The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has given the go-ahead to the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) in its suit seeking “an order for leave to apply for an order of mandamus compelling the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola SAN to disclose the names of the contractors”.
In January, SERAP had issued a Freedom of Information request and sued Fashola following allegations by Nigeria’s former Vice President Atiku Abubakar that “contractors who were paid hundred per cent upfront for power projects disappeared with public funds without carrying out any work”.
The decision by Justice Chuka Austine Obiozor, a Professor of Law, last Friday paved the way for SERAP to move forward with its suit to compel Fashola to publish “the names of all contractors and companies engaged in the power sector since the return of democracy in 1999 to date, details of specific projects and the amounts paid for them”.
Justice Obiozor granted the order for leave following the hearing of an argument in court on ex parte motion by Mrs. Adelanke Aremo, SERAP’s counsel. Justice Obiozor also ruled that Fashola be put on notice and adjourned the matter till Thursday, April 11, 2019, for the hearing of arguments on the motion on notice, on why the names of the alleged corrupt contractors should not be published.
According to Kolawole Oluwadare, SERAP Deputy Director, in a statement issued on Sunday, in the suit marked FHC/L/CS/105/19, SERAP is seeking reliefs to compel Fashola “to provide specific details on the names and whereabouts of the contractors who collected public funds meant for electricity projects but disappeared with the money without executing any projects, starting from the return of democracy in 1999 to 2018”.
Fashola had earlier in March written to SERAP promising “to refer the request for details of alleged contractors and companies that collected money for electricity projects and failed to executive any projects to the Ministry’s agencies for necessary action and appropriate response”. Fashola’s response followed his letter to SERAP in February in which he said: “We have searched the Ministry’s record and the information you applied for is not held by the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing (Power Sector).”
However, SERAP disagreed with the response, saying: “The public expectation is that government information, when in the hands of any public institutions and agencies, should be available to the public, as prescribed by the FOI Act. The FOI Act should always be used as an authority for disclosing information rather than withholding it.”
In his response to SERAP’s reaction, Fashola said: “The Ministry’s letter to your organization was not an attempt to deny the request for information. The Ministry is committed to compliance with the laws of Nigeria including the Freedom of Information Act, 2011. The Ministry will refer your request to its agencies for necessary action and appropriate response.”
SERAP’s suit read in part: “By compelling Mr. Fashola to name the contractors and their registration details, if any, Nigerians will be better able to hold them to account for allegedly absconding with public funds meant for electricity projects, thereby throwing the country into perpetual darkness and socio-economic stagnation as well as denying people their human rights.
“Publishing the names will make it hard for contractors and companies to get away with complicity in grand corruption. The citizens have the right to see that the Freedom of Information Act is enforced where there is an infraction of the right to information or a threat of its being violated, in matters of public interests.”
SERAP’s suit is seeking among others: “an order directing and/or compelling the respondent to compile and make available to the applicant documents containing the specific names and details of contractors and companies that have been engaged in the power sector since the return of democracy in 1999 to date.”
The suit is also seeking: “a declaration that the failure of the respondent to disclose, if there is any ongoing investigation or prosecution of allegedly corrupt contractors and companies in the electricity sector, amounts to a breach of the Freedom of Information Act 2011.”