Court Orders Buhari’s Minister To Account For N729bn Payment To Poor Nigerians

The former minister of humanitarian affairs, disaster management, and social development, Sadia Umar-Farouk, has been asked by the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos to account for the N729 billion that was paid out to 24.3 million impoverished Nigerians over the course of six months.

In addition, the court requested that the ex-minister disclose the total number of states covered, the amount of money distributed each state, and the names and contact information of those who were paid.

Hon. Justice Deinde Isaac Dipeolu handed out the ruling last month in response to a FOIA case filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) with the case number: FHC/L/CS/853/2021.

Deputy Director Kolawole Oluwadare of SERAP made the announcement public last Friday, noting that the certified true copy of the ruling had been procured.

According to his statement, Justice Dipeolu ruled that the former minister must provide information to anyone, including SERAP, under the Freedom of Information Act. Consequently, I am issuing a mandamus order ordering the minister to reveal how 24.3 million impoverished Nigerians were aided with N729 billion in 2021.

“Deliver SERAP with details of how the beneficiaries have been selected and the mechanisms for the payments to the beneficiaries,” Justice Dipeolu directed the minister to say.

“Explain the rationale for paying N5,000 to 24.3 million poor Nigerians, which translates to five percent of Nigeria’s budget of N13.6 trillion for 2021,” the judge further directed the minister to do.

The minister failed to provide an explanation for withholding the information requested by SERAP, according to Justice Dipeolu. In accordance with sections 20 and 25(1) of the Act, SERAP has asked this Court to issue a mandamus order compelling the minister to hand up the requested material, after identifying the specific parts of the Freedom of material Act 2011 that the minister violated.

The court rejected the minister’s legal team’s arguments and instead supported SERAP’s position. So, the court ruled in SERAP’s favour, dismissing the minister’s case.

In his ruling from 27 June 2024, Justice Dipeolu stated: “where a statute clearly provides for a particular act to be done or performed in a particular way, failure to perform the act as provided will not only be interpreted as a delinquent conduct but will be interpreted as not complying with the statutory provision.”

“The ministry responded to SERAP’s notice motion with a counter-affidavit and a preliminary objection dated October 4, 2022. Since the minister has raised a preliminary objection that casts doubt on this court’s authority to hear this case, I shall address it first.

“This suit was not commenced within 30 days after SERAP’s request for information was deemed to have been denied. The grounds upon which the preliminary objection was filed are whether this suit is not incompetent.”

“Considering that SERAP has not followed the requirements of Section 20 of the Freedom of Information Act, can this court exercise its jurisdiction to consider their application?”

“As for the minister’s counsel’s arguments on both counts, he argued that public institutions have seven days to comply with a request for information, failing to do so would be considered a rejection, as provided for in sections 4,7(4) and 20 of the Freedom of Information Act, subject to legitimate exceptions within the Act.”

After 7 days had passed, SERAP’s plea was officially rejected on July 6th. As a result, SERAP is given 30 days to submit an application to this Court in accordance with section 20 of the Act.

“The Act specifies that SERAAP had 30 days from the date of the breach to initiate suit; however, the move on notice was filed after the 30 days had passed, on November 9th, 2021. The statute of limitations has thus run out on this lawsuit.

As a counterargument, SERAP’s legal team claimed that the 8th of November 2021 motion of notice did not initiate this lawsuit. This lawsuit was started with a motion ex parte dated July 13, 2021, however it wasn’t submitted until July 15, 2021, after the minister had the 7-day deadline to answer to SERAP’s FOI request.

“The Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2019 and Order 34 Rule 3(1) are followed in this matter, as stated in the Freedom of Information Act, section 20.”

Concerning the minister’s preliminary objection, the aforementioned are the arguments presented by solicitors. The minister failed to conduct an adequate search of the casefile prior to submitting the preliminary objection, as SERAP’s attorney has pointed out.

It is clear that SERAP initiated this lawsuit on July 13, 2021, through a motion ex parte, but the lawsuit was filed on July 15, 2021, which is more than enough time to pursue the action after the minister denied the required information.

By bringing this lawsuit, SERAP was in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act’s section 20. I thus reject the minister’s preliminary objection and rule that the statute of limitations does not apply to this case. Yes, I do.

“This ground-breaking judgement is a victory for transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds,” remarked Kolawole Oluwadare, deputy director of SERAP.

Justice Dipeolu’s ruling highlights the critical importance of the Tinubu administration taking seriously the Auditor-General of the Federation-documented systemic corruption claims in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disasters Management, and Social Development, among other ministries, departments, and agencies.

“President Bola Tinubu must immediately comply with the court orders, and we applaud Justice Dipeolu for her bravery and insight.”

In response to the verdict, Femi Falana, SAN, stated: “SERAP deserves the commendation of all well-meaning people that have agonised over reports of systemic corruption in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disasters Management and Social Development and in other MDAs.”

One of the most courageous public interest lawsuits ever filed in Nigeria is this one. We urge the Tinubu administration to seize this ruling as a springboard to investigate and prosecute all allegations of corruption inside the ministry, punish anyone found guilty, and seize any profits made via corruption.

The organisation urged President Bola Tinubu to promptly comply and accept the judgement of the Court in a letter dated 6 July 2024 that was given to him regarding the judgement. The letter was signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare.

“SERAP sincerely requests that you instruct the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disasters Management and Social Development as well as the office of the Attorney General of the Federation to promptly gather and disclose the expenditure details pertaining to the N729 billion, as mandated by the court,” the letter stated in part.

“The swift execution of the judgement by your administration will mark a triumph for justice, openness, and responsibility in the administration of public funds, including the N729 billion.”

“Your administration will show Nigerians it is different from the Buhari government—which flagrantly disobeyed the country’s judiciary—and send a strong message to politicians and others that they will not be able to get away with grand corruption—if they immediately comply with the judgement.”

“The faith and trust in Nigeria’s judiciary’s independence would be restored immediately upon implementation of the judgement. You are strongly encouraged by SERAP to put the past in the past and show your dedication to the rule of law, openness, and accountability in government by taking bold and immediate action.

Compliance with this judgement is a crucial part of the rule of law and an important step in building a basic institutional framework for legality and constitutionality. SERAPH believes you will notice this. So, we’re expecting a favourable reaction and next steps regarding the verdict from you.

The former Minister of Social Development, Disaster Management, and Humanitarian Affairs is the target of the lawsuit. The minister’s January 2021 decision to “pay about 24.3 million poor Nigerians N5,000 each for a period of six months to provide help to those impoverished by the COVID-19 pandemic” prompted the lawsuit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: