A Federal High Court in Lagos has granted an order of mandamus compelling President Muhammadu Buhari to direct appropriate anti-corruption agencies to commence prosecution of lawmakers accused of padding N481 billion from the 2016 budget.
The court headed by Justice Mohammed Idris also directed the president to “urgently instruct security and anti-corruption agencies to forward to him reports of their investigations into allegations of padding of the 2016 budget made against some principal officers of the National Assembly.”
Justice Idris further ordered President Buhari to direct that “the report of investigations by security and anti-corruption bodies into the alleged padding of the 2016 budget” be published.
The judge gave the directive while delivering judgment on a mandamus suit no: FHC/L/CS/1821/2017 filed by civil society organisations, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
Also joined, as respondent in the suit, is the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
Justice Idris ruled that President Buhari, in the exercise of his executive powers, has a duty to ensure compliance with the provisions of article 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and that he is “expected to use his executive powers for the public good of Nigeria.”
Article 22 of the African Charter provides that, “All peoples shall have the right to their economic, social and cultural development with due regard to their freedom,” and that “States shall have the duty, individually or collectively, to ensure the exercise of the right to development.”
The Court also granted an order directing President Buhari to “Urgently halt alleged attempt by some principal officers of the National Assembly to steal N40 billion of the N100 billion allocated by his government as ‘zonal intervention’ in the 2017 budget.”
The judge also ordered the president “to closely monitor and scrutinise the spending of N131 billion (accrued from increased oil bench mark) allocated for additional non-constituency projects expenditure, to remove the possibility of corruption.”
Giving credence to the suit, Justice Idris further stated that “SERAP, being a human rights non-governmental organisation has sufficient interest in the way and manner public funds are being utilized in this country.”
SERAP had last year filed the suit after the organisation said it received “credible information 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.
It also stated 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 filed on SERAP’s behalf by its counsel, Mrs Joke Fekumo, reads 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 fulfil 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.
“The allegation of crime of budget padding against the indicted principal officers of the National Assembly is 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.”
Reacting to the judgement, SERAP’s deputy director, Timothy Adewale, said the verdict has confirmed the pervasive corruption in the budget process and the prevailing culture of impunity of lawmakers as well as the failure of the authorities to uphold transparency and accountability in the entire budget process and implementation.
He said, “The judgement is an important step towards reversing a culture of corruption in the budget process that has meant that many of our lawmakers see the budget more as a ‘meal ticket’ to look after themselves than a social contract to meet people’s needs and advance equity and development across the country.”
“This is a crucial precedent that vindicates the right to a transparent and accountable budget process and affirms the budget as government’s most important economic policy document, which is central to the realization of all human rights including the rights to health, water, and education.
“We are now in the process of obtaining a certified copy of the judgment. SERAP will do everything within its power to secure the full and effective enforcement of this important judgment.”