to records about spending of the refunds by the 35 states.”

SERAP also argued that assuming without conceding that the accountant general does not have record of spending of N388.304 billion London and Paris Club Loan refunds by the 35 states, “nothing stops the accountant general from working with other agencies/ministries to release information on the spending, especially being the Chief Accounting Officer of the Federation and constitutionally charged with the overall responsibility of keeping and managing all the receipts and payments of the federal government”.

On this basis, SERAP held that the accountant general could not therefore say that he was unaware of the spending of the refunds by the states.

“Otherwise, this would mean that the accountant general is lacking in his duty as Chief Accounting Officer of the Federation,” the CSO argued.

The motion on notice had been set for Wednesday, September 14 2017, for the hearing of argument on why the federal government should not be directed and compelled to publish details of projects on which the London and Paris Club loan refunds were spent.

However, the federal government had filed a counter-affidavit and brief of arguments, claiming among others that the matter was confidential.

The federal government released N388.304 billion of the N522.74 billion to 35 states as refunds of over-deductions on London and Paris Club loans. 

The states have since demanded that the balance of the London and Paris Club refunds be released before the year runs out.

  • Seton During

    What are they hiding, and, why are they hiding it? Some wrongdoings – perhaps criminal – might be going on!

  • Roseline

    This is change!!! I weep for Nigeria.

  • henry price

    comrades I most sincerely hope FG change its position being spending of revenues by government plus sharing of that information with citizens is a matter of transparency in government. Taxpayers should have right to transparency in government. From opposing side government position appear extremely arrogant plus somewhat apathetic without due cause. Very much sincere, Henry author Price Jr. aka Obediah Buntu IL-Khan aka Kankan aka Gue.

  • MDG2020

    How APC states spend their bailout fund is confidential!
    How Ekiti State Government spend their Bailout fund is open to Public/EFCC Scrutiny!
    “wan pedaral gofment of Niga-area, Two Laws”. One for APC Armed Robbers, another for PDP Pickpockets!

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  • Nkem Okike

    Why then did the same Federal Government via EFCC arrest Ekito officials on the same matter.

  • nuelsymbol

    Without much ado about nothing, the SERAP should move ahead to confront the States either severally or jointly on this matter .

  • AmaraMr ikwuegbu

    in nigerians constitution federal govt has no right to ask state gov how he used the money given to him until he exit immunity and efcc probe him,that is what i think the attorney of f.g was explaining but the constitution has to be changed if that is truth, because corruption will remain in states and the gov will run into senate for another immunity if he exits gov.so the law must allow public to know day to day accountability of state funds

  • Seton During

    This is wrong because it protects looters of our States Treasuries and undermines transparent accountability!
    It also confirms the current anti-corruption crusade as being insincere and dishonest

  • Ola

    This is absurd. Is the state a private company or a public entity?

    This is another way of saying “looting is confidential”. Thieves and looters are celebrated and rewarded with promotions and chieftaincy titles.

    No wonder people in government in Nigeria are not accountable to the people being governed – because it’s all confidential!!!

    Nigeria is doomed.

    Nigerian – don’t keep quiet or your mumu never do.

  • Mystic mallam

    Why does this Administration think we are still under military rule? Under the Freedom of Information Act, should the federal govt not release the figures paid to the states – what’s the client-bank relationship in that? Thereafter interested parties that seek to query the states on how they used or misused the money would have the substance to do so.

  • Daniel Obior

    This certainly is another level of madness by this incompetent government. The money concerned belong to the people held in trust by the various governments. The people have a right to know how their money was spent. To have a federal government declare that it is confidential, is truly insane.

    • FRANCES382

      I felt the same way too but read the article again. I think what the AGF is trying to say in “lawyer language” is that the state governments should be sued directly for the information.

      • Daniel Obior

        Then let him say so clearly, so we do not second guess. Thanks.

      • austin

        When Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela started publishing the allocations to states and federal governments, there was no obligation to do so but for transparency and good governance. She could have told who-wants-to-know to sue the states and get the information.
        These federal government people are something else.