The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has urged the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to “embrace constructive engagement on issues of human rights, transparency and accountability,” and “to avoid sound bite and opportunistic attacks on civil society organizations simply working to make the government fit for purpose so that it can function to improve the conditions of millions of marginalized and disadvantaged Nigerians.”
SERAP’s comments came after Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala last week in a statement lambasted the group for instituting a lawsuit against her over the claim by a former Central Bank governor, Chukwuma Soludo, that Nigeria has lost as much as N30 trillion to corruption and mismanagement.
Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said it was “a politically motivated suit against her based on the discredited N30 trillion allegation by Professor Charles Soludo. The suit confirms that SERAP is nothing but a political tool of the opposition hiding behind the façade of advocacy. Like their previous efforts, this latest one will fail because Nigerians can see through their antics. 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, was still standing and will continue to stand. We look forward to meeting SERAP in court.”
But SERAP in a statement on Sunday by its executive director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said, “We are disappointed that Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala’s response offers little in terms of dealing with the real issue and why the Minister failed to respond to a valid freedom of information request made under the law signed by this government. While we do not intend to go into the substance of the case now in court, we are compelled to respond to the misleading and entirely unfounded allegation that SERAP is a tool in the hand of the opposition party, All Progressives Congress, APC.”
The organization said that “it strives to ensure that its human rights and accountability work meet the highest standards of analytical rigor devoid of politics. While we very much welcome any constructive criticism aimed at reinforcing our ability to meet these standards, we totally reject the accusation by Mrs Okonjo-Iweala that we are a tool for the APC.”
“To be sure, SERAP is completely independent of any political party, ideology, or economic interest. Our work is driven solely by the fundamental principles of justice, impartiality, solidarity and universality of human rights. For us, no government regardless of the political party they represent, is beyond scrutiny and accountability,” the organization said.
“Just to cite a few examples: SERAP has filed cases against the Lagos State Government, the latest being a freedom of information suit on the spending of the World Bank loan of $90 million meant to improve education in the 639 public secondary schools, and on the increased tuition fees for the students of Lagos State University (LASU). We have also obtained a judgment by the ECOWAS Court of Justice in a suit we brought against the Rivers State Government over demolition of some houses in the state. Lagos and Rivers states are APC states,” the organization said.
According to the organization, “These examples alone make it untenable to attribute SERAP’s work to political bias. Moreover, the Minister’s allegations fly in the face of commendations for SERAP from government agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and Independent Corrupt Practices And Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). International NGOs like Amnesty International and Transparency International have also recognized SERAP’s non-partisan work in the field of human rights, transparency and accountability.”
The organization said its FOI request and suit are “based on the constitutional and international responsibilities of the government to millions of Nigerians who are victims of corruption, and the unique position of trust by the Minister to promote the ideal of a corruption-free society. We believe that it is through actions like this that the government can be motivated to live up to its commitments and to meet the expectations of Nigerians for good governance, human rights and the rule of law.”
SERAP had instituted the case against the Minister for “failure to provide information about spending of the alleged missing N30trillion”, which the group said represented “some accruable income to the Federal Government in the past four years”.
The suit number FHC/L/CS/196/2015, filed at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, followed a Freedom of Information request by the civil society group to the Minister dated February 2. SERAP’s suit followed the disclosure by Mr. Soludo in an article that over N30 trillion was missing, or stolen, or unaccounted for, or simply mismanaged under the minister’s watch.
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