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SERAP wants govs compelled to use security votes for healthcare

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The Federal High Court, Abuja has been urged to compel the 36 state governors to use their security votes and life pension for their predecessors to fund healthcare and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on millions of Nigerians.

The court, in a suit filed by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), is also being urged to compel the governors to publish details of spending on COVID-19 in their states.

In the suit filed at the weekend, SERAP is specifically seeking “an order for leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus to compel the 36 state governors to disclose how much they have individually collected from the Federal Government as COVID-19 support, from private donations and other sources, as well as details of spending of any such funds and donations.”

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SERAP is also seeking a declaration that the alleged failure of the governors to respond in a satisfactory way to its requests amounted to a fundamental breach of the FoI Act, 1999 Constitution (as amended), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

In Freedom of Information (FoI) requests dated April 25, 2020, SERAP expressed concern that “many governors are spending scarce state resources to pay themselves security votes and their predecessors life pensions rather than using the public funds to effectively respond to COVID-19 by investing in and improving public healthcare facilities in their states.”

The group revealed that only two governors– Nasir El-Rufai (Kaduna) and Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq (Kwara)–responded to its requests.

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While El-Rufai claimed that the FoI was inapplicable in Kaduna State, Abdulrazaq argued that the information requested by SERAP was protected from disclosure.

“The FoI is binding only on the Federal Government and its agencies, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and the states that choose to domesticate it. We are, therefore, not bound to respond to your request using the threat of an FoI Act that is inapplicable in our state,” El-Rufai said.

Abdulrazaq claimed that “the category of the information you requested is protected from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.”

But SERAP in the suit said: “By a combined reading of the FoI Act, the Nigerian Constitution, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which is applicable throughout the country, El-Rufai, Abdulrazaq and other 34 governors ought to be compelled to invest in healthcare facilities, and to tell Nigerians how they are spending COVID-19 funds and donations in their states.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its counsel, Kolawole Oluwadare and Atinuke Adejuyigbe read, in part: “The 36 governors have a responsibility to act in the interest of Nigerian citizens and residents in their states under the Code of Conduct for Public Officers [Fifth Schedule Part 1] of the Nigerian Constitution, and Oath of Office of Governor of a State in Seventh Schedule to the Constitution.”

No date has been fixed for hearing of the suit.

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