There are prospects that Nigerians interested in knowing the details of how Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) funds are disbursed and spent by the Delta state government will soon have some answers, as the Project of Responsibility and Socioeconomic Rights (SERAP) has won the latest round in the legal battle to force Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and UBEC to publish details of the spending of funds raised for elementary schools in the state, and the location of projects carried out. carried out between 2015 and 2019.
Judge Rilwan Aikawa of the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos, ruled last week that, “Going through the Application submitted by SERAP, supported by a 13-paragraph affidavit, with supporting evidence, factual statements, affidavits verification and written direction in support, I am satisfied that permission should be granted in this case, and I hereby grant the motion for permission as prayed. “
Judge Aikawa granted the permission order after hearing an argument in court on the exparte motion of SERAP’s attorney, Ms. Joke Fekumo.
Lawsuit number FHC / L / CS / 803/2019 filed last year followed “the failure of Governor Okowa, UBEC, and the Delta State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) to explain how billions of naira of funding of UBEC and the Federation Committee Allocation Accounts have been spent, and to disclose the location of primary school projects. “
Judge Aikawa’s order has cleared the way for SERAP to advance its case against Governor Okowa, UBEC, and SUBEB and question the legality of its refusal to release the requested information. The lawsuit is postponed until January 14, 2021 for a motion upon notice.
In the lawsuit, SERAP requests a judicial review and a mandamus order ordering and compelling Governor Okowa, UBEC and SUBEB to “widely publish the details of the disbursement and expenditure of UBEC funds in the state of Delta; location of the projects carried out and details of the primary schools that have benefited from any expenditure of public funds ”.
SERAP is also seeking “a mandamus order directing and compelling Governor Okowa, UBEC and SUBEB to disclose details of actual expenditures to provide access to quality education for children with disabilities in Delta State, and the names of the schools that they have benefited from any such expense. “
The lawsuit read in part: “The Delta state government has received more than 7.8 billion naira from UBEC. The government has also received federal appropriation funds to Delta State. The government accessed more than N3 billion of UBEC funds between 2015 and 2016, while reportedly also approved the release of N1.28 billion of matching funds to allow it to access UBEC funds for 2017 ” .
“The government also received N213 billion from the Federation’s Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) in 2018, at an average of N17.8 billion per month. However, several of the around 1,124 elementary schools statewide are in shambles and with very poor teaching facilities. “
“Tens of thousands of Nigerian children are being left behind in the Delta state and their futures are in jeopardy. These children are being disappointed and they deserve to know exactly how much the state government and the UBEC have spent between 2015 and 2019 on their education ”.
“The right to information and the truth enables Nigerians to access essential information for fighting corruption, institutionalizing good governance, and enhancing citizens’ trust in public institutions and officials.”
“The refusal of the governor, UBEC and SUBEB to respond to SERAP’s Freedom of Information requests can only be interpreted as a denial of the information requested. We should not have to ask for information about the spending of public funds in the state. The poor condition of elementary schools across the state seems to suggest that the government has abandoned poor children in Delta state. “
“The governor, the UBEC and the SUBEB have nothing to lose if the information is disclosed to SERAP and the general public. It is in the interest of justice that the information is disclosed. Unless the exemptions requested in this document are granted, the governor, the UBEC and the SUBEB will continue to violate the Freedom of Information Law and other constitutional and statutory responsibilities. “
“The information is necessary to verify and establish the truth about the spending of public funds on education by the government, for the purposes of transparency and accountability. There must be responsibility for massive budget allocations for elementary education in the state, including funds provided by UBEC ”.
“Access to information held by public authorities is a fundamental element of the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by article 39 of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) and vital for the proper functioning of any democratic system . Providing the requested information will also allow citizens to track the level of execution of educational projects in the state. “
It should be remembered that last year, SERAP, in separate Freedom of Information requests to the governor, UBEC and SUBEB, stated: “The evidence of the educational deficit in the state is reinforced by the case of Success Adegor, who was sent home because her parents were unable to pay the illegal school fee of N900 and the poor quality and insufficient educational infrastructure of Okotie-Eboh 1 Primary School, Sapele. “