A Federal High Court, sitting in Lagos, has ordered the Federal Government to “immediately release to Nigerians, 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 judgment was delivered, by Justice Hadiza Rabiu Shagari, following a Freedom of Information suit number: FHC/CS/964/2016 instituted by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
SERAP initiated the suit, last year, after the Federal Government announced recovery of funds from some high-ranking public officials and private individuals.
In the judgment, Justice Shagari agreed with SERAP that “the federal government has legally binding obligations to tell Nigerians the names of all suspected looters of the public treasury, past and present.”
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and the ministry were joined as defendants in the suit.
Justice Shagari also granted SERAPS’s prayer that “by virtue of the provisions of Section 4 (a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2011, the defendants are under a binding, legal obligation to provide the plaintiff with up to date information relating to the following; to widely disseminate, including on a dedicated website, information about the names of high-ranking public officials from whom public funds were recovered since May 2015, the circumstances under which stolen public funds were returned…”
SERAP’s Deputy Director, Timothy Adewale, who argued the case on behalf of the group, said the judgement was “victory for justice, rule of law, transparency and accountability in this country. The judgment shows the way forward in the fight against corruption and impunity of perpetrators. We will do everything, within the law, to ensure full compliance by President Muhammadu Buhari and Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo with this landmark judgment.”
SERAP insisted that the public interest to know is greater than any other legitimate interest that the government might wish to protect.
“The Nigerian government has an obligation to balance whether the risk of harm to the legitimate aim (that is secrecy of ongoing corruption investigation and presumption of innocence) from disclosure of the names of public officials is greater than the public interest in accessing the information.”