By Udora Orizu
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked the Federal High Court in Abuja to order President Muhammadu Buhari to publish details of loans that have been obtained by the government since May 29, 2015, including the interest rate, the total amount of debts that have so far been incurred by this government, as well as details of the projects which the loans have been spent on.
Joined as respondents in the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/785/2020 are Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Ms Zainab Ahmed, and the Director-General of the Debt Management Office (DMO), Ms Patience Oniha.
The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information (FoI) request dated May 30, 2020, to President Buhari, expressing concerns that while various governments since 1999 have borrowed money in the name of Nigeria and its citizens, much of the funds have reportedly been mismanaged, stolen or squandered, leaving the citizens with the burden of having to repay these loans.
It would be recalled that Buhari recently sought the National Assembly’s approval for a fresh loan of $5.513billion, reportedly to fund the 2020 budget deficit, critical projects, and support some states. The National Assembly also recently approved a N850 billion loan. Another loan of $22.79 billion had previously been approved by the National Assembly.
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Adelanke Aremo, read in part: ‘’The massive and growing national debts have continued to have negative impacts on the socio-economic development and on Nigerians’ access to public goods and services, including quality education, adequate healthcare, clean water, and regular electricity supply.
‘’SERAP is seeking an order of mandamus to direct and compel President Buhari to tell Nigerians the names of countries and bodies that have given the loans, specific repayment conditions, and whether any public officers solicited and/or received bribes in the negotiations for any of the loans, and if there is plan to audit the spending of the loans, to resolve any allegations of mismanagement and corruption.
‘’SERAP is also asking the court to direct and compel President Buhari to tell Nigerians if he would instruct the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to monitor the spending of all loans obtained since May 2015.
‘’While access to loans can provide indispensable resources, the mismanagement and squandering of any such resources would be counter-productive. Nigerians should no longer be made to repay debts incurred in their name but which have not benefited them in any manner, shape or form.
‘’SERAP is praying the court to hold that the interest of the public in publishing the information sought is far greater than any other interest Buhari may be trying to preserve.’’
It added that: ‘’Transparency and accountability in the spending details of all the loans that have so far been obtained by the government, and those obtained by previous administrations would mean that the loans can help Nigeria to overcome its acute development challenges, and reduce the possibility of mismanagement and corruption.
‘’SERAP is seeking an order to direct and compel President Buhari to disclose information on details of spending of loans obtained by successive governments since the return of democracy in 1999, list of countries and bodies that have given the loans, and specific conditions of repayment of the loans.’’
However, no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.