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FoI: Obasanjo, Jonathan must account for recovered public loot

• Court directs past leaders to account for spendings

It was a major triumph for proponents of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act yesterday when a Federal High Court, sitting in Lagos, ruled that governments since 1999 erred by not publishing details of stolen public funds that have been recovered.

Justice M. B. Idris delivered the judgment, following a FOI suit no: FHC/IKJ/CS/248/2011 brought by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

Idris asked the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to “ensure that his administration, and the administrations of former president Olusegun Obasanjo, former president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (deceased), and former President Goodluck Jonathan account fully for all recovered loot.”

He said previous administrations breached the fundamental principles of transparency and accountability for failing to disclose details about the spending of recovered stolen public funds, including on a dedicated website.

“The details ordered by the court to be disclosed include: information on the total amount of recovered stolen public assets by each administration; the amount of recovered stolen public assets spent by each administration as well as the objects of such spending and the projects on which such funds were spent,” SERAP said in a statement.

Justice Idris dismissed all the objections raised by the Federal Government and upheld SERAP’s arguments. Consequently, the court entered judgment in favour of SERAP against the federal government as follows:

“A declaration is hereby made that the failure and/or refusal of the respondents to individually and/or collectively disclose detailed information about the spending of recovered stolen public funds since the return of civil rule in 1999, and to publish widely such information, including on a dedicated website, amounts to a breach of the fundamental principles of transparency and accountability and violates Articles 9, 21 and 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act

“A declaration is hereby made that by virtue of the provisions of Section 4 (a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2011, the 1st defendant/respondent is under a binding legal obligation to provide the plaintiff/applicant with up to date information on the spending of recovered stolen funds, including: Detailed information on the total amount of recovered stolen public assets that have so far been recovered by Nigeria; the amount that has been spent from the recovered stolen public assets and the objects of such spending.”

Mr. Olukayode Majekodunmi, SERAP deputy executive director, commended the judgment and described it as a step towards encouraging a “corruption-free society…”

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