Saraki’s acquittal: SERAP seeks UN-backed Commission against Impunity in Nigeria

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has stated that, “the acquittal yesterday of the Senate President Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) of corruption charges suggests serious shortcomings in the criminal justice system, and means that a complementary and supportive mechanism in the form of a UN-backed commission against corruption and impunity in Nigeria is urgently needed to achieve President Muhammadu Buhari’s oft-stated anti-corruption agenda.”

The organization urges “the Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo to urgently and proactively pursue the establishment of a UN-backed International Commission Against Corruption and Impunity to assist our criminal justice system to effectively and efficiently investigate and prosecute high-level corruption cases in the country, like it happened in Guatemala, for example. This government needs help in its fight against corruption, and strong leadership is now needed to urgently design a complementary and supportive plan.”

The CCT yesterday dismissed the 18-count charge of false asset declaration against Saraki following his no-case submission. But SERAP in a statement today by its deputy director Timothy Adewale said that, “The acquittal of Mr Saraki has exposed deep flaws in the country’s legal framework against corruption, and seriously weakened any notion of accountability of high-ranking public officials accused of corruption.”

According to SERAP, “A UN-backed commission would help to improve our criminal justice system in the short, medium and long terms so that it would be better able to prosecute complex grand corruption cases. It would also meet the longstanding and legitimate demands of the Nigerian people for vigorous and meaningful action against corrupt leaders, past or present.”

The statement read in part: “Supporting a strong partnership between Nigerian prosecutors and international law enforcement experts would show that the authorities have the ability and political will to chip away at the country’s corruption and impunity of perpetrators, and help address Nigerians’ scepticism about the viability of the anti-corruption agenda.”

“Further, to end a culture of corruption and impunity of perpetrators, we urge the Attorney General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN to urgently take over the prosecution of the corruption case against Mr Saraki by ensuring that the CCT decision is urgently appealed and that the case is diligently prosecuted within the limits of the rule of law.”

“The outcome of the Saraki’s case sends a damaging message that suspected corrupt leaders can get away with their crimes, while keeping their stolen assets. Many would-be corrupt leaders may now see engaging in acts of corruption a risk worth taking.”

“The Guatemalan commission established by the UN in 2006 has a strong record of fighting organized crime and high-level corruption and the Nigerian authorities can learn valuable lessons from its operation and achievements in the efforts to take the fight against corruption in this country to another level.”

 

SERAP asks Court to order FG, Fashola to provide free pre-paid meters to all Nigerians

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sued the Federal Government and the Minister of Power, Works and Housing Babatunde Fashola, SAN over “their collective failure, refusal and/or negligence toenforce their own directives to electricity distribution companies (DISCOs) to provide free prepaid meters to all Nigerians and end the use of patently illegal, arbitrary, unfair and discriminatory estimated billing across the country.”

The application with suit number FHC/L/CS/906/17 was filed last Friday at the Federal High Court Ikoyi. SERAP is arguing that, “By failing and/or neglecting to enforce his directives to DISCOs, Mr Fashola is implicitly promoting the use of unjustifiable estimated billing, and increasing consumer costs. The use of estimated billing is marginalizing Nigerians living in extreme poverty, disproportionately affecting women, children and the elderly, and increasing their vulnerability to discrimination.”

SERAP also argues that, “Mr Fashola’s constitutional and statutory responsibility is not just to give directives to DISCOs to provide free prepaid meters to all Nigerians but also to decisively enforce such directives and end the use of estimated billing. Effective access to electricity includes metering of all consumers. It is the responsibility of the Federal Government which has been assigned to Mr Fashola, and he cannot shy away from it.”

SERAP further argues that, “Unless the reliefs sought are granted, Mr Fashola and the Federal Government will not perform their constitutional and statutory responsibilities to enforce the directives to DISCOs to provide free prepaid meters to all Nigerians. It is in the interest of justice to ensure strict enforcement of directives, deadlines and regulations on provision of free pre-paid meters to all Nigerians, and an end to estimated billing.”

The suit brought pursuant to Order 34 of the Federal High Court Rules and the inherent jurisdiction of the court, was signed by SERAP deputy director Timothy Adewale. The suit followed the organization’s request to Mr Fashola asking him to “urgently enforce your directives and discharge your ministerial and statutory duty to ensure completion of metering of unmetered customers and total abolition of estimated billing in the country.”

The suit read in part: “Access to regular electricity supply is a prerequisite for satisfying basic human needs, improving living standards, maintaining good human health, alleviating poverty and facilitating sustainable development. It’s unlawful for DISCOs to disconnect electricity supplies on the basis of unpaid estimated bills.”

“Obedience to the rule of law by all citizens but more particularly those who publicly took 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 is an apostasy for government to ignore the provisions of the law and the necessary rules and directives made to regulate matters”.

“Electricity provides a safe means of cooking (through electric stoves) and food preservation (refrigeration). Electricity is therefore essential to agriculture and a prerequisite for food security. Electricity can also be employed to realise the human right to access clean water. Electric power operates pumps and sanitation systems so that drinking water is within the safe physical reach of all individuals and accessible by households, educational institutions and workplaces.”

“Excessive billing of customers is arbitrary, unfair, unjust, unreasonable and exploitative of millions of socially and economically vulnerable groups. The apparent failure by Mr Fashola to exercise due diligence and effective regulatory oversight on DISCOs to ensure full compliance with the directives to provide free pre-paid meters to Nigerians has denied millions of customers regular and uninterrupted access to electricity.”

“For several years after the country’s power sector was privatized, millions of Nigerian households particularly the socially and economically vulnerable sectors of the population continue to complain about outrageous bills for electricity not consumed, and poor power supply from distribution companies.”

“Mr Fashola has issued several directives and deadlines by both his office and through the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission for distribution companies to provide free pre-paid meters to all customers, but has failed, refused, and/or neglected to enforce the said directives, and millions of electricity users across the country remain unmetered.”

“SERAP has a complaints hotline 080CALLSERAP and that by virtue of this hotline, the organization receives numerous complaints and petitions daily that electricity consumers still get estimated bills and that DISCOs have refused to provide free pre-paid meters to consumers as directed by Mr Fashola.”

“SERAP by a letter dated 22nd May, 2017, requested Mr Fashola to urgently enforce his directives to DISCOs to provide free prepaid meters to all Nigerians and end the use of patently illegal estimated billing. But since the receipt of the letter, and up till the filing of this suit, Mr Fashola and the Federal Government have so far failed, refused and/or neglected to enforce the said directives.”

SERAP is seeking the following reliefs:

  1. AN ORDER of this Honorable Court granting leave to the Applicant to apply for Judicial Relief and to seek an Order of Mandamus directing and or compelling the 2nd Respondent to enforce his directives to electricity distribution companies to provide free prepaid meters to all Nigerians, and end the use of patently illegal estimated billing.

 

2.  AND for such order or other orders as this Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstance.

 

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

 

Corruption: Cape Verde, Zambia battle FG at African court over SERAP’s case

There was a “David and Goliath” type court battle last week before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights when Cape Verde and Zambia confronted Nigeria and Uganda over a corruption case instituted by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) before the court.
SERAP had in the suit No. 001/2013 sought an advisory opinion from the African court to decide whether or not “the growing poverty, under-development and grand corruption in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa amount to violations of the human rights guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and if so, whether the citizens of these countries are entitled to bring cases to seek justice before the court.”
SERAP had argued that, “Human rights should not be the preserve of the rich and wealthy, and that human rights contained in the African Charter are not indifferent to the plight of those who live in poverty. Poverty is not just an economic or developmental matter but also a crucial human rights issue, and that poverty is not an inevitable problem but something created, enabled and perpetuated by acts and omissions of States and other economic actors.
The court, for the first time, clarified its position on advisory opinion requests by NGOs. The court sought the views of African Union members, including Cape Verde, Zambia, Nigeria and Uganda on the matter, and whether SERAP was competent to bring the suit. However, while Cape Verde and Zambia staunchly backed and defended SERAP’s position, Nigeria opposed it. Uganda aligned with Nigeria while Burkina Faso and Burundi did not provide any observations.
The court, agreeing with Nigeria and Uganda, concluded that it had no jurisdiction to render an advisory opinion on the SERAP’s Request. The court said while it agreed that SERAP is an “African organization” under its protocol, the organization does not have an observer status with the AU, and as such, cannot bring the Request for an advisory opinion before it.
Adetokunbo Mumuni, SERAP executive director said: “We thank Cape Verde and Zambia for bringing useful clarity on the correct position of the law on the matter. Unfortunately, the opposition by Nigeria to the case influenced Uganda to take a wrong turn, and effectively turned the court’s decision on its head. Nevertheless, we accept the decision and will pursue an observer status application before the AU.”
Mumuni added, “The Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo would do well to urgently instruct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN to file a declaration under the court protocol that would now allow individuals and NGOs direct access to the court, if the government is to correct this historic failure of leadership, and show that it’s truly committed to the fight against corruption and promotion of human rights in the country.”
The Cape Verde archipelago, 370 miles (600km) off Senegal, is made up of 10 islands. Around 500,000 people live there.
Cape Verde had argued that, “the Request may, a priori, raise the issue as to SERAP’s legitimacy to make such a Request before the Court. It’s clear that SERAP is a Nigerian NGO whose aim is to promote transparency and accountability in the public and private sectors through human rights. It would appear, then, that SERAP is an African organization, and thus precludes the provisions of Article 4 of the court’s protocol, which stipulates that it must be an intergovernmental organization.”
 
Cape Verde also argued that, “Our government also believes that SERAP is an organization recognized by the AU, as the organization enjoys observer status before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It would appear reasonable to us to conclude that SERAP is therefore recognized by the AU by virtue of having been granted observer status before an organ established by the Union.”
 
But Nigeria opposed Cape Verde, arguing that, “SERAP is not an African organization. Also, there’s a clear distinction between the AU and an organ of the AU. Recognition by an organ of the AU is not the same as recognition by the AU. Article 34(6) of the court’s protocol has therefore effectively barred the court from entertaining the request from SERAP, being an NGO registered in Nigeria.”
However, Zambia countered Nigeria’s position by arguing that, “SERAP appears on the list of civil society organizations which have been granted observer status by the [African Union Commission] under the auspices of the AU. This fact implies recognition by the AU. Consequently, SERAP has, for purposes of requesting for advisory opinions of the court, the requisite legal standing.”
Zambia further argued that, “in considering the Request by SERAP, the court must first determine whether or not SERAP is entitled to bring a request before it. Our government concludes that SERAP falls within the category of institutions permitted to request advisory opinion of the African Court, as per Article 4(1) of the court’s protocol, and rule 68(1) of the Rules of Court.”
But Uganda disagreed, aligning itself with Nigeria when it argued that, “SERAP, with due respect, did not show how it has been aggrieved or how the African Charter has been violated. For these reasons, the court is implored to find that there is no need for an Advisory Opinion and thus disallow the request.”
According to Uganda, “SERAP does not qualify as an intergovernmental organization under the court protocol. The court should disallow the Request. The court is not vested with jurisdiction to hear this matter. We invite the court to find that the matter before it needs interpretation of both law and fact.”
The court acknowledged that, “In the exercise of its mandate, SERAP has brought cases, petitions and requests for advisory opinion before the ECOWAS court, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Court, against a number of African countries, including, Nigeria, The Gambia and Libya. Therefore, SERAP operates not only in Nigeria, but also within the West Africa region and the continent as a whole, and thus meets the description of an African organization within the meaning of article 4 of the protocol.”
But the court reasoned that, “in describing the African organizations empowered to bring requests for Advisory Opinion before this court, the same Protocol makes reference only to organizations recognized by the AU and says nothing about those recognized by any organ of the AU. Had the authors of the Protocol wanted to also target African organizations recognized by any organ of the AU, they would certainly not have hesitated to make this clear.”
The court added, “Since SERAP does not have observer status before or a Memorandum of Understanding with the AU, it is not recognised by the latter, and therefore it is not entitled to bring a request for advisory opinion before this Court. For these reasons, the Court, unanimously: Declares that it does not have personal jurisdiction to give an opinion on the present Request.”
The court concluded that, “a request for observer status must be submitted to the African Union Commission which then submits it to the Executive Council. It is the Executive Council that is vested with power to grant, suspend or withdraw observer status from an NGO.”
The amicus curiae in the case included the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Implementation Center of the University of Bristol UK. They had also argued that, “the court has jurisdiction to provide advisory opinions on the request of NGOs, such as SERAP, within the meaning of article 4 of its protocol, and this is because SERAP meets all the requirements of the third category of entities that may request for advisory opinion from the court, that is, ‘any African organization recognized by the AU.”

CCT judge queries ‘use of public funds to buy vehicles for politicians’

Hon. Justice Agwadza William Atedze of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) has queried the use of public funds to buy vehicles for politicians, and counselled Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) to research the issues “to see how best we can reconcile our social and cultural values viz-a-viz the entire war against corruption and advise our policymakers accordingly.”

Justice Atedze said this yesterday at the launch of SERAP’s latest report titled Combating Grand Corruption and Impunity in Nigeria: An Agenda for Institutional Reforms in Anti-Corruption Strategies. The report is published under a project to promote justice sector and anti-corruption oversight mechanism reform, which SERAP is undertaking in collaboration with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), USA.

Apart from Justice Atedze who represented the Chairman of the CCT, Hon. Justice Danladi Yakubu Umar at the report launch, other anti-corruption agencies that attended the event were the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC); and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).

Mr. Dauda Joki-Lasisi, Head of Procurement and Fraud Section of the EFCC who represented the agency at the report launch said that, “The fight against corruption can be likened to an allegory of a giant in the midst of ants, as little as an ant is, it may not be able to wear the trouser of a giant, but will remove it.”

The Head of ICPC Lagos Office Mr. Olufemi Nofiu; and Mr. T. Collins who represented the Chairman of the CCB, Mr. Sam Saba echoed similar sentiments, promising to “do anything and everything within their powers to curb corruption in the country in its entirety.”

All the anti-graft agencies renewed their commitment to work even harder to end the problem of grand corruption in the country, and end its devastating consequences.

Chairman of the report launch Barrister Babatunde Ogala said that, “Corruption is simply a way of life for us all, it is deep, when you steal as a religious institution, you are as corrupt as any Nigerian. In my opinion, corruption is both cultural and religious, corruption is as big as this country, the way of curbing it is by changing our national orientation.”

Barrister Ogala, who was former Chairman of the Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Judiciary, also said that, “The EFCC ought to have offices even at the local government level. The society itself encourages and invests in corruption. As a legislator, I was constantly measured by what I did for individuals and not by the amount of law making I engaged in.”

The report contains several recommendations among which is the call to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Hon Justice Walter Onnoghen, to “ensure that all judges fully utilise the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) in the hearing of grand corruption cases before them.”

Among other key recommendations, the report urges Justice Onnoghen to “ensure that judges, in situations where the ACJA rules apply, are made to follow the dictates of these innovative statutory interventions or face disciplinary action, and to incorporate into ongoing judicial trainings these crucial statutes and procedures as well as include the ACJA as part of the mandatory continuing legal education for all judges in Nigeria.”

The report also recommends that “The Chief Justice and all other judges should also periodically disclose and publish their assets. The Chief Justice should promote full independence for the National Judicial Council including by allowing retired judges of proven integrity to lead the council.”

Executive summary of the report read in part: “Corruption is a threat to democracy. It erodes confidence in and respect for democratic institutions and emerges as an obstacle to social, economic and human development. The fight against corruption is therefore crucial to achieve economic development and stability.”

“Anti-corruption agencies in Nigeria generally have not met widespread expectations mainly because of lack of political will of those in government to fight grand corruption; absence of an over-all national anti-graft strategy; inadequate legal framework and resources and/or lack of full and effective implementation of new initiatives; limited independence and public trust; lack of an enabling climate and necessary know-how, and lack of basic ethical values.”

“Anti-graft agencies should seek stiffer penalties for convicted corrupt officials and minimise the use of plea bargaining, to serve as deterrence; and the judiciary at all levels should assume leadership in this regard.”

“The Government of President Muhammadu Buhari and the Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo should instruct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN to urgently ensure the full and effective implementation and enforcement of the Practice Directions on Serious Crimes, 2013, and the ACJA Act 2015 in all courts and tribunals handling cases of grand corruption to ensure that stalling of prosecution by defence lawyers becomes history.”

“The Government of President Muhammadu Buhari and the Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo should reform the anti-graft agencies in Nigeria with a view to granting them independence, freedom of action and adequate resources, so that they can carry out their mandates effectively.”

“The Government of President Muhammadu Buhari and the Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo should instruct anti-corruption agencies to urgently publish reports of their investigations into the allegations of budget padding by the leadership of the National Assembly and to prosecute anyone suspected to be involved in grand corruption. President Buhari and Acting President Osinbajo should also ensure adequate protection for the Whistle-blower Abdulmumin Jibrin.”

“The Government of President Muhammadu Buhari and the Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo shouldprioritise and give sufficient political and operational attention to the coordination of anti-corruption efforts, with coordination issues considered from the design stage of anti-corruption policy making, as many coordination efforts in the operations of anti-corruption agencies in Nigeria have failed because of their original design flaws.”

“The EFCC and ICPC should urgently come up with strategies for prioritising corruption cases within states and local government levels. Corruption should not only be fought at the Federal level but also at the state and local government levels.”

“The EFCC and ICPC should intensify processes to investigate and effectively prosecute state officials involved in diverting bailout funds meant for payment of salaries and pensions but which the ICPC has disclosed have been diverted. The ICPC should publish the bailout report and name and shame all of those suspected to be involved.”

SERAP to Fashola: Order DISCOs to provide pre-paid meters to Nigerians or face legal action

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an open letter to the Minister of Power, Works and Housing Babatunde Fashola, SAN requesting him to use his “good offices and leadership position to urgently enforce your directives to electricity distribution companies (DISCOs) to provide free pre-paid meters to Nigerians, and end the use of patently illegal and inordinate estimated billing across the country.”

The organization asked Mr Fashola to “take this step within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter, failing which SERAP will institute appropriate legal proceedings to compel the discharge of your ministerial and statutory duty in this matter in order to ensure completion of metering of unmetered customers and total abolition of estimated billing in the country.”

In the letter dated 22 May 2017 and signed by SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organization expressed “concern that while countries like Zambia are subsidising electricity payments to enable consumption by socially and economically vulnerable groups, this government is implicitly promoting the use of unjustifiable estimated billing, and increasing consumer costs. The use of estimated billing is marginalizing Nigerians living in extreme poverty, disproportionately affecting women, children and the elderly, and increasing their vulnerability to discrimination.”

According to the organization, “Excessive billing of customers is arbitrary, unfair, unjust, unreasonable and exploitative of millions of socially and economically vulnerable groups. SERAP is concerned that the apparent failure of your office to exercise due diligence and effective regulatory oversight on DISCOs to ensure full compliance with your directives to provide free pre-paid meters to Nigerians has denied millions of customers regular and uninterrupted access to electricity.”

The letter read in part: “It’s the responsibility of this government and your ministry to ensure that the privatisation of the power sector does not impair in any way, shape, or form access of Nigerians to regular and uninterrupted electricity supply by among others actively promoting the provision of pre-paid meters to all Nigerians particularly the socially and economically vulnerable groups. Nigerians should not be penalized by disconnection or denial of access to electricity because they cannot pay unwarranted estimated bills.”

“It’s unlawful for DISCOs to disconnect electricity supplies on the basis of unpaid estimated bills. This government and your ministry bear responsibility for the failure and/or refusal of DISCOs to provide free pre-paid meters to millions of Nigerians.

“Several years after the country’s power sector was privatized, millions of Nigerian households particularly the socially and economically vulnerable sectors of the population continue to complain about outrageous bills for electricity not consumed, and poor power supply from distribution firms. Despite several directives and deadlines by both your office and the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission for DISCOs to provide free pre-paid meters to customers, our information reveals that millions of electricity users across the country remain unmetered.”

“SERAP is concerned that diminished power infrastructure and your ministry’s inability to enforce your directives and regulations on provision of pre-paid meters to Nigerians means that millions of customers continue to be exploited through the use of patently illegal estimated billing by DISCOs.”

“SERAP continues to receive complaints through our helpline against corruption in the electricity sector that majority of consumers still get estimated bills.  While electricity supply is for the most part declining, estimated bills continue to go up. In several parts of the country, consumers pay more for electricity than they pay for house rent. The feedbacks we have regularly received suggest that unreliable, inefficient and poor quality of electricity in several parts of the country is majorly responsible for the deplorable living conditions of millions of Nigerians.”

“SERAP argues that access to regular electricity supply is a prerequisite for satisfying basic human needs, improving living standards, maintaining good human health, alleviating poverty and facilitating sustainable development. SERAP notes that Article 14(2)(h) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to which Nigeria is a state party explicitly recognises electricity as a human right.”

“Similarly, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development has argued that sustainable development is attainable through universal access to cost-effective energy sources. Moreover, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has adjudged the failure of States to provide basic services such as electricity as violating the right to health.”

“SERAP believes that electricity provides a safe means of cooking (through electric stoves) and food preservation (refrigeration). Electricity is therefore essential to agriculture and a prerequisite for food security. Electricity can also be employed to realise the human right to access clean water. Electric power operates pumps and sanitation systems so that drinking water is within the safe physical reach of all individuals and accessible by households, educational institutions and workplaces.”

“SERAP therefore urges you to act diligently and swiftly to enforce your directives, deadlines and regulations on the provision of free pre-paid meters to Nigerians and end the use of patently illegal estimated billing across the country. We also urge to establish independent monitoring teams to regularly monitor the proportion of households across the country with pre-paid meters.”

“Should you fail and/or neglect to act as requested within seven days after the receipt and/or publication of this letter, SERAP will be compelled to pursue appropriate legal action against your ministry to ensure strict enforcement of your directives, deadlines and regulations on provision of free pre-paid meters to Nigerians and an end to estimated billing across the country.”

SERAP to Osinbajo: ‘Reject proposed wasteful spending by the National Assembly’

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) has sent an open letter to the Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo requesting him to use his good offices and leadership position “to put pressure on the leadership of the National Assembly to cut the proposed apparently wasteful and unnecessary spending on the number of expensive official vehicles, legislative aides, travels and transportation, souvenirs, and photocopiers.”

The organization urged Osinbajo to “Assent to the budget only if it truly reflects national development priorities, and not serve as a tool to satisfy the lifestyle of our lawmakers. To allow public funds to be spent as proposed by the National Assembly would disproportionately affect the socially and economically vulnerable and push them deeper into poverty and deprivation.”

In the letter dated 15 May 2017 and signed by SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni the organization said that, “In a country where many of our general hospitals cannot provide emergency treatment, and at a time public funds are needed to improve these facilities, it is retrogressive to spend these funds to provide exotic cars for our lawmakers or fund needless travels. Such funds ought to be meaningfully spent to provide clean water, build classrooms, provide materials, train teachers and pay outstanding workers’ salaries.”

SERAP in the letter copied to Professor Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights said that, “the more public funds that are spent to buy expensive vehicles for our lawmakers rather than servicing the new vehicles bought last year the less resources that will be available to make sure that Nigerians enjoy the right to an adequate standard of living and the rights to health, housing, food and education.”

The letter reads in part: “When read together, the obligations under the Covenant to take steps to achieve economic and social rights progressively according to the country’s national resources implicitly forbid spending on such apparently wasteful projects. We are concerned that of the N125 billion proposed by the National Assembly in the 2017 budget, N6.4bn is to purchase official vehicles; N1.6bn to insure the vehicles; N777m to buy photocopiers; N55.623m to buy souvenirs; N807m to fuel generators; N11bn for travels and transportation; N9bn to pay legislative aides, and N750m for medical supplies.”

“SERAP believes that the presidency now has the chance to show that the 2017 budget would not prioritise wasteful spending by the National Assembly over and above urgent national development priorities, and the need to improve Nigerians’ access to basic necessities such as uninterrupted electricity supply, quality education, affordable healthcare, clean water, good roads, as well as pay outstanding workers’ salaries across the country.”

“SERAP urges you and the presidency to require the National Assembly to justify the wave of fresh spending on several of the items purchased last year, and many of which will presumably remain in good condition.”

“SERAP also urges you to persuade the leadership of the National Assembly to henceforth adopt and use human rights budgeting as a tool of tracking Nigeria’s accountability toward economic, social and cultural rights. SERAP believes that a budget is a fundamental government tool for national development priorities and should not be a shopping list to satisfy the taste of high-ranking public officials and parliamentarians.”

“SERAP believes that the proposed spending of public funds by the National Assembly suggests that the leadership does not conceive of national budget as a blueprint for social and economic policy priorities.”

“SERAP believes that by cutting the proposed spending by the National Assembly, the presidency would be working to address and mitigate the negative effects of economic recession and crisis in the country on Nigerians living in poverty in particular and the socially and economically vulnerable in general.”

“SERAP notes that Nigeria is a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Covenant guarantees to all Nigerians legally enforceable economic, social and cultural rights such as the rights to food, health, and education. The enjoyment of these rights requires a major commitment of resources from key branches of government particularly the executive and legislature for example through the instrumentality of the budget.”

“When interpreted as prescribed by Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, the Covenant will impose clear duties on your government to make national budgets comply with realizing these economic, social and cultural rights. Therefore, international human rights law requires the government to use the country’s economic resources to fulfil economic, social and cultural rights. Clearly, economic resources of Nigeria are managed by fiscal policies, thus providing direct link with national budget.”

“The lack of enjoyment of these human rights would increase poverty and hunger, which in turn would threaten the right to life and health of many socially and economically vulnerable, including women and children. These groups of people are bearing the brunt and feeling the impacts of the economic crisis on their standards of living, their jobs and their homes.”

‘We will relay Abacha loot letter to Trump’, says US embassy

The Embassy of the United States of America in Nigeria has told Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) that “We will relay your letter to President Donald J. Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson requesting the Administration to attach and release to Nigeria some $500 million worth of US-based proceeds of corruption traced to former Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha.”

The US embassy said that, “The Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are in regular communication with the Nigerian Attorney General and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding further cooperation needed to conclude pending asset forfeiture cases and to develop a mechanism for the timely and transparent repatriation of those assets.”

The embassy letter signed by David J. Young, Deputy Chief of Mission followed SERAP’s letter dated 3 February 2017 and signed by the organization’s US Volunteer Counsel Professor Alexander W. Sierck and executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni.

SERAP had in the letter told Mr Trump that, “the US Department of Justice must promptly initiate civil asset forfeiture proceedings against the $500 million proceeds of corruption so as to fulfill several non-controversial commitments by the US to assist Nigeria in recovering assets looted by former Nigerian government officials.”

In response, the US embassy said last week that, “Thank you for your letter regarding the recovery of Nigerian assets. As part of the 2010 Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, the US Department of Justice has sought to forfeit the proceeds of corruption by foreign officials [including from Nigeria], and where appropriate, to use recovered assets to benefit the people who were harmed. This policy is consistent with US treaty obligations, including the UN Convention against Corruption.”

The embassy letter read in part: “The United States Government supports the Government of Nigeria’s efforts to work with civil society to identify how harm can be remedied through the return of stolen assets. We encourage you to disclose these issues with the Nigerian Attorney General and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who are working closely with the US on the repatriation process.”

“We were encouraged by civil society’s role in the development of Nigeria’s Open Government Partnership Action Plan and the commitment to strengthening laws to foster transparency and accountability in the management of recovered and returned assets.”

It would be recalled that SERAP had in its letter said, “the $500 million proceeds are separate from the $480 million of Abacha-origin funds that have been forfeited to the US under an August 2014 US federal district court order. SERAP’s request is fully consistent with the UN Convention Against Corruption, which both the US and Nigeria have ratified.”

SERAP’s letter read in part: “We urge your new Administration to initiate discussions with the Nigerian government to fulfill these objectives within an agreed framework and timeline. Simultaneously, the Administration should instruct the Justice Department to initiate civil asset forfeiture proceedings in regard to the above-referenced $500 million in assets described above.”

“Any bilateral discussions between the US and Nigeria concerning these assets should include clear acknowledgement of the significant role that civil society plays in asset recovery matters.”

“To that end, the respective governments ought to commit to promptly sharing information with relevant civil society organizations on stolen assets of Nigerian origin located in the US or otherwise subject to US jurisdiction. This proposed commitment is similar to one between the US and Kenya as well as consistent with Articles 46(4) and 56 of the UN Convention Against Corruption.”

“SERAP notes that Article 51 of the UN Convention against Corruption provides for the return of “corrupt” assets to countries of origin as a fundamental principle. Article 43 provides likewise. Similarly, under Articles 47(3)(a) and (b) states parties have an obligation to return forfeited or confiscated assets in cases of public corruption, as here, or when the requesting party reasonably establishes either prior ownership or damages to the states.”

“In SERAP’s judgment, some or all of these requirements have been met with respect to the $500 million in proceeds described above. A resolution adopted by the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention Against Corruption in Panama in November 2013 reaffirms this obligation, by requiring state to make “every effort” to return such proceeds. to the victim state.”

“Nigeria’s Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption has recently informed SERAP that the US Government has identified another $500 million or so proceeds of Nigerian corruption subject to US jurisdiction.”

 

World Bank to SERAP: “We have searched our databases but can’t find any more information on Abacha loot”

The World Bank has told Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) that it “cannot locate any additional information on the projects executed with recovered stolen public funds by the late General Sani Abacha.”

According to the response sent last week to SERAP, the World Bank Access to Information Appeal Committee said, “In response to your request under case number AI4288 (related to your initial request case number AI3982), we wish to inform you that we have thoroughly searched our records and databases but have not been able to locate any additional information that is responsive to your request beyond what we have already shared with you. Therefore, we are unable to fulfill your request.”

It would be recalled that the World Bank last year asked for more time to release details on the spending of recovered loot by Abacha. This followed the bank’s decision to refer “portion of appeal by SERAP to the Bank Archives Unit for processing for public access. The Bank’s request for more time followed the appeal SERAP lodged with the Bank on 5 February 2016 on the ground that the Bank’s decision on its initial request did not reveal “important portions of the information requested on how Abacha loot was spent.”

But dissatisfied with the failure of the Bank to locate additional information, SERAP has now sent an open letter to the Bank’s president Dr. Jim Yong Kim requesting him to use his “good offices and leadership position to urgently address the public perception that the World Bank is seeking to distance itself from responsibility over alleged mismanagement in the spending of recovered Abacha loot.”

Specifically, the organization asked Dr Kim to “establish a Special Inspection Panel on Nigeria to visit locations across the country to verify whether or not the projects reportedly executed by the Nigerian government with the funds were actually executed.”

In the letter dated 28 April 2017 and signed by SERAP deputy director Timothy Adewale, the organization expressed concern that “the apparent lack of transparency and accountability in the spending of recovered Abacha loot and the fact that the Bank has now come to the conclusion that it has no more information to provide on the status of the projects reportedly executed with the funds have impacted negatively on the communities across the country who are victims of corruption.”

The organization argued that, “Using technicalities under the Bank’s Access to Information Policy to refuse to answer outstanding questions on the projects reportedly executed with recovered Abacha loot would leave communities across the country that have been negatively affected by the mismanagement of the funds without any effective remedies.”

The letter read in part: “Getting to the root of how Abacha loot was spent would demonstrate that the World Bank is willing to put people first in the implementation of its development and governance policies and mandates, as well as remove any suspicion of the Bank’s complicity in the alleged mismanagement of the recovered public funds.”

“There would be an acute risk that the Bank’s on-going and future role in supervising and monitoring of spending of recovered stolen public funds would be questioned and may be legally challenged for lacking transparency and accountability.”

“SERAP believes that given its supervisory and monitoring roles in the spending of the recovered Abacha loot, the World Bank ought to do much more to clarify outstanding questions regarding the status of projects reportedly executed with the funds. It is vital that the Bank is able to show that it is up to the task whenever it takes up the responsibility of supervising and monitoring the spending of recovered funds in Nigeria and elsewhere across the world.”

“SERAP also believes that the Bank ought to have classified the execution of the projects by the Nigerian government as high or substantial risk especially given the prevalent of corruption in the country, and exercised due diligence including by keeping proper records on the conditions of projects supervised and monitored by the Bank.”

“Any failure to take decisive action to uncover what exactly happened to the projects reportedly executed by recovered Abacha loot which the Bank volunteered to supervise and monitor would shed a bad light on the World Bank, undermine its goal of alleviating poverty, and may mark the demise of transparency and accountability at the Bank.”

“The proposed inspection panel on Nigeria should be able to ask appropriate questions from the authorities and engage with the communities affected by the alleged mismanagement of the recovered funds. This process would help to enhance compliance on the ground with the Bank’s safeguards and thereby bolstering the Bank’s accountability under its policies.”

“The panel should also undertake a full investigation into whether there has been a serious failure by the Bank supervisors and monitors to observe its operational policies and procedures regarding the execution of projects with recovered Abacha loot; the role played by any government officials including in the Ministry of Finance, and the material adverse effects on communities across the country.”

“Communities that have been affected by the apparent mismanagement of recovered Abacha loot should receive from the Bank proper and adequate compensation as well as community-based development benefits such as education, sanitation systems, health care, and community services (particularly for the elderly, mothers and children), access to clean water, access to livelihoods, and other locally determined remedial measures. SERAP considers this is a basic corrective justice, and it is the bare minimum required in the circumstances.”

“SERAP also urges you to adopt and implement a Transparency Charter with respect to your ongoing and future supervisory and monitoring duties on the spending of recently recovered Abacha loot in order to ensure the integrity of the process of project execution. SERAP believes that the Bank’s goals of promoting transparency, accountability and the rule of law in countries would gain more credibility and respect if the Bank can lead by example particularly in its supervisory and monitoring role of spending of recovered stolen public funds.”

“SERAP hopes that the World Bank would act as requested. However, take notice that should the Bank fail and/or neglect to take the steps recommended, the Registered Trustees of SERAP would pursue appropriate international and national legal actions to ensure transparency and accountability in this matter.” SERAP said that the proposed panel should find out:

  1. Why 2 rather 8 health centers were completed as disclosed by the report produced by the Bank. The location of the 2 completed projects should be disclosed. If it is true that 174 health centers were built with the Abacha loot and commissioned by the government and to disclose the locations of the centers;
  2. If payments were made to contractors who reportedly executed 10 of the 18 power projects pertained to physical electrical installations, and disclose the names of those contractors. If it is true that recovered Abacha funds were used to provide additional financing for the Universal Basic Education (UBE) program in the amount of NGN24.25 bn to support basic education throughout the country, and to disclose the number and location of schools which benefited from these funds at the time;
  3. If it is true that 13 road projects were completed including 3 of the largest road and bridge projects in each geo-political zone with the funds, and to disclose the locations of individual projects, including the largest roads and bridges completed.

SERAP asks Buhari to resolve doubts over real identities of those behind Ikoyi $45m haul

In the aftermath of the controversy surrounding the ownership of the N13bn ($43.4m, N23m and £27,000) found by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at the Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to “urgently address country on the matter so as to clarify the issue, and resolve lingering doubts among Nigerians regarding the real owner(s) of the cash.”

The organization also called on the president to “ensure legal backing for his government’s whistle-blowing policy by vigorously pursuing the passing by the National Assembly of the Whistle-blower Bills.”

Both Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and the National Intelligence Agency last week reportedly claimed ownership of the cash, casting doubts on the ‘real claimants.’

In a statement today by SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni the organization said that,“The government’s increasing reliance on whistle-blowers’ tips to fight corruption has to be backed by some level of transparency and accountability in the real identities of those claiming recovered cash. Clearing the doubts surrounding the real identities of those behind the Ikoyi cash haul would demonstrate that the president values transparency over secrecy, provide further encouragement to blow the whistle on governmental corruption, and enhance the public right to know.”

According to the organization, “Democracy abhors secrecy, and for Nigerians to be able to hold elected leaders accountable, they must have access to information such as on the real identities of those behind the Ikoyi cash haul. This transparency is fundamental to the operation of the government’s whistle-blower policy, and inextricably rooted in the notions of good governance and the rule of law under the 1999 Nigerian constitution (as amended).”

The statement read in part: “No good comes from secrecy in governance, as officials who have become accustomed to operating without accountability are loath to relinquish the power that comes from conducting their business without public scrutiny. When public authorities resist efforts to shine a light on their activities, it gives the impression that there is something to hide. It’s counter-productive to overstate national security based secrecy needs, as secrecy encourages poorly informed and under-vetted decision-making.”

“Public scrutiny is a prerequisite for changing harmful, entrenched practices. Rather than operating the whistle-blowers policy as hidden, mysterious mechanism at the far edge of democracy, this government should make the operation of policy more transparent and accessible to the public. Both transparency and accountability are necessary to uphold the rights of victims of corruption and ensure that suspected perpetrators are held to account. The ‘sky will not fall’ if the true identities of those behind the Ikoyi cash haul are revealed.”

“It’s clear that as the EFCC continues to uncover more suspected looted or ill-gotten cash, those blowing the whistle will need greater level of protection. But without outlawing retaliation and attacks against whistle-blowers, and taking a firm stance on protecting them, the incentive of bounty rewards would be negated, as potential whistle-blowers may be discouraged from performing invaluable public interest service.”

“It shouldn’t be the case that the government knows the risks of whistle-blowing and yet fails to provide the needed legal protection against retaliation and attacks, regardless of whether whistle-blowers are entitled to bounties.”

“The policy of giving whistle-blowers some percentage of recovered loot would seem to be a game changer in the fight against corruption but this government now has to squarely address the significant risks that those who blow the whistle face by urgently working with the National Assembly to ensure the necessary legal backing that would ensure protection against reprisals and attacks.”

“The government should ensure that the National Assembly expedites the process of passing the Whistle-Blower Bill, as ensuring that the bill is passed without further delay would recognize the necessity of whistleblowers and the value they add to the anti-corruption fight by reporting otherwise unknown corruption-related information. It would also ensure that whistle-blowers are fully protected from any retaliation and attacks they may experience, and that the government fully appreciates the information they provide.”

“Continuing delay in the passing of the Whistle-Blower Bill would have a chilling effect on potential whistleblowers and hinder the public’s ability to learn about the kind of cash haul found in Ikoyi and elsewhere across the country. It’s also contrary to Article 33 of the UN Convention on Corruption, which Nigeria has ratified. The convention obligates the government to put in place appropriate measures to provide protection against any unjustified treatment for any person who reports in good faith and on reasonable grounds to the competent authorities any facts concerning offences established in accordance with the convention.”

 

SERAP to Buhari: Refer high-profile corruption cases to International Criminal Court

Following a string of court rulings against high-profile corruption cases last week, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to “adopt a revolutionary approach to his government’s fight against corruption by referring high-level official corruption cases to the International Criminal Court for investigation and possible prosecution.”

The organization said, “As a state party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the government should also consider drawing from the expertise, experience, and international best practices of the court to complement the mandates and powers of our anti-corruption agencies and judiciary to successfully and satisfactorily investigate, prosecute and hear high-profile corruption cases.”

In a statement dated 9 April 2017 and signed by SERAP deputy director Timothy Adewale the organization said that, “The latest setbacks in the prosecution of high-profile corruption cases show the need for effective enforcement measures to weed out, expose, and punish grand corruption in the country. Referring large-scale corruption cases to the International Criminal Court would in the short-medium term improve deterrence, and at the minimum demonstrate a symbolic commitment to confront grand corruption head on.”

According to the organization, “Referral to the ICC should be considered as a stop-gap measure, and as part of an all-embracing strategy that would inevitably require a fundamental reform of the criminal justice system and the strengthening and empowerment of the country’s anticorruption agencies.”

The statement read in part: “SERAP argues that corruption by high-ranking officials and their families and associates is an international crime, especially given the sheer amounts of national wealth involved, and the devastating effects of such plundering, including political instability, weak rule of law, and destruction of the country’s economy.”

“Without effective investigation and prosecution of high-ranking public officials charged with corruption, and a judiciary that is willing and able to satisfactorily play its own interpretative role, this government’s fight against corruption may sadly turn out to be all motion and no movement, and this will eventually undermine the legitimacy of the anticorruption efforts.”

“SERAP believes that radical and more robust criminal enforcement measures are necessary to appreciably improve anti-corruption efforts, including by equipping, empowering and providing opportunities for training and re-training of those charged with the investigation and prosecution of large-scale corruption so that they can fearlessly, impartially, efficiently and energetically enforce anti-corruption laws and ensure justice for the countless victims of corruption in the country.”

“It should not be the case that only petty offenders are successfully prosecuted while high profile corrupt officers escape punishment and justice. Prosecuting the ‘small fry’ and leaving the ‘big fish’ to go unpunished would send a particularly damaging message about the government’s commitment to end large-scale official corruption, legitimize offenders’ impunity, and clearly violate the underlying legal and moral assumptions that a govern­ment will treat all persons equally, fairly, and with respect.”

“Effectively prosecuting high-ranking officials would help to persuade foreign jurisdictions keeping stolen public funds, and facilitate international cooperation and assistance that may lead to the recovery of such assets.”

“Efforts must also be intensified to apply stronger preventive measures to ensure that Nigerians are informed of the dangers of corruption. By ensuring that the Nigerian public views grand corruption with a ‘human face,’ the public may be more likely to build a united front and demand change from their leaders, which, in turn, would gradually strengthen Nigeria’s political will to end the problem. This is the surest way to help keep Nigeria fair, just, stable and prosperous.”

“As the situation in the country has shown, corruption is costly to good governance, human rights and national development, and leads to erosion of confidence in good governance, rule of law and economic stability. SERAP argues that grand corruption in the country violates fundamental human values, and the values protected by international human rights law, as well as negates the doctrine of fiduciary relations that obligate public officers to faithfully perform the duties of their office, and to preserve state property.”

It would be recalled that last week, a Federal High Court in Lagos issued an order unfreezing the Skye account of a former First Lady, Patience Jonathan. The EFCC had in November 2016 filed an application before the court seeking an order freezing the account. The commission had contended that the funds were reasonably suspected to be proceeds of crime. The account is said to harbour the sum of $5.8 million.

Also, Justice Abulazeez Anka of a Federal High Court in Lagos vacated a freeze order on the account of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, after initially ordering a temporary forfeiture of N75 million found in his Guarantee Trust Bank account. Further, a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory discharged a judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja of all 18-count charges of fraud brought against him, his wife and a senior lawyer.