SERAP Sues Buhari Over $25Bn CBN Overdraft Details

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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit asking the court to compel President Muhammadu Buhari to disclose spending details of overdrafts and loans obtained from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) since May 29, 2015 when the president was sworn into office.

The human right group noted aside from overdrafts spending details, the court should also compel the president to disclose the projects on which the overdrafts have been spent, and repayments of all overdrafts to date and make it available to public.

SERAP added that it was also seeking an order to compel the president to explain and clarify whether the $25bn (N9.7trn) overdraft reportedly obtained from the CBN was within the five-percent limit of the actual revenue of the government for 2020.

In a suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Adelanke Aremo, noted that disclosing details of overdrafts and repayments would enable Nigerians to hold the government to account for its fiscal management and ensure that public funds are not mismanaged or diverted.

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/559/2021 filed last week at the Federal High Court, Abuja, SERAP also sought an order directing and compelling the president to disclose details of overdrafts taken from the CBN by successive governments between 1999 and 2015.

SERAP argued in the suit secrecy and the lack of public scrutiny of the details of CBN overdrafts and repayments is antithetical to the public interest, the common good, the country’s international legal obligations, and a fundamental breach of constitutional oath of office.

SERAP is also arguing that: “Ensuring transparency and accountability in the spending of CBN overdrafts and loans would promote prudence in debt management, reduce any risks of corruption and mismanagement, and help the government to avoid the pitfalls of excessive debt.

The suit read in part: “Transparency and accountability in the spending of CBN overdrafts would also ensure that public funds are properly spent, reduce the level of public debt, and improve the ability of the government to invest in essential public goods and services, such as quality education, healthcare, and clean water. It is the primary responsibility of the government to ensure public access to these services in order to lift millions of Nigerians out of poverty and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

“Transparency and accountability in the spending of CBN overdrafts and loans would also improve the ability of the government to effectively respond to the COVID-19 crisis. This means that the government would not have to choose between saving lives or making debt payments.

“The recent overdraft of $25.6bn (about N9.7trn) reportedly obtained from the CBN would appear to be above the five-percent limit of the actual revenue of the Federal Government for 2020, that is, N3.9trn, prescribed by Section 38(2) of the CBN Act 2007. SERAP notes that five-percent of N3.9trn is N197bn.

“SERAP has consistently recommended to the Federal Government to reduce its level of borrowing and to look at other options of how to finance its budget, such as reducing the costs of governance, and addressing systemic and widespread corruption in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) that have been documented by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation.

“Our requests are brought in the public interest, and in keeping with the requirements of the Nigerian Constitution; the Freedom of Information Act; the Fiscal Responsibility Act; the Central Bank Act; the Debt Management Office Act; and the country’s international legal obligations.”

“There is a statutory obligation on the respondents, being public officers in their respective public offices, to proactively keep, organize and maintain all information or records about CBN overdrafts, loans, and repayments in a manner that facilitates public access to such information or records. Mandamus lies to secure the performance of a public duty in the performance in which the applicant has a sufficient legal interest.

“Unless the reliefs sought by SERAP are granted, the respondents will not provide SERAP with the information requested and will continue to be in breach of their constitutional responsibilities and the country’s international legal obligations and commitments.”

Joined in the suit as respondents are the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN; the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed; and the Governor of CBN, Godwin Emefiele.

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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