SERAP sues Buhari over alleged secrecy in spending loans, debt crisis
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice in Abuja against the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The suit is challenging alleged secrecy in the spending of loans obtained, the unsustainable level of borrowing by the government and the 36 states, debt crisis, and disproportionately negative impact of these retrogressive measures on poor Nigerians.
In the suit (ECW/CCJ/APP/05/22) filed last week, SERAP is seeking an order directing and compelling the Federal Government to issue an immediate moratorium on borrowing by itself and the 36 states, in conformity with the country’s international human rights obligations.
No date has been fixed for hearing of the suit.
The organisation is also seeking an order directing and compelling the Federal Government to publish details of spending of the loans obtained by governments since 1999, including the list of projects and locations of any such projects on which these loans have been spent.
In the suit filed by SERAP lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, on behalf of concerned Nigerians, the organisation contends that persistent and unsustainable borrowing by federal and state governments and the crippling debt burden undermine the rights of Nigerians to economic and social development, and are antithetical to the public interest.
The body is arguing that the crippling debt burden is a human rights issue within the jurisdiction of the ECOWAS Court because when the entire country is burdened by unsustainable debts, there will be little money left to ensure access of poor and vulnerable Nigerians to legally enforceable socio-economic rights.
“There is lack of transparency and accountability in spending of the loans so far obtained, and opacity around the terms and conditions in loan agreements, including repayment details for these loans. The details of the projects on which the loans are spent are shrouded in secrecy,” SERAP argues.
The rights body is seeking an order from the court directing and compelling the Federal Government to conduct assessment of borrowing by governments since 1999 to address the dire consequences of unsustainable debts on people and communities and ensure that borrowing at all levels of government considers human rights impact.
In the suit, the organisation contends that long-term unsustainable debt can be a barrier to the government’s ability to mobilise resources for human rights, and may lead to taxes and user fees that impact negatively on vulnerable and marginalised Nigerians.
SERAP says: “If not addressed, the escalating borrowing and looming debt crisis would cripple the ability of both the Federal Government and the 36 states to ensure basic socio-economic rights, such as quality healthcare, education, and clean water of the most vulnerable and marginalised sectors of the population.
“Without a moratorium on borrowing, the Federal Government and many of the 36 states may be caught in a process driven mostly by creditors’ needs. This will result in an exorbitant social cost for the marginalised and vulnerable sectors of the population.
“The ability of the Nigerian government to ensure human rights is inextricably related to the ability to spend needed resources. Growing debt burdens and debt repayment difficulties will have negative impacts on the ability of the defendant to fulfill the basic socio-economic rights of poor and vulnerable Nigerians.”