SERAP Files Suit Against FG, Lai Mohammed For Withholding Information On Looters

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According to Premium Times, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) is suing the federal government and Lai Mohammed, the minister of information in particluar, after he ignored a Freedom of Information request to “provide information about the names of high ranking public officials from whom public funds were recovered and the circumstances under which funds were recovered, as well as the exact amount of funds recovered from each public official.”

The suit signed by SERAP executive director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, was filed against Lai Mohammed and the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture at the Federal High Court in Ikoyi on Friday. The originating summons, with suit number FHC/CS/964/2016, was brought pursuant to section 4(a) of the Freedom of Information Act reads in part:

“By a letter with reference No MJ/FOI/GEN/014/1/54 and dated 21 June 2016, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN confirmed that the FOI request by SERAP was brought to the attention of the Defendants for handling.

However, since the receipt of the FOI request and the confirmation by Mr Malami that the request was brought to the attention of the Defendants for handling, and up till the filing of this suit, the Defendants have so far failed, refused and/or neglected to provide SERAP with the details of the information requested.

By virtue of Section 1(1) of the FOI Act 2011, the Plaintiff is entitled as of right to request for or gain access to information which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution. Under the FOI, when a person makes a request for information from a public official, institution or agency, the public official, institution or agency to whom the application is under a binding legal obligation to provide the Plaintiff/Applicant with the information requested for, except as otherwise provided by the Act, within 7 days after the application is received.

The information requested by SERAP does not come within the purview of the types of information exempted from disclosure by the provisions of the FOI Act. The information requested for, apart from not being exempted from disclosure under the FOI Act, bothers on an issue of National interest, public concern, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability. The defendants will not suffer any injury or prejudice if the information is released to the members of the public.

It is in the interest of justice that the information be released. Unless the reliefs sought herein are granted, the Defendants will continue to be in breach of the Freedom of Information Act, and other statutory responsibilities. While the suspects generally are entitled to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction, the FOI Act implicitly prohibits blanket non-disclosure of names of high-ranking public officials from whom some of the funds were recovered.

It is further submitted that the recoveries, specifically from high-ranking public officials (and not private individuals), are matters of public interest. Publishing the names of those public officials will provide insights relevant to the public debate on the ongoing efforts to prevent and combat a culture of grand corruption and the longstanding impunity of perpetrators in the country.” SERAP is asking the court to determine

“Whether by virtue of the provision of section 4(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2011, the Defendants are under an obligation to provide the Plaintiff with the information requested for.”

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