*Suit politically motivated, Minister blasts back
04 March 2015, Sweetcrude, Abuja – The Coordinating Minister of Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has been dragged before a Federal High Court Ikoyi over her purported failure to provide information about spending of the alleged missing N30 trillion, that represents some accruable income to the Federal Government in the past four years.
A civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) that instituted the matter insisted that Okonjo-Iweala, “As trustee of public funds has a legal duty to render account on the missing N30tn to the beneficiaries (Nigerians) of the trust, if and when called upon to do so.”
SERAP filed the suit at the Federal High Court Ikoyi in Lagos, sequel to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request sent on 2nd February 2015, by the group to Mrs Okonjo-Iweala.
Its originating summons are with suit number FHC/L/CS/196/2015, filed by its Senior Staff Attorney, Olukayode Majekodunmi, as a consequence of the disclosure by a former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo that “over N30trillion had been missing or stolen or unaccounted for or simply mismanaged under the minister’s watch”.
SERAP, in its suit further argued that “a necessary implication of the rule of law is that a public functionary and institution can only act in accordance with law, as to do otherwise may enthrone arbitrariness”; adding that “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.”
The group added that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala “has so far failed, refused and/or neglected to provide the Plaintiff with the details of the information requested. By virtue of Section 1(1) of the FOI Act 2011, the Plaintiff is entitled as of right to request for or gain access to information which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution. By the provisions of Section 2(7) and 31 of the FOI Act 2011, the Defendant is a public official.”
Also stressing that it has acted in line with Section 4 (a) of the FOI Act which states that when a person makes a request for information from a public official, institution or agency, the public official, institution or urgency to whom the application is directed is under a binding legal obligation to provide the applicant with the information requested for, except as otherwise provided by the Act, within 7 days after the application is received.
By Sections 2(3)(d)(V) & (4) of the FOI Act, there is a binding legal duty to ensure that documents containing information relating to spending of the alleged missing N30tn is widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means,” the organization also said.
SERAP further notes: “The information requested for, apart from not being exempted from disclosure under the FOI Act, bothers on an issue of National interest, public peace and security, public concern, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability. The Defendant will not suffer any injury or prejudice if the information is released to the Plaintiff.”
SERAP said it believes that it is necessary for the Finance Minister to provide clarity as to what exactly happened to the missing N30tn for the ministry leadership to continue to play its expected role in the transparent and accountable management of the country’s resources and wealth, and to enjoy the public trust and confidence essential for the Ministry’s effectiveness and impact,” the organization further stated.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the application.
But, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy,Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has kicked furiously against a suit filed against her by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
The minister said Tuesday the suit premised on the “missing” N30 trillion as alleged by former Governor of CBN, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo was “politically motivated.”
Okonjo-Iweala’s fury was contained in a statement by her media aide, Mr Paul C. Nwabuikwu which said, “It has come to our attention that a so-called civil society group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has brought a politically motivated suit against the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister for Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala based on the discredited N30 trillion allegation by Professor Charles Soludo.
According to the minister, “The suit is the latest in the campaign of falsehood and politicization of the economy by persons and groups who are getting more desperate by the day because the economy, despite their propaganda, is still standing and will continue to stand.
“Like their previous efforts, this latest one will fail because Nigerians can see through their antics.
“The suit confirms that SERAP is nothing but a political tool of the opposition hiding behind the façade of advocacy.
However, the statement said, the minister looks “ forward to meeting SERAP in court.”