By Udora Orizu in Abuja
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) says the Federal High Court in Lagos has given the greenlight to its suit seeking to compel the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola to disclose the names of corrupt contractors.
Justice Chuka Obiozor granted the order for leave following the hearing of an argument on exparte motion by SERAP’s counsel, Mrs. Adelanke Aremo.
In the suit number FHC/L/CS/105/19, SERAP is seeking reliefs to compel Fashola “to provide specific details on the names and whereabouts of the contractors who collected public funds meant for electricity projects but disappeared with the money without executing any projects, starting from the return of democracy in 1999 to 2018.”
Fashola had earlier this month written to SERAP promising: “to refer the request for details of alleged contractors and companies that collected money for electricity projects and failed to execute any projects to the ministry’s agencies for necessary action and appropriate response.”
His response followed his letter to SERAP in February in which he said: “We have searched the Ministry’s record and the information you applied for is not held by the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing (Power Sector).”
However, SERAP disagreed with the response, saying: “The public expectation is that government information when in the hands of any public institutions and agencies, should be available to the public, as prescribed by the FOI Act. The FOI Act should always be used as an authority for disclosing information rather than withholding it.”
According to a statement issued by SERAP, Justice Obiozor also ruled that Fashola is put on notice and adjourned the matter to Thursday, April 11, 2019, for the hearing of arguments.
SERAP’s suit read in part: “By compelling Mr Fashola to name the contractors and their registration details, if any, Nigerians will be better able to hold them to account for allegedly absconding with public funds meant for electricity projects, thereby throwing the country into perpetual darkness and socio-economic stagnation as well as denying people their human rights.”
“Publishing the names will make it hard for contractors and companies to get away with complicity in grand corruption. The citizens have the right to see that the Freedom of Information Act is enforced where there is an infraction of the right to information or a threat of its being violated, in matters of public interests.”
SERAP’s suit is seeking among others, an order directing or compelling the respondent to compile and make available to the applicant documents containing the specific names and details of contractors and companies that have been engaged in the power sector since the return of democracy in 1999 to date.
“A declaration that the failure of the Respondent to disclose if there is any ongoing investigation or prosecution of allegedly corrupts contractors and companies in the electricity sector amounts to a breach of the Freedom of Information Act 2011.”