BY OLUGBENGA SOYELE, Lagos
Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos has granted leave to Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) to apply for an order of Mandamus to compel the federal government to prosecute some principal officers of the National Assembly over allegations of padding and stealing of some N481bn from the 2016 budget.
Justice Idris also grants permission to SERAP to seek an order to compel the Federal Government to “closely monitor and scrutinize the spending of N131 billion (accrued from increased oil bench mark) allocated for additional non-constituency projects expenditure, to remove the possibility of corruption.”
The order was granted by the judge after entertaining argument on an exparte motion by SERAP counsel, Mrs. Joke Fekumo.
The court had fixed 26 January for the hearing of argument on why the reports by anticorruption agencies on the investigation into the alleged budget padding should not be published and why indicted officers should not be prosecuted.
The decision by Justice Idris has now cleared the way for SERAP to advance its case against the government on the publication of the reports of investigation into the allegations of budget padding and prosecution of indicted officers of the National Assembly.
The suit number FHC/L/CS/1821/2017 filed last year followed “credible information received by SERAP from multiple sources that the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have 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.
The report, according to SERAP, also revealed that 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 were ready.”
The suit read in part: “Unless the principal officers indicted in the alleged padding of the 2016 budget are prosecuted and any stolen public funds recovered, the Federal Government will not be able to stop padding of future budgets.
“Alleged corruption in the budget process will not just melt away or simply evaporate without addressing the fundamental issue of impunity of perpetrators.
“Addressing alleged corruption in the budget process by pursuing prosecution of indicted principal officers of the National Assembly will provide an important opportunity for the Federal Government to reignite the fight against corruption and fulfill a cardinal campaign promise, to show that the Federal Government works on behalf of the many, and not the few, as well as jumpstart economic activities and break the back of the recession.
“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, which the Federal Government can ill afford.
“Corruption in the budget process takes away and erodes much needed resources for public and developmental purposes. The level of secrecy surrounding the budget process in the National Assembly 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.
“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
“It is in the interest of justice to grant this application as the Federal Government has nothing to lose if the reliefs sought are granted.
“The allegations of crime of budget padding against the indicted principal officers of the National Assembly are a gross deprivation of the good people of Nigeria’s legitimate wealth and natural resources.
“We respectfully urge your Lordship to hold that the citizens of Nigeria have been deprived of their natural wealth and the indicted principal members be prosecuted by the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation.”
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