Nigerians keen on knowing details of the spending of the $460 million loan obtained in 2010 from China to fund the apparently failed Abuja Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) project, the names of contractors who collected money, and why Nigeria is re-paying the loan, may soon have some answers, as Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has won the latest round in the legal battle to compel the federal government to disclose these details.
Justice Anwuri Chikere of the Federal High Court in Abuja granted leave clearing the way for SERAP to advance its case to compel the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, to disclose the details of payment of the $460 Chinese loan to contractors, and whether the sum of N1.5 billion paid in 2010 for the failed contract to construct the headquarters of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) was part of another Chinese loan.
Justice Chikere, in granting leave, stated: “After going through the application filed by SERAP supported by seven paragraphs affidavit, with supporting exhibits, statement of facts, and verifying affidavits and written address in support, leave is hereby granted for SERAP to pursue its suit.”
The judge granted the order following the argument in court on an exparte motion by SERAP’s counsel Ms Atinuke Adejuyigbe and Mr. Opeyemi Owolabi.
The suit is adjourned to Monday, February 24, 2020 for hearing of the substantive suit.
SERAP had in the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1447/2019 filed last month sought: “an order for leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus to direct and/or compel the Minister of Finance to disclose the details of local companies and Chinese contractors that have received funds from the $460 million loan for the finance of the failed Abuja CCTV project as well as details of the status of implementation of the project.”
It is also “seeking an order of mandamus to direct and compel the Minister of Finance to disclose whether the sum of N1.5 billion paid in 2010 for the failed project meant to construct the headquarters of the CCB was part of another loan obtained from China.”
The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information (FoI) request dated October 245, 2019 to Mrs Ahmed, expressing: “concern that Nigerians are being made to pay for the Chinese loans for failed and abandoned projects, and for which they have not benefited in any way, shape or form.”
The suit read in part: “Transparency in the spending of Chinese loans is good for everyone, as this would help to increase the effectiveness, legitimacy, and contribution of the loans to the development of public goods and services, and the general public interests.
“Democracy cannot flourish if governments operate in secrecy. The citizens are entitled to know how the commonwealth is being utilised, managed and administered in a democratic setting.”
The FoI request read in part: “As trustee of public funds, SERAP contends that your ministry has a legal duty to disclose details of spending on the $460 million Abuja CCTV project and N1.5 billion for the construction of CCB headquarters, to the beneficiaries (Nigerians) of the trust, if and when called upon to do so. Any failure or refusal to provide the information will also be clearly inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the FoI Act.
“Servicing Chinese loans for failed projects is double jeopardy for Nigerians—they can neither see nor benefit from the projects; yet, they are made to pay both the loans and the accrued interests.
“The $460 million loan got for the failed Abuja CCTV project and the N1.5 billion for the construction of CCB headquarters, which may be part of another Chinese loan, may have been mismanaged or stolen, and in any case, remain unaccounted for.”
“As a key agency of government, the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning has a sacred duty to ensure that the country’s loans including those obtained from China are transparently and accountably used solely for the purposes for which the loans are obtained, and for the effective development of public goods and services as well as the general public interests.”