The Socioeconomic Responsibility and Rights Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit asking the Abuja Federal Superior Court to order the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to “publicly identify and name Nigerians who have so far benefited of any cash payments, cash transfers, food distribution and other relief and palliatives during confinement in the states of Abuja, Lagos and Ogun due to COVID-19 “.
In the complaint number FHC / ABJ / CS / 657/2020 filed last week, SERAP seeks: “a license order to request a judicial review and a mandamus order to compel Ms. Sadia Umar-Farouk, Minister of Affairs Humanitarians, Disasters Management and Social Development, and Godwin Emefiele, Governor of CBN, to publish details of expenditures of public funds and donations from the private sector to provide socioeconomic benefits to the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country. “
SERAP is also seeking “an order to direct and compel Ms. Umar-Farouk and Mr. Emefiele to publish an updated list of donations and the names of those who have made payments based on their publicly announced donations; intervention fund COVID-19 N500 billion, and the names of the beneficiaries, and whether those beneficiaries include people living with disabilities (PWD). “
The lawsuit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information (FoI) requests of April 4, 2020, expressing concern that: “Millions of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people have not benefited from announced palliatives, donations, cash payments reported, cash transfers and other relief. “
SERAP is also seeking: “a statement that the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development and the Governor of CBN did not provide SERAP with the requested information on details of spending public money and private donations and the publication of names beneficiaries amount to a fundamental violation of the FoI Law and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. “
The lawsuit filed on behalf of SERAP by her lawyer, Kolawole Oluwadare and Joke Fekumo, said in part: “Through a combined reading of the FoI Act and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Ms. Umar-Farouk and the Mr. Emefiele should be directed and compelled to make public the details of those who have benefited from COVID-19 funds and donations. “
“Any perception that relief, funds and donations are not reaching the intended beneficiaries would undermine the public trust and integrity of all relief / benefit distribution processes and modes to these Nigerians.”
“Both the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, and the Governor of CBN have a legal duty to ensure that information on the details of those who have so far benefited from COVID-19 funds and donations is provide SERAP upon request, and that information is widely published. However, both have completely ignored SERAP requests. “
“SERAP and the general public have a legitimate interest in determining and analyzing the veracity of claims about how COVID-19 funds and donations have been spent, and knowing that the intended beneficiaries actually received some benefit.”
“Ms. Umar-Farouk and Mr. Emefiele should also be directed and compelled to make public the details of any plan to provide social and economic relief to the country’s more than 80 million poorest and most vulnerable people, beyond the 11 million targeted by the federal government in 35 states. “
“Democracy cannot prosper in the absence of citizens’ access to information, no matter how much open discussion and debate is allowed. This lawsuit would guarantee transparency and accountability in spending money and donations from COVID-19.”
“SERAP maintains that the principle of disclosure of information in the highest public interest has been reaffirmed internationally, including in the Joint Declaration adopted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and the OAS Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression. “
“The Joint Declaration establishes that the right of access to information must be subject to a narrow and carefully designed system of exceptions. Exceptions should apply only when there is a risk of substantial harm to the protected interest and when that harm is greater than the overriding public interest in accessing the information. “
No date has been set for the hearing of the lawsuit.