The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to order a thorough investigation into the cases of corruption in the water, health and education sectors “as documented in the 2018 and 2019 Auditor General’s reports”.
The civil society organisation made this recommendation Wednesday at a press briefing on “Failed Promises: Corruption in the Water, Health and Education Sectors in Nigeria”, suggesting that the President should direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, and appropriate anti-corruption agencies to commence the investigation.
In his presentation, the Deputy Director of SERAP, Oluwadare Kolawole, cited some of the promises made by the President in his inaugural speech in 2015 and 2019, but “unfortunately, his government has made little to no progress in fulfilling the promises made to Nigerians.”
He said Mr Buhari’s government has failed to fulfill its promise “to fight grand corruption, end impunity of perpetrators, respect the rule of law, and ensure access of socially and economically vulnerable Nigerians to basic public goods and services, such as quality education, healthcare, and regular and uninterrupted water supply”.
Mr Kolawole noted that SERAP is seriously concerned about the rising rate of poverty and socio-economic inequality in Nigeria.
He cited a recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealing that some 133 million Nigerians are poor, despite the government reportedly spending N500 billion yearly on social investment programmes.
“The rising poverty is an obvious result of many years of corruption and mismanagement of the country’s commonwealth and neglect of the socio-economic rights of the people. Corruption, the bane of Nigeria’s development is flourishing with impunity and appears to be winning.
“Despite the growing deficit in our national budget and increasing national debt profile, access to basic public goods and services such as quality education, affordable healthcare and regular and uninterrupted water supply has become almost non-existent due primarily to systemic and widespread corruption in these sectors,” he said.
He recalled that “in 2022, the National Council of State endorsed the pardon of Mr Dariye, Mr Nyame and 157 others serving jail terms following the recommendations of the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy”.
Mr Dariye and Mr Nyame were jailed for stealing N1.16bn and N1.6bn, respectively.
In reaction to that, Mr Kolawole noted that SERAP challenged President Buhari’s exercise of the prerogative of mercy in favour of the two convicted politicians, adding that Goal 16.6 of the 2030 Development Agenda Goals calls upon member-states to develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels.
“The Nigerian government is yet to account for several millions of dollars of Abacha loot recovered from 2015 till date,” he said.
Mr Kolawole also pointed out that unresolved allegations of corruption in public institutions like the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and State Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEBs) continue to undermine public confidence in the education sector.
He said such cases lead to the erosion of access to education, and if not urgently addressed, will lead to an increase in out-of-school children, and exacerbate educational inequalities in the country.
“This selective application of the rule of law invariably undermines the independence and integrity of the judiciary, and is counter-productive to the government’s fight against corruption,” he noted.
SERAP’s many lawsuits
Speaking further on SERAP’s efforts to ensure accountability in the management of public funds, Mr Kolawole said the organisation issued more than 70 freedom of information requests in 2022, filed more than 60 public interest lawsuits against the federal government, the National Assembly and state governments, out of which he noted 22 was filed in 2022.
He highlighted that SERAP filed a lawsuit against Mr Buhari over failure to investigate spending on all social safety nets and poverty alleviation programmes and projects executed between 2015 and 2022 after his government reportedly spent N500 billion yearly on social investment programmes.
It also filed a lawsuit against the President over “the failure to probe the spending of trillions of ecological funds by governments at all levels— federal, state and local governments from 2001 to date, and to ensure the prosecution of suspected perpetrators of corruption and mismanagement of public funds”.
National Assembly was not left out, as SERAP also filed a lawsuit “over their failure to probe and to refer to appropriate anti-corruption agencies fresh allegations that N4.1bn of public money budgeted for the National Assembly is missing, misappropriated or stolen as documented in the 2016 audited report by the Auditor-General of the Federation.
It also urged the leadership of the National Assembly to “promptly cut the outrageous National Assembly budget of N228.1bn, including the N30.17bn severance payments and inauguration costs for members (the highest ever).”
Non-adherence to court verdicts
The SERAP’s Deputy Director further noted that some of the progress on some of the public interest cases highlighted has been slow due largely to what he described as the challenges confronting Nigeria’s justice system “but justice, we are sure, will certainly prevail”.
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“The failure and/or refusal to enforce and implement legally binding judgments of the court is entirely inconsistent and incompatible with Nigeria’s international human rights obligations.
“The persistent and deliberate disobedience of judges’ decisions would, ultimately, encourage impunity and corruption,” he said.
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