By Christiana Ekpa
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court, Abuja, to compel governors to use funds budgeted for security votes, and life pensions for ex-governors to fund the COVID-19 fight.
Demanding that the money be expended on healthcare facilities, SERAP also wants publication of details of spending on COVID-19 in all states.
The body, in suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/757/2020, is seeking a declaration that the failure of the governors to respond satisfactorily amount to a fundamental breach of the FoI Act, the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
SERAP suit followed Freedom of Information (FoI) requests dated 25 April 2020, expressing concern that “governors are spending scarce state resources to pay themselves security votes and their predecessors life pensions rather than using public funds to effectively respond to COVID-19 by investing in and improving public healthcare facilities in their states.”
SERAP revealed that only two governors – Nasir El-Rufai (Kaduna) and Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq (Kwara), responded to its FoI requests.
The rights group quoted El-Rufai as saying that: “The FoI is binding only on the Federal Government and its agencies, the Federal Capital Territory, and the states that choose to domesticate it. We are therefore not bound to respond to your request using the threat of an FoI Act that is inapplicable in our State.”
“Should you choose to rephrase your request as a citizen or voter in Kaduna, to whom we are accountable under OGP commitments, I will direct the relevant departments of government to respond. Our version of FoI is with the State House of Assembly for domestication.”
In his own response, Kwara State Governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, said “The category of the information you requested is protected from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.”
SERAP suit filed by, Kolawole Oluwadare and Atinuke Adejuyigbe, insists that 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 body argues that “What is the economic benefit of appropriation of security votes and pension to former governors and deputy governors to the citizens of Nigeria during a pandemic? Why should the governors spend so much on a relatively negligible percentage of the population at the expense of the majority of the citizens?”
It said appropriation of hundreds of millions of Naira for security votes and payment of pensions to former governors amid COVID-19 can only be in the personal interests of the governors and their colleagues, in clear conflict with public interest and well-being and prosperity of the country and its people.
“Majority of Nigerians continue to live in poverty and without access to basic necessities of life such as healthcare, and clean water, as established by the National Bureau of Statistics in its 2019 Report.”
SERAP said governors ought to be compelled to use the budgets for security votes and life pensions to improve the healthcare facilities in their respective states, provide palliatives and reliefs, and to address the impact of COVID-19 on citizens and residents of their respective states.
It wants governors ought to be directed to provide details of palliatives and reliefs that they have provided to the most vulnerable people, including the list of beneficiaries, details of what they are doing to improve testing for COVID-19, isolation centres, as well as ensure safe protective equipment for health workers.
“The 36 governors ought to be directed and compelled to provide details of what they are doing to ensure full respect for human rights of everyone and access to justice for victims of human rights violations and abuses during and linked to COVID-19, as well as any support they are providing to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to improve its capacity to respond to COVID-19″.
Meanwhile, no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.