By Ese Awhotu Abuja with agency report
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has vowed to ensure enforcement of a court order to prosecute lawmakers indicted in the budget padding saga.
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos had in a judgement on Monday ordered President Muhammadu Buhari to “urgently instruct security and anti-corruption agencies to forward to him reports of their investigations into allegations of padding and stealing of some N481 billion from the 2016 budget by some principal officers of the National Assembly.”
The court, according to reports also ordered President Buhari to “direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN, and/or appropriate anti-corruption agencies to without delay commence prosecution of indicted lawmakers.”
The judgment was delivered Monday by Justice Mohammed Idris following a mandamus suit no: FHC/L/CS/1821/2017 brought by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
The court also ordered President Buhari to “direct the publication of the report of investigations by security and anti-corruption bodies into the alleged padding of the 2016 budget.”
In the suit brought against the President of Nigeria and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Justice Idris further held that President Buhari in the exercise of his executive powers has a duty to ensure compliance with the provisions of article 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, holding further that President Buhari is “expected to use his executive powers for the public good of Nigeria.”
Article 22 of the African Charter provides that, “All peoples shall have the right to their economic, social and cultural development with due regard to their freedom,” and that “States shall have the duty, individually or collectively, to ensure the exercise of the right to development.”
The court also granted an order directing President Buhari to “urgently halt alleged attempt by some principal officers of the National Assembly to steal N40 billion of the N100 billion allocated by his government as ‘zonal intervention’ in the 2017 budget.”
The President is also ordered “to closely monitor and scrutinise the spending of N131 billion (accrued from increased oil bench mark) allocated for additional non-constituency projects expenditure, to remove the possibility of corruption.”
The court held that “SERAP, being a human rights non-governmental organisation has sufficient interest in the way and manner public funds are being utilized in this country.”
However, reacting to the judgment in a statement on Tuesday by its Deputy Director, Timothy Adewale, SERAP said, “This judgment confirms the pervasive corruption in the budget process and the prevailing culture of impunity of our lawmakers as well as the failure of the authorities to uphold transparency and accountability in the entire budget process and implementation.
“The judgment is an important step towards reversing a culture of corruption in the budget process that has meant that many of our lawmakers see the budget more as a ‘meal ticket’ to look after themselves than a social contract to meet people’s needs and advance equity and development across the country.”
“This is a crucial precedent that vindicates the right to a transparent and accountable budget process and affirms the budget as government’s most important economic policy document, which is central to the realization of all human rights including the rights to health, water, and education.
“We are now in the process of obtaining a certified copy of the judgment. SERAP will do everything within its power to secure the full and effective enforcement of this important judgment.”
SERAP had in its suit viewed the allegations of crime of budget padding against the indicted
principal officers of the National Assembly as a gross deprivation of the good people of Nigeria’s legitimate wealth and natural resources.
It therefore urged the court to hold that the citizens of Nigeria have been deprived of their natural wealth and the indicted principal members be prosecuted by the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation.