By Udora Orizu
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit seeking an order to direct and compel 36 state governors in Nigeria to use public funds budgeted for the payment of former governors as security votes and life pensions to fund healthcare facilities, and to address the impact of COVID-19 on millions of Nigerians.
In suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/757/2020 filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja last Friday, SERAP is also asking the court to order the governors to publish details of spending on COVID-19 in their respective states.
The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information (FoI) requests dated April 25, 2020, expressing concern that: “Many state governors are spending scarce state resources to pay themselves security votes and their predecessors life pensions rather than using the public funds to effectively respond to COVID-19 by investing in and improving public healthcare facilities in their states.”
The organisation revealed that only two state Governors, Nasir El-Rufai (Kaduna) and Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq (Kwara), responded to its FoI requests.
SERAP said Governor El-Rufai claimed that the FoI is inapplicable in Kaduna State, while Governor Abdulrazaq stated that the information requested by SERAP is protected from disclosure by the FoI.
But SERAP in the suit filed on its behalf by its counsel, Kolawole Oluwadare and Atinuke Adejuyigbe, said by a combined reading of the FoI Act, the Nigerian Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which is applicable throughout the country, all 36 state governors ought to be compelled to invest in healthcare facilities, as well as to tell Nigerians how they are spending COVID-19 funds and donations in their states.
The suit read in part: ‘’The 36 governors have a responsibility to act in the interest of Nigerian citizens and residents in their states under the Code of Conduct for Public Officers (Fifth Schedule Part 1) of the Nigerian Constitution, and Oath of Office of Governor of a State in Seventh Schedule to the Constitution.
“The office of a governor is created by Section 176 of the Constitution, and the governors are vested with powers to act as members of the executive pursuant to Section 5(2) and (3) of the Constitution. These statutory functions, among other duties of the governors, are guided by rules, including the oath of office of governor of a state.
“The oath of office of governors is integral to the honest performance of their functions in the public interest. The oath is considered of such importance that Section 185(1) of the constitution provides that the governors can perform their respective official functions only after taking the oath of office.
“The 36 governors ought to be directed and compelled to use the budgets for security votes and life pensions for former governors to improve the healthcare facilities in their respective states, provide palliatives and reliefs, as well as address the impact of COVID-19 on the citizens and residents of their respective states.”