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Missing N4.4bn: SERAP Drags National Assembly to Court

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national assembly

By Adedapo Adesanya

In a fresh round of action, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against the Senate President, Mr Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker of House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila over their failure to probe an alleged misappropriated N4.4 billion public money budgeted for the National Assembly.

The suit followed the publication of annual audited reports for 2015, 2017, and 2018 in which the Auditor-General of the Federation raised “concerns about alleged diversion and misappropriation of public funds, sought the recovery of any missing funds, and asked that the evidence of recovery should be forwarded to his office.”

In suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/366/2021 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court in Abuja, SERAP is seeking: “an order of mandamus directing and compelling Dr Lawan, Mr Gbajabiamila and the National Assembly to perform their constitutional oversight functions to ensure the prompt and transparent investigation into the allegations that N4.4 billion budgeted for the National Assembly may be missing and unaccounted for.”

In the suit, the association argued that “by the combined reading of the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the UN Convention against Corruption, which Nigeria has ratified, the National Assembly has legal duties to combat corruption, and promote transparency and accountability in the management of public resources.”

According to SERAP: “transparency and accountability in the management of public resources and wealth is essential for promoting development, people’s welfare and well-being, and their access to basic public services, as well as good governance and the rule of law.”

SERAP is also arguing that “The National Assembly has the legal responsibility to ensure that the serious allegations of corruption and mismanagement documented by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation are promptly, independently, thoroughly, and transparently investigated, and to end the culture of impunity that is fuelling these allegations.”

According to SERAP: “The failure of the National Assembly to promptly and thoroughly investigate, and to refer to appropriate anti-corruption agencies the allegations documented in the annual audited reports for 2015, 2017 and 2018 is a fundamental breach of the oversight and public interest duties imposed on the legislative body by sections 4, 88 and 89 of the Nigerian Constitution.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Mr Kolawole Oluwadare and Ms Adelanke Aremo, read in part: “Granting this application would serve the interest of justice, reduce corruption and mismanagement, as well as end impunity of perpetrators, and advance the fundamental human rights of Nigerians.

“This suit seeks to vindicate the rule of law, the public interest, and to promote transparency and accountability. Government agencies and institutions are responsible to a court of justice for the lawfulness of what they do, and of that the court is the only judge. The National Assembly has no legally justifiable reason to refuse to investigate the allegations documented by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation.

“Obedience to the rule of law by all citizens but more particularly those who publicly took an oath of office to protect and preserve the Constitution is a desideratum to good governance and respect for the rule of law. In a democratic society, this is meant to be a norm.

It would be recalled that SERAP had in a letter dated 30 January 2021 requested Dr Lawan and Mr Gbajabiamila to “use their good offices to urgently probe and refer to appropriate anti-corruption agencies allegations that N4.4 billion of public money budgeted for the National Assembly may have been misappropriated, diverted or stolen.

The letter, read in part: “The Auditor-General noted in his 2015 report that the National Assembly account was spent N8,800,000.00 as an unauthorised overdraft, contrary to Financial Regulations 710. The National Assembly also reportedly spent N115,947,016.00 without any documents. Another N158,193,066.00 spent as cash advances to 17 staff between January and June 2015 is yet to be retired.”

“The Senate reportedly spent N186,866,183.42 to organise Senate Retreat and Pre-Valedictory Session for the 7th Senate, although the money was meant to pay vehicle loan. The Senate also reportedly spent N15,964,193.63 as bank charges between July and December 2015, contrary to Financial Regulations 734.

“The House of Representatives also reportedly spent N624,377,503.30 to buy 48 Utility Vehicles. However, 14 vehicles were not supplied. The House also failed to make the 34 vehicles supplied available for verification. Similarly, the House spent N499,666,666.00 as cash advances to staff to carry out various assignments but has failed to retire the money.

“The House of Representatives also reportedly paid N70,560,000.00 as overtime and ‘special’ allowances to officials who are not legislative aides between November and December 2015 without any authority.

“The National Assembly Service Commission reportedly failed to remit N30,130,794.10 deducted from the salaries of the Executive Chairman and the Commissioners as car loan.

“The National Assembly Budget and Research Office reportedly spent N66,303,411.70 as out-of-pocket expenses without any documents. The National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies paid N246,256,060.51 by cheques, despite the prohibition of payments by cheque by the Federal Government, except in extreme cases, and contrary to Financial Regulation 631.

“According to the Auditor-General Report for 2017, the House of Representatives reportedly spent N95,212,250.00 without due process and without any documents. The National Assembly Management Account also reveals that N673,081,242.14 was spent between April and October 2017 without any documents. The Auditor-General reported that the funds may have been misappropriated.

“The Senate Account also reportedly shows that N1,364,816,397.95 was spent on store items without any documents to show for the spending. The Auditor-General stated that his office was denied access to the store and to the Senate’s records.

“The National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies also reportedly failed to remit N2,181,696.50 from a contract of goods and services. The Institute also paid N67,296,478.00 without any payment vouchers.”

Business Post understands that no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

Adedapo Adesanya is a journalist, polymath, and connoisseur of everything art. When he is not writing, he has his nose buried in one of the many books or articles he has bookmarked or simply listening to good music with a bottle of beer or wine. He supports the greatest club in the world, Manchester United F.C.

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Zamfara to Restore Telecoms Services November 29

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Bello Matawalle Zamfara State

By Adedapo Adesanya

The Zamfara State Government has announced the suspension of the ban on telecommunications services in the state from Monday, November 29, 2021.

The announcement was made by the state’s governor, Mr Bello Matawalle, on Saturday at an event in Gusau, the state capital, where he stated that the resumption of telecoms services would begin tomorrow.

The federal government and the Zamfara State government had in September shut down network services “to enable relevant security agencies to carry out required activities towards addressing the security challenges in the state.”

Now, Mr Matawalle explained that the decision to suspend the measure was informed by the encouraging report of peace attained in the nooks and crannies of the state.

“I want to announce today (Saturday) that we have taken a decision to lift the ban on telecommunications in the state,” the governor was quoted as saying in a statement by Mr Zailani Bappa, his Special Adviser on Public Enlightenment, Media, and Communications.

“God’s Willing, as from next Monday we shall have that effected,” he said.

This follows its neighbouring Northwestern state, Kaduna, announcing the restoration of telecommunications services more than a month after it was shut down on the orders of the state security council.

Governor Matawalle, speaking at the convention of the state chapter of the All Progress Congress (APC) held at the trade fair complex in Gusau, believes bandits have taken the desired toll meant by the measure.

He thanked the people of the state for their patience and perseverance throughout the trying period and assured them that his administration would continue to take any measure necessary to preserve peace and protect their lives and property.

At the conclusion of the convention, the governor called on APC members in the state to extend their support to the new executive committee members in the state.

The convention was chaired by the Planning Committee Chairman from the National Headquarters of the APC, Ibrahim Masari, who announced a consensus of the party in all the 36 elective positions.

Mr Sahabi Yau, who represents Zamfara South senatorial district in the National Assembly, moved the motion for consensus, and it was seconded by a frontline member of the party in the state, Sani Jaji.

Mr Tukur Dan Fulani Gusau was returned as the newly elected chairman of the APC in Zamfara while Mr Ibrahim Dangaladima emerged as the new secretary of the party in the state.

The new EXCO members emerged after the Caretaker Committee of the party under Senator Hassan Nasiha was dissolved via a motion moved by a former governor of the state, Mamuda Shinkafi.

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#EndSARS: SERAP Seeks Court’s Help to Arrest Security Operatives

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Lekki Toll Gate Security Operatives

By Adedapo Adesanya

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has approached a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja to compel President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure the arrest of security operatives involved in the shooting of peaceful #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki tollgate and police brutality cases.

SERAP, in a statement on Sunday signed by its Deputy Director, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare, said the lawsuit was filed in collaboration with 116 concerned Nigerians, noting that young Nigerians had converged at the Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020, demanding good governance in the country and an end to police brutality before they were reportedly shot at by security officials.

A year after, a leaked report by the Lagos Judicial Panel of Inquiry on police brutality set up by the Lagos State government to probe the incident had indicted the security personnel for shooting “unarmed helpless and defenceless protesters, without provocation or justification.”

The group wants the court to “direct and compel President Muhammadu Buhari to take immediate steps to ensure the arrest of soldiers and police officers indicted by the Lagos #EndSARS panel report for the shooting of peaceful protesters at the Lekki toll-gate, and police brutality cases.”

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1482/2021 filed last Friday, SERAP is also asking the court to “direct and compel President Buhari to bring to justice anyone suspected to be responsible for the shooting of peaceful protesters, and to ensure access to justice and effective remedies for victims, including adequate compensation.”

“It is in the interest of justice to grant this application, as it would improve respect for Nigerians’ rights, the rule of law, and public confidence in government institutions, as well as reduce the growing culture of impunity of perpetrators,” the statement read.

“The safety of protesters in Nigeria remains as precarious as ever, and impunity for crimes against them is growing. Impunity emboldens perpetrators. A failure to bring to justice those indicted for the shooting of peaceful protesters is, in itself, a violation of the rights to life and human dignity.

“The flagrant lack of accountability for past violations of the rights of protesters has given rise to a growing sense of powerlessness, and resentment not only among victims and their families but among the general public,” it stated..

According to the group, the failure to promptly arrest, and bring to justice those suspected to be responsible for the shooting of peaceful protesters, and to ensure access to justice and effective remedies for victims and their families amounts to a travesty of justice, as justice delayed is justice denied.

Joined in the suit as Respondent is the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami.

While seeking an order to compel Mr Buhari to ensure that those still being detained solely for peacefully exercising their human rights are immediately and unconditionally released, and all charges against them are dropped, SERAP also wants the President to ensure full and effective respect for the human rights of everyone across the country, including the rights to life, dignity, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.

“The Buhari administration has the constitutional responsibility to allow victims of human rights violations to find out the truth in regard to acts committed, to know who the perpetrators of such acts are, and to obtain justice and adequate compensation.

“The right to life is an inherent, core, and non-derogable human right, regardless of the circumstances, and even in times of armed conflict or states of emergency. Summary, extrajudicial, or arbitrary executions are clearly prohibited under the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended] and international law.

“The UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary, and Summary Executions affirm that ‘extra-legal, arbitrary, and summary executions’ cannot be carried out under any circumstances.

“According to the principles, ‘governments shall prohibit orders from superior officers or public authorities authorizing or inciting other persons to carry out any such extra-legal, arbitrary or summary executions. All persons shall have the right and the duty to defy such orders.

“International law requires that the use of lethal force, such as firearms, is an ‘extreme measure’ that should only be considered when strictly necessary in order to protect life or prevent serious injury from an imminent threat.

“Articles 2(1) and 2(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party require State Parties to ‘undertake to respect and ensure’ and provide effective remedies for violations of the rights in the Covenant.

“The remedies must be accessible and effective remedies and take into account the special vulnerability of certain categories of person.

“The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a set of principles relating to states’ obligations to the victims of serious violations of international human rights law that makes clear that states are obligated to investigate violations of international human rights law thoroughly and impartially, and where appropriate, take action against those allegedly responsible.

“States also have the duty to investigate and, if there is sufficient evidence, the duty to submit to prosecution the person allegedly responsible for violations.

“President Buhari has a constitutional duty, being the Chief Executive Officer of the Federation and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, to ensure access to justice and effective remedies for victims, and that there is no impunity for allegations of human rights violations,” the statement disclosed.

The suit followed the submission of the Lagos #EndSARS panel report on the Lekki shooting incident and police brutality cases to the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu. The leaked report is said to have indicted some soldiers and police officers for “the shooting of protesters, leading to grievous injuries and deaths.

The panel reportedly found that “the shooting of protesters at the Lekki toll-gate on October 20, 2020, was unwarranted, excessive, provocative and unjustifiable in the circumstances of the state of the protests, which was peaceful and orderly.”

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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Oyo Begs 1,115 C of O Applicants to Come for Collection

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C of O Applicants

By Modupe Gbadeyanka

Those who applied for certificates of occupancy (C of O) in Oyo State have been urged to come forward for collection at Room 4, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development.

This appeal was made by the Commissioner for Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Mr Olayiwola Olusegun Emmanuel, on Friday.

The Commissioner disclosed that since he assumed office about a month ago, he has signed not less than 1,606 C of Os but only 491 have been collected.

He, therefore, appealed the 1,115 outstanding C of O applicants to come forward to pick them up as they have been approved by Governor Seyi Makinde and duly signed.

“The Governor Seyi Makinde led administration has been working hard to make sure he fulfils his promises to the good people of Oyo State.

“This is why measures are being put in place to make sure that everyone collects their title documents with ease and within a stipulated period,” the Commissioner stated.

Mr Emmanuel admitted that though the cabinet reshuffle that took place in the third quarter of 2021 caused a slight delay in the issuance of the certificates, all processed and duly signed certificates are ready for collection by the applicants.

“We, therefore, enjoin the applicants to visit our office at Room 4, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development and collect their Certificates of Occupancy.

“We also appeal to members of the public to respond timely to our officials when their attention is needed to avoid further delay in processing. We hereby apologize for any inconvenience this might have caused our applicants,” he added.

“All complaints should be made at our Customer Care office at Room 4, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Agodi, Ibadan or call Customer Care on 0700 696 52637. You can also email us at lands@oyostate.gov.ng,” he concluded.

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