Budget padding: SERAP wants Buhari to order prosecution of indicted officers; alleges fresh padding

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) has sent an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR requesting him to use his good offices and leadership position “to urgently instruct security and anti-corruption agencies to forward to you reports of their completed investigations into allegations of padding and stealing of some N481 billion from the 2016 budget by some principal officers of the National Assembly.”

The organization also asked Buhari to “direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN, and/or appropriate anti-corruption agencies to without delay commence prosecution of indicted officers; and to urgently halt alleged ongoing attempt by some principal officers of the National Assembly to divert N40 billion of the N100 billion allocated by your government as ‘zonal intervention’ in the 2017 budget.”

In the letter dated 24 March 2017 and signed by SERAP deputy director Timothy Adewale the organization requested the government to “take the above recommended steps within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter, failing which SERAP will institute appropriate legal and public-interest proceedings to compel the government to discharge its national and international anti-corruption obligations and commitments in this matter.”

According to the organization, “Unless the principal officers indicted in the alleged padding of the 2016 budget are promptly prosecuted and any stolen public funds recovered, your government will not be able to stop the alleged ongoing attempts to steal from the 2017 budget. Alleged corruption in the budget process will not just melt away or simply evaporate without addressing the fundamental issue of impunity of perpetrators.”

The organization said that, “Addressing alleged corruption in the budget process by pursuing prosecution of indicted principal officers of the National Assembly will provide an important opportunity for your government to reignite the fight against corruption and fulfil a cardinal campaign promise, to show that your government works on behalf of the many, and not the few, as well as jumpstart economic activities and break the back of the current recession.”

The letter read in part: “Publishing the report of the investigation of the alleged padding of the 2016 budget, and prosecuting suspected perpetrators are absolutely important to avoid another padding in the 2017 budget, which your government can ill afford.”

“Corruption in the budget process takes away and erodes much needed resources for public and developmental purposes. SERAP is seriously concerned about the level of secrecy surrounding the budget process in the National Assembly, which has invariably created a breeding place for alleged corruption.”

“Secrecy in the National Assembly has clearly gone beyond the level permitted by law, and apparently served as the incubator for corruption, while depriving the Nigerian people of a much-needed opportunity to cleanse the National Assembly of persistent allegations of corruption.”

“SERAP has received very credible information from multiple sources that the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have now completed investigations into the allegations of padding of the 2016 budget, completed their reports, and indicted some principal officers of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Also, the accounts of some of the principal officers containing allegedly illicit funds have been frozen, and that the case files for the prosecution of those indicted are ready.”

“SERAP has also received credible information from whistle-blowers about ongoing attempt by some principal officers of the National Assembly to allegedly steal N40 billion of the N100 billion allocated by your government as ‘zonal intervention’ (also known as constituency projects) in the 2017 budget.”

“SERAP is also aware of the alleged risk of corruption involving the $2.5 budget oil bench mark increment which comes up to about N131 billion. The N131 billion will be appropriated to either reduce deficit or increase expenditure or both but unless the spending of the funds is closely monitored and scrutinised, the funds may be diverted, mismanaged or stolen.”

“SERAP is also concerned that deception in the budget process will continue unless Nigerians are granted access to inspect the budget process and other activities by the National Assembly. SERAP strongly believes that Nigerians have the right to know what their lawmakers are doing so that they are able to appraise their work and hold them to account.”

SERAP therefore asked Buhari to:

  1. Urgently instruct security and anti-corruption agencies to forward to him reports of their investigations into allegations of padding and stealing of some N481 billion from the 2016 budget by some principal officers of the National Assembly, and to direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN, and/or appropriate anti-corruption agencies to without delay commence prosecution of indicted officers;
  2. Direct the publication of the report of investigations by security and anti-corruption bodies into the alleged padding of the 2016 budget
  3. Urgently halt alleged ongoing attempt by some principal officers of the National Assembly to steal N40 billion of the N100 billion allocated by your government as ‘zonal intervention’ in the 2017 budget;
  4. Closely monitor and scrutinise the spending of N131 billion (accrued from increased oil bench mark) allocated for additional non-constituency projects expenditure, to remove the possibility of corruption

SERAP to Buhari, Osinbajo: Investigate mob attack on Amnesty International

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has called on both President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo to “urgently instruct appropriate authorities to promptly and thoroughly investigate apparently sponsored and coordinated attacks against Amnesty International Office in Nigeria, and ensure the safety and security of its staff.”

It would be recalled that a group of protesters yesterday barricaded the Abuja office of Amnesty International and asked the international organisation to quit Nigeria within 24 hours.

But in a statement today signed by SERAP deputy director Timothy Adewale, the organization called on Buhari and Osinbajo to “act swiftly to end the increasing and apparently sponsored attacks, intimidation, harassment and threats against Amnesty International Office in Nigeria and its staff. Any failure to hold to account those who may be responsible will invariably increase the vulnerability of civil society in the country, and strengthen the perception that attacks against NGOs and human rights workers can happen with impunity.”

The statement read in part: “If the Buhari government does not take all necessary measures to immediately end the mob attack on Amnesty International or any other civil society group for that matter, SERAP will be compelled to take appropriate legal action nationally and internationally including approaching the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders for a remedy.”

“SERAP will continue to work to challenge any attempt to restrict, silence or eliminate the voices of credible civil society in the country. We urge the presidency to speak out strongly against intimidation and harassment of Amnesty International Office in Nigeria and its staff. Investigating the attacks against AI, naming and shaming the sponsors and bringing them to justice will send a powerful message of protection and support to civil society groups who stand up to speak truth to power.”

“Any attack on Amnesty International Office in Nigeria or harassment and intimidation of its staff members is an assault on the entire human rights community in the country. Sponsoring protests against NGOs that have shown astonishing courage in their human rights work hurt those most in need, undermine access of Nigerian victims of human rights violations and abuses to justice, and contribute to a culture of impunity of perpetrators.”

“This government has an obligation to support and protect civil society groups and human rights defenders against violence and sponsored attacks. Nigeria is a democratic society and the government can’t just sit back and watch reprisals, threats and increasing hostility to Amnesty International in particular and the NGO community in general.”

“Under the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and international human rights law, everyone whose rights are violated is entitled to a right to an effective remedy. Exposing human rights violations and seeking redress for them is largely dependent on the degree of security enjoyed by civil society groups and human rights defenders. Protecting NGOs against sponsored attacks and ending impunity for such attacks is therefore a critical element in the promotion and protection of human rights in this country.”

“While some may not like to hear some of the things Amnesty International has said, this in no way justifies this kind of mob attack on its office and staff members. The authorities should show commitment to protecting the right to freedom of expression and guarantee conditions for civil society to flourish.”

Alleged $229,000 fraud in Foreign Ministry: SERAP gives Onyeama 7 days to recall whistle-blower

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an open letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Geoffrey Onyeama requesting him to use his “leadership position to ensure and facilitate the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of whistle-blower Ntia Thompson sacked through a post on the Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa’s notice Board for exposing an alleged $229,000 fraud in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

The organization urged Mr Onyeama to “act swiftly to comply with the whistle-blowing policy of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, and international standards, which guarantee full protection and restitution for any whistle-blower against harassment, intimidation, victimisation or any form of retaliation.”

SERAP in the letter dated 10 March 2017 and signed by its deputy director Timothy Adewale said that, “By sacking Mr Thompson, your ministry would seem to shield information on the alleged fraud that the public has a right to know. Therefore, 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 challenge the unfair treatment and victimisation of Mr Thompson.”

The letter copied to Mr Akinwumi Adesina, President of the AfDB, reads in part: “We also urge you to act swiftly to identify those involved in the alleged fraud and hand them over to appropriate anti-corruption agencies for further investigation and prosecution, as well as recover any stolen public funds. Impunity for reprisals against Mr Thompson would send a message to all potential whistle-blowers that your ministry lacks the commitment to their protection.”

“SERAP is seriously concerned that Mr Thompson’s unfair treatment by the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs simply for disclosing alleged fraud in the ministry is a fundamental violation of his right to freedom of expression, and breach of President Buhari’s whistle-blowing policy, which seeks to protect individuals who make access to such allegations possible.”

“SERAP also believes that the allegations of fraud disclosed by Mr Thompson should never be suppressed or withheld as a matter of public interest, transparency and respect for the rule of law. Harassing, intimidating and punishing whistle-blowers creates disincentives for public disclosure of allegations of fraud and corruption and damages an important tool of transparency and accountability.”

“SERAP believes that protecting whistle-blowers encourages accountability, increases the costs for those who might engage in fraud and corruption, and advances the public’s right to know. The alleged fraud involving officials of the DTCA should not be kept hidden from public view, especially given the government’s whistle-blowing policy and the fact that Nigerians are entitled to a right to information of all kinds.”

“Mr Thompson’s public interest and whistle-blowing activity has made him vulnerable to attack, hostility, punishment, and other forms of retaliation. SERAP argues that Mr Thompson, like any other whistle-blowers, is entitled to the right to impart information, and ought to be offered adequate legal protection because Nigerians have the right to receive information such as on the allegations of fraud involving senior officials of your ministry.”

“The right to receive information advances several principles that underlie human rights, encourage participation in public affairs, and advance the ability of individuals such as Mr Thompson to seek out information of all kinds. Nigerians should enjoy access not only to information about the policies and practices of the government, but also to information about whistle-blowing.”

“SERAP therefore urges you to use your leadership position to promote and ensure within your ministry a culture that values transparency, accountability, and public participation and protection of whistle-blowers by facilitating the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of Mr Thompson back to his position as assistant director with the DTCA.”

“SERAP urges you to encourage rather punish the practice of whistle-blowing by establishing within your ministry effective and protective channels for whistle-blowers to motivate remedial action, and effective redress and protection against retaliation. Without protection against retaliation and the possibility of redress, few would disclose allegations of fraud and corruption.”

 

“SERAP notes that article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas regardless of frontiers. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights enshrines the same right in its article 9, which emphasizes that the freedom applies to information and ideas of all kinds. Similarly, the United Nations Convention against Corruption which Nigeria has ratified protects persons who report corruption offences.”

 

“SERAP has been fully briefed by Ntia Thompson and we are in possession of documents including Mr Thompson’s petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC on allegations of fraud and corruption involving some top officials of the Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa, DTCA.”

 

“Mr. Ntia, an assistant director with the DTCA in charge of the SERVICOM Unit, was sacked on 7 February 2017 following his petition to the EFCC that $229,000 and N800, 000 were allegedly diverted by top officials of the DTCA. Although the money was withdrawn from the Nigerian Technical Cooperation Fund, NTCF, there was no evidence it was used for the purpose it was meant.”

 

“The NTCF is a trust fund domiciled with the African Development Bank, AfDB, but jointly managed by the bank and the agency on behalf of the Federal Government. According to our information, officials of the DTCA withdrew the money for the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the NTCF, for which $36,852.00 was allocated. The amount was also meant for the monitoring of various projects executed from the Trust Fund across Africa. N800, 000.00 was allegedly spent for SERVICOM “sensitization seminar” in the Directorate, which the EFCC has asked the officials involved to return.”

SERAP to Osinbajo: Tell Trump that harassment of Nigerians will not be tolerated

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged the Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo to “tell the US president Donald Trump in no uncertain terms that Nigeria would not tolerate any harassment and unfair treatment of Nigerians with valid multiple-entry US visas at US airports.”

SERAP’s statement today and signed by its executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni followed disclosure by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs, Abike Dabiri-Erewa that in the last few weeks, the office has received a few cases of Nigerians with valid multiple-entry US visas being denied entry and sent back to Nigeria. According to Mrs. Dabiri -Erewa, such affected persons were sent back immediately on the next available flight and their visas were cancelled.

SERAP said: “The Nigerian government must stand up to Trump and defend Nigerians’ internationally recognized right to freedom of movement just as the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi did for his own citizens. The Iraqi leader ensured that his country was taken off the obnoxious executive order list. Osinbajo must now show the leadership needed to defend the country’s citizens who are facing unfair treatment in the hands of US immigration officers.”

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) guarantees liberty of movement, and provides in article 13 that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State. 2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.  The Declaration also guarantees the right of everyone including Nigerians to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration can be fully realized.”

“SERAP notes that Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, chaired the UDHR drafting committee.  On the basis of the UDHR, persons are entitled to move from one place to another and to establish themselves in a place of their choice. The enjoyment of this right must not be made dependent on any particular purpose or reason for the person wanting to move or to stay in a place. Any restrictions must be in conformity with international standards.”

“The Nigerian authorities must ensure that Nigerians’ liberty of movement is protected from interference by the Trump government. The authorities should carefully study the revised executive order and take proactive measures to prevent any harassment and unfair treatment of Nigerians in the hands of US immigration officers.”

 

Obasanjo library: SERAP seeks law on disclosure of donations to fund presidential libraries

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged the Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo to “urgently propose a bill that would specifically regulate and bring transparency to any future presidential library fundraising process, and make public disclosure of major donations towards the establishment of any such library mandatory.”

The organization said that, “Osinbajo should work closely with the leadership of the National Assembly to ensure the speedy passage of any such bill into law.”

In a statement dated 5 March 2017 and signed by SERAP Senior Staff Attorney Timothy Adewale the organization said: “The proposed bill would give Nigerians a better view of major donations going to presidential libraries, and provide access to information as to whether donors gain any special Aso Rock influence. The bill would minimize the potential for a quid pro quo, influence-peddling; and help to build trust and confidence among a citizenry that already questions the ethics of elected officials.”

The statement reads in part: “Proposing bill that would provide information to Nigerians and allow them to know those who help pay for presidential libraries is not only a matter of public interest but also crucially important to enhance transparency, accountability and strengthen this government’s anti-corruption efforts.”

“It’s unfair to Nigerians for a sitting or former president to raise an unlimited amount of money for a presidential library and not to have the obligation to publish information on the major contributors. Without transparency into donations, a president could potentially take an official action in exchange for or in expectation of a future donation to his or her presidential library and the public would be unaware.”

“Without openness and transparency, potential donors may seek to use library donations as a means to secure special access or political favours to authorities in Abuja.”

“The proposed bill should include a requirement to disclose details about each contributor, the total value of each contribution, the source(s) of the contribution, and the date of each contribution. Any such information must be publicly and widely published, including on a website that is free for the public to access and that is searchable, sortable, and downloadable.”

“The bill should also prohibit the making of a contribution through a corporation or other legal entity that may be used to conceal the identity of the person actually providing the contribution.”

“Former President Olusegun Obasanjo would serve public interest by making a voluntary disclosure of every single donation, particularly large donations, to his newly launched presidential library. This would contribute to greater openness, something that the presidential library seeks to promote about the work and achievements of Obasanjo while in government.”

SERAP to FG: Go to court over alleged diversion of N388.304bn Paris Club loan refunds by states

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) has written to the Accountant – General of the Federation Alh. Ahmed Idris, FCNA requesting him “to urgently pass on information to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN relating to the release of N388.304 billion London Paris Club loan refunds to 35 states by the federal government so that Mr Malami can take steps to initiate legal action against the states that allegedly diverted and mismanaged the funds.”

The organization asked Alh. Idris to compile and pass on information on the spending of the funds by states to Mr Malami so that he can take appropriate legal action to “compel the states to widely publish, including on a dedicated website, details of spending of the funds by them.”

“We request that you take this step within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter, failing which SERAP will institute legal proceedings to compel the discharge of duty in this matter.”

In the open letter dated 17 February 2017 and signed by SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni the organization said: “SERAP strongly believes that passing on information on the spending by states of N388.304 billion London Paris Club loan refunds to Mr Malami and bringing a case against the states that have allegedly diverted and mismanaged funds meant for payment of salaries and pension is rational, and would be a powerful tool to deter corruption in the states of the federation.”
The letter reads in part: “Pursuing such action will also send a strong message that President Muhammadu Buhari would not tolerate corruption in the disbursement of funds by his government no matter who is involved.”
“Such legal action will be deemed incidental to the power of the federal government to achieve effective implementation of anticorruption legislation such as the ICPC Act, which is applicable in all states of the federation, and will not amount to interference with activities within the states involved.”
“The Accountant General of the Federation ought to be decisive in this matter and pass on the information on the release and spending of the funds, especially given the fact that the current economic problem and recession is largely attributable to widespread corruption and abuse of power, and that foreign countries generally regard and treat Nigerians as corrupt people.”

“To do otherwise is to limit the scope of the anticorruption agenda of the federal government, and encourage impunity for alleged corruption and mismanagement within these states.”

“Rather than spending the funds to pay all outstanding salaries of workers and provide targeted social assistance schemes for pensioners, several states have allegedly diverted and mismanaged the funds.”

“SERAP is also concerned that allegations of corruption and mismanagement  in the spending of N388.304 billion London Paris Club loan refunds have undermined the human dignity of workers and pensioners facing difficult circumstances that deprive them of their capacity to fully realize their internationally recognized economic and social rights.”
“The allegations of corruption in the spending of the London Paris Club loan refunds have also exacerbated poverty, social exclusion, and violated the government’s obligation to use its maximum available resources to fully realize the right of all persons especially workers and pensioners who are the most vulnerable sectors of the population.”
“Allegations of corruption and mismanagement in the spending of N388.304 billion London Paris Club loan refunds by states are of utmost national concerns, as they affect the body politic of the country, and undermine constitutional authority of the federal government to fight corruption and abuse of power under enabling legislation.”
“Legal action your office is also wholly consistent with the aim of the Constitution to wipe out corrupt practices, as entrenched in section 15(5) of the1999 Constitution (as amended) which provides that “the state shall abolish corrupt practices and abuse of power.”
“SERAP notes that President Muhammadu Buhari has promised that his government will take corruption and abuse of power regardless of who is involved, and underscored the fact that there can be no sustainable development where corruption is the norm.”

“SERAP therefore asks you to release the information on the funds to Mr Malami so that he can take steps to pursue appropriate legal action against states that allegedly diverted and mismanaged the London Paris Club loan refunds with a view to seeking from the state publication of the following including on a dedicated website: a. Detailed information on the total amount of the London Paris Club loan refunds that have been spent by each state; b. Details on the total amount of the funds spent on outstanding workers’ salaries and pension as well as other projects as appropriate.”

“According to SERAP’s information, the Federal Government released N388.304billion of the N522.74 billion to 35 states as refunds of over-deductions on London-Paris Club loans. The amounts received by the states are as follows: Akwa Ibom N14.5bn; Bayelsa N14.5bn; Delta N14.5bn; Kaduna N14.3bn; Katsina N14,5bn; Lagos N14.5bn; Rivers N14.5bn; Borno N13,654138,849.49; Imo 13bn; Jigawa 13.2bn; Niger N13.4bn; Bauchi N12.7bn and Benue N12.7bn.”

“Other states Anambra N11.3bn; Cross River N11.3bn8; Edo N11.3bn; Kebbi N11bn; Kogi N11.2bn; Osun N11.7bn; Sokoto N11.9bn; Abia N10.6bn; Ogun N10.6bn; Plateau N10.4bn; Yobe N10bn; and Zamfara N10bn. Other states are: Adamawa N4.8bn; Ebonyi N3.3bn; Ekiti N8.8bn; Enugu N9.9bn; Gombe N8.3bn; Kwara N5.4bn; Nasarawa N8.4bn; Ondo N6.5bn; Oyo N7.2bn and Taraba N4.2bn.”

SERAP writes Trump, demands return of Nigeria’s stolen assets

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an open letter to the US President Donald J. Trump urging his “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 organization said that, “these 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 in the letter dated 3 February 2017 and signed by the organization’s US Volunteer Counsel Professor Alexander W. Sierck and executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni, told Mr Trump that, “the US Department of Justice must promptly initiate civil asset forfeiture proceedings against these proceeds so as to fulfill several non-controversial commitments by the US to assist Nigeria in recovering assets looted by former Nigerian government officials.”

The letter, a copy of which was sent to the US ambassador to Nigeria Stuart Symington, and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, reads in part: “SERAP urges 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.”

It would be recalled that last month the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Professor Itse Sagay had raised the alarm that Nigeria risked losing another $550m recovered from the Abacha family to the government of United States.

Sagay said that the amount represented a separate tranche from the earlier $480m forfeited to the US following a court judgment. According to him, “Nigeria presently stands to lose another $550m recovered from the Abacha family to the US, contrary to the earlier promise by the US to return same to Nigeria.”

SERAP to Buhari: Refer SGF Lawal alleged ‘grass-cutting’ corruption to EFCC, ICPC

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari urging him to use his good offices and leadership position “to urgently refer the allegations of corruption against the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) for further investigation, and if there is relevant and sufficient admissible evidence, for him to face prosecution.”

The organization also urged President Buhari to “urgently publish the outcome of the investigation conducted on the matter by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN, and to ask Mr Malami to hand over the file to both the EFCC and ICPC.”

In the letter dated 27 January 2017 and signed by SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organization said, “We are concerned that the failure to suspend Mr Lawal from his position as Secretary to the Government of the Federation pending the investigation by Mr Malami, and the perceived lack of transparency in the outcome of that investigation may have created the impression that your government is treating Mr Lawal as a sacred cow.”

The letter copied to the Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbayo reads in part: “SERAP believes that Mr Lawal’s case presents your Administration with a real opportunity to reassure a lot of Nigerians who may be worried about the direction of travel of your anti-corruption agenda. Rather than assuming a defensive posture to the matter, we advise you to use this case to show to Nigerians that there will be no two standards of justice in your Administration’s fight against corruption.”

“SERAP also believes the recommended approach would help to address the growing public suspicion and pessimism about your government’s ability to fight high-level official corruption to a standstill, and to avoid any collateral consequences. It is absolutely important that the public should have complete confidence and trust in your Administration’s oft-repeated commitment to fight corruption and the impunity of perpetrators.”

“It is true that Mr Lawal enjoys a constitutionally and internationally guaranteed right to a fair trial, which includes the right to be presumed innocent unless and until proved guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. But we believe that the right to presumption of innocence is one that should have personally be raised by Mr Lawal and not your government, especially given his position as Secretary to the Government of the Federation. SERAP believes that the guilt or innocence of Mr Lawal is for the court to decide, following a due process of law.”

“To assist the government to achieve public confidence and trust, effectively spread the gospel of anticorruption, and be on the right side of history, SERAP made the following recommendations:

Urgently refer the allegations against Mr Lawal to both the EFCC and ICPC for further investigations, and if there is relevant and sufficient admissible evidence, for him to face prosecution;
Pending the referral to the EFCC and ICPC, to suspend Mr Lawal from his position as Secretary to the Government of the Federation, pending the outcome of any investigation by the EFCC and ICPC;
Promptly and widely publish the outcome of investigation carried out by Mr Malami and instruct that any files relating to that investigation be handed over to the EFCC and ICPC to assist in their follow-up investigation

“SERAP notes that following a report by the Senate ad hoc committee which indicted Mr Lawal over alleged breach of Nigeria’s law in handling contracts awarded by the Presidential Initiative for the North East, PINE, you reportedly instructed Mr Malami to carry out further investigation into the allegation. Among other allegations contained in the Senate’s report is that Mr. Lawal’s company, Global Vision Ltd benefited from inflated contracts of over N200 million to clear ‘invasive plant specie’ in Yobe State. According to the report, Mr. Lawal was still the director of Global Vision as of the time the contract was awarded in March 2016, and remains the signatory to the company’s account.”

“SERAP further notes your instruction to Mr Malami to carry out further investigation into the allegations, as well as your recent letter to the Senate effectively raising some technical and procedural concerns about the report which indicted Mr. Lawal.”

SERAP, NUJ drag FG, Others To UN Over “Crackdown on Journalists”

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) have sent an urgent appeal to Mr. David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, requesting him to “urgently intervene to prevail on the Federal Government, the Nigerian Army, police and several state governments to end growing clampdown, intimidation and harassment of journalists, online newspapers, and bloggers.”

The urgent appeal followed the arrest yesterday of Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher of the online newspaper Premium Times, and the judiciary correspondent, Evelyn Okakwu. Both have been released bail and instructed to report at the FCT Police Command Headquarters today. There are fears that they may be taken before a Magistrate’s Court.

The appeal signed by Adetokunbo Mumuni SERAP executive director andAbdulwaheed Odusile President, Nigerian Union of Journalists expressed “concern concerned about the Nigeria’s government’s erosion of media freedom and continuing readiness of its agencies and state governments to limit the operation of online newspapers and bloggers in the country.”

The appeal reads in part: “We note that under international law criticism of public measures or comment on Government action, however strongly worded, would be consistent with the fundamental right to freedom of expression, and media freedom.”

“We believe that the crackdown and the increasingly restrictive media atmosphere and impermissible restrictions to freedom of expression has damaged Nigeria’s democratic credentials and violated its international human rights obligations. The crackdown has also impeded the ability of journalists, online newspapers, bloggers and the media in general to hold government authorities to account or scrutinize their activities.”

“The arbitrary arrest of Mr Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher of online newspaper Premium Times, and the judiciary correspondent of the online newspaper, Evelyn Okakwu would seem to mark an intensification of a crackdown on media freedom that has been going on for some time now. Both Olorunyomi and Okakwu were released on Thursday night but asked to report to the police on Friday. We are seriously concerned that they may be re-arrested and detained for a prolonged period.”

“The Army had accused the online newspaper of ‘unwarranted serial provocative, unauthorised, libellous and defamatory publications against the person of Lieutenant General T.Y Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff, Nigerian Army and Nigerian Army counter insurgency operations in the North East,’ and threatened to take action against PT and Mr Olorunyomi.”

“We argue that while public officials are entitled to protection of their reputation, including protection against defamation, as individuals who have sought to play a role in public affairs they should tolerate a greater degree of scrutiny and criticism than ordinary citizens. This distinction serves the public interest by making it harder for those in positions of power to use the law to deter or penalize those who seek to expose official wrongdoing, and it facilitates public debate about issues of governance.”

“We further note that the UN Human Rights Committee, the independent expert body that monitors state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in its General Comment No. 34 states that “the value placed by the Covenant upon uninhibited expression is particularly high. The mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties. All public figures are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.”

“In addition, the Human Rights Committee has said that “defamation laws must be crafted with care to ensure that they do not serve, in practice, to stifle freedom of expression. State parties [such as Nigeria] should consider the decriminalization of defamation.” We therefore believe that criminal penalties infringe on peaceful expression and are always disproportionate punishments for any perceived reputational harm.”

“We note that the legal tool that has been repeatedly used to threaten, intimidate, harass and press politically motivated charges against journalists, online newspapers and bloggers is the obnoxious and unlawful Cybercrime Act of 2015 which was signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan in May of that year.”

“Cyber stalking, which falls under Section 24 of the act, carries a fine of up to 7 million naira (USD$22,000) and a maximum three-year jail term for anyone convicted of knowingly sending an online message that “he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another”.

“We further argue that the Cybercrime Act is vaguely worded, overly broad, and prone to misuse and have fact been repeatedly and arbitrarily used against journalists, online newspapers and bloggers, as the cases highlighted have shown. The use of the Cybercrime Act has created an environment of intolerance, with a chilling, inhibiting effect on freedom of thought and discussion.”

“We also argue argues that the Cybercrime Act is inconsistent with Nigeria’s international legal obligations, and undermines rather than strengthen efforts to prevent and combat corruption, and, because freedom of expression is an enabler of other rights, threaten to erode human rights protections more generally. The Cybercrime Act therefore impose limitations on expression that go beyond the restrictions that are permitted by international law and, in conflict with the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended).”

“We note that the ability to practice journalism free from undue interference, to peacefully criticize government and its officials, and to express critical views is crucial to the fight against corruption, and the exercise and enjoyment of many other human rights. Freedom of opinion and expression is a cornerstone of a democratic society. It extends not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb.”

“We also note that Nigeria is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which guarantee the right to freedom of expression and impose legal obligations on states to protect freedom of expression and information.

The Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) also protects freedom of expression, and includes language that permits for limitations on that right, which broadly tracks article provisions of the Covenant and Charter.”

SERAP and the NUJ therefore asked the Special Rapporteur to:

1. Publicly express concerns about the continuing clampdown, intimidation and harassment of journalists, online newspapers and bloggers, and to insist that the Nigerian Army and police end attacks, harassment and intimidation of the Premium Times and its journalists; and that state governments and police authorities end increasing persecution of other journalists, online newspapers and bloggers in their various states;

2. Hold that the Cyber-crime Act is inconsistent and incompatible with freedom of expression and media freedom standards and Nigeria’s human rights obligations and commitments;

3. Call on the government to withdraw and repeal the obnoxious Cyber-crime Act, and other laws providing for criminal defamation or criminalizing insulting public officials, and bring Nigeria’s laws and practices into compliance with the country’s international and regional human rights obligations protect and uphold freedom of expression and media freedom, including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights;

4. Request to visit Nigeria to undertake fact-finding mission and investigate allegations of growing attacks, threats, intimidation and harassment of journalists, online newspapers and bloggers;

5. Request the Federal Government and state governments to drop all charges against journalists, online newspapers and bloggers;

6. Insist that the Nigerian authorities should not criminalize or subject anyone to threats or harassment, intimidation, persecution or reprisals simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression and doing their job as journalists and bloggers;

7. Call for an immediate end to arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists and bloggers simply on the basis of the content of their journalism or media work.

SERAP to FG: pay judges their salaries and allowances or face legal action

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) has sent an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari requesting him “to use your good offices and leadership to urgently instruct all appropriate authorities to release budgetary allocations for the immediate payment of outstanding salaries and allowances of judges and judicial workers across the country.”

In the letter dated 18 January 2017 and signed by SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni the organization said that, “The Senate of Nigeria has disclosed that federal judges have not been paid their salaries and allowances for four months. SERAP is seriously concerned that failing to pay regularly and punctually the salaries and allowances of judges amounts to an implicit interference, and would seem to make judges dependent on the will of other branches of government, especially the executive, for the payment of their salaries.”

The organization said that, “Should all outstanding salaries and allowances of judges and judicial workers not immediately paid, SERAP will explore all legal avenues nationally and internationally to compel your government to uphold the cardinal principle of judicial independence by ensuring a policy of regular and punctual payment of salaries and allowances of judges and judicial workers.”

The letter reads in part: “SERAP notes that the independence of the judiciary has always been considered one of the important elements of the Nigerian constitutional system. This cardinal constitutional and international guarantee cannot be made to yield to any alleged economic necessity.”

“SERAP believes that it is a contradiction in terms to fight judicial corruption and yet not regularly and punctually pay judges and judicial workers their salaries and allowances. If we may ask, what is the point of granting the judiciary independence on the one hand if it is taken away with the other, for example, by failing and/or refusing to regularly and punctually pay their salaries and allowances? SERAP argues that that which is prohibited from being done directly may not be accomplished by indirection. The law abhors evasions and subterfuges.”

“It is important for our judiciary to remain perfectly independent, and beyond the suspicion of any outside influence. SERAP believes that the effect of the non-payment of salaries and allowances of judges is to reduce the purchasing power of judges, diminish the benefits to which they are entitled under the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and ultimately weaken the judiciary, which is the last hope of the common man.”

“It is double jeopardy for our judges whose salaries and allowances are not regularly and punctually paid, as these judges may not, by reason of their calling, be able to personally challenge the matter in court. And the possibility of resolving the matter in a judicial proceeding may be limited since several judges have an interest in the matter, and may not therefore with propriety undertake to hear and decide it.”

“It will be a national embarrassment if our judges are compelled to decide this, since the judges like every citizen have a right to an effective remedy and they will be perfectly entitled to approach the court for reliefs if your government does not urgently find satisfactory solutions to this problem.”

“For a government that has repeatedly expressed commitment to fight official corruption, it is absolutely important to work proactively to maintain the principle of the separation of powers as a basis for liberty and justice, especially given the fact that the judiciary is the most vulnerable of the three branches of government.”

“It will be extremely difficult to attract good and competent men and women to the bench, and to make them independent when the salaries and allowances of judges are not regularly and punctually paid.”

“Refusing to pay the salaries and allowances of judges may well be construed as having for its purpose an attack upon the independence of the judiciary, as judges are less independent if they have to beg for their salaries and allowances to be paid.”

“It is essential to the preservation of the rights of every individual, his/her life, liberty, property, and character, that there be an impartial interpretation of the laws, and administration of justice. But the right of every citizen to be tried by judges as free, impartial, and independent as the lot of humanity will admit cannot be enjoyed as long as judges’ salaries and allowances are not regularly and punctually paid.”

“An independent judge is a proper and necessary guardian of human rights, and should never be subservient to those on whom they are dependent for their salaries, and their bread. The independence of the judiciary cannot be sacrificed because of an economic depression. And the provisions of the constitution cannot be disregarded on the same ground, and as such, regular and punctual payment of judges’ salaries and allowances ought to be your government’s top priority.”

“SERAP therefore urges you to use your good offices and leadership position to instruct the appropriate authorities to release budgetary allocations to ensure the immediate payment of all outstanding salaries and allowances of judges and judicial workers.”

“We also urge you to publicly commit and guarantee regular and timely payment of salaries and allowances of judges and judicial workers.”