FOI: Recovered stolen assets: ‘We are looking into SERAP’s request’, says Accountant General

* Otunla

The Accountant General of the Federation, Mr. Jonah Ogunniyi Otunla has said that he is looking into the request made under the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), asking for information on “the details of the spending of recovered stolen public assets since the return of civil rule in 1999.”

In the letter addressed to SERAP and dated 11 October 2011, and signed on behalf of the Accountant General by M.S. Diri, Deputy Director (Legal), the Accountant General said: “We write to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated 26 September 2011 requesting information on the spending of recovered stolen assets.

We wish to inform you that this organization is looking into the nature of your request vis-à-vis the provision of the Freedom of Information 2011 under which your application is made, and other enabling laws, and you will be replied in due course. Please accept the assurances of the Accountant General’s highest esteem.”

In response, SERAP, in a letter dated 14 October 2011 and signed by the organization’s Executive Director Adetokunbo Mumuni said: “We write to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated 11 October 2011, and to express our appreciation for your response to our request.

Your response suggests your intention to deal with the matter. Although we have finalized the necessary court papers on this matter, we have decided to stay action for the moment in the spirit of the constructive dialogue demonstrated by your timely response.

In the circumstances, we would be grateful to receive from the Accountant General the full information on the spending of recovered stolen assets, by the 1st of November 2011.” “In the meantime, we wish to reiterate the following points of law under the FOI Act.

First, that SERAP is entitled to the information requested, which is in the custody of the Accountant General, by virtue of Section 1 (1) of the FOI Act. Secondly, the FOI Act by Section 4 (a) requires the Accountant General to provide the requested information or communicate notice of denial within 7 days of the receipt of the request.

We have shown some flexibility on this time limit in the spirit of dialogue and good faith the Accountant General has shown to address our request,” the organization also said.

The organization also said that, “We also reiterate that the information requested by SERAP does not come within the purview of the types of information exempted from disclosure by the provisions of the FOI Act.

And there is no reason under our laws to deny our organization access to the information sought for.” “Sections 1(3) and 2(6) of the FOI Act confer upon an individual, who has a right of access to information under the Act, the right to institute proceedings in a court to compel any public institution to comply with the provisions of the Act when such an institution has failed, refused and or neglected to comply with the provisions of the Act by refusing or declining to give access to a record or information requested for,” the organization added.

It would be recalled that the organization through a letter dated 26 September 2011 said that, “The disclosure of the information requested will give SERAP and the general public a true picture and a clear understanding of how the spending of recovered public stolen funds have impacted on the lives of the ordinary, common, poor and indigent and other disadvantaged Nigerians.”

“The information requested also bothers on an issue of

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national interest, public concern, interest of human rights, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability,” the organization earlier said.

“We are concerned that the government has not been transparent regarding its spending of recovered stolen public assets, despite strong allegations that some of the recovered funds may have been poorly spent, mismanaged or disappeared,” the organization also said.

Citing the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes and House of Representatives reports, the organization said that an estimated $400 billion has been stolen from Nigeria by public officials. It said over N975 billion was recovered between June 2008 and March 2011 alone.

The organization therefore asked the Accountant General for: “detailed information on the total amount of stolen public assets that have so far been recovered by Nigeria; the amount that has been spent from the recovered stolen public assets and the objects of such spending, and details of projects on which recovered stolen public assets were spent.”

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