The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) has urged Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to “embrace constructive engagement on issues of human rights, transparency and accountability” and “to avoid sound bite and opportunistic attacks on civil society organisations”.
The group’s comment came on Sunday, days after Dr Okonjo-Iweala, lambasted the group for instituting a lawsuit against her over the claim by a former Central Bank Governor, Chukwuma Soludo, that Nigeria has lost as much as 30 trillion Naira to corruption and mismanagement.
In a statement, the Executive Director of the group, Adetokunbo Mumuni, emphasised that the group was “simply working to make the government fit for purpose so that it could function to improve the conditions of millions of marginalised and disadvantaged Nigerians”.
Hiding Behind Advocacy
SERAP quoted Mrs Okonjo-Iweala as saying that the suit was politically motivated against her based on the discredited 30 trillion Nigeria allegation by Professor Charles Soludo.
“The suit confirms that SERAP is nothing but a political tool of the opposition hiding behind the façade of advocacy. Like their previous efforts, this latest one will fail because Nigerians can see through their antics. The latest in the campaign of falsehood and politicization of the economy by persons and groups who are getting more desperate by the day, because the economy, despite their propaganda, was still standing and will continue to stand. We look forward to meeting SERAP in court,” the group quoted her as saying.
But SERAP said: “We are disappointed that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s response offers little in terms of dealing with the real issue and why the Minister failed to respond to a valid freedom of information request made under the law signed by this government. While we do not intend to go into the substance of the case now in court, we are compelled to respond to the misleading and entirely unfounded allegation that SERAP is a tool in the hand of the opposition party, All Progressives Congress, APC”.
The organisation further said that “it strives to ensure that its human rights and accountability work meet the highest standards of analytical rigor devoid of politics. While we very much welcome any constructive criticism aimed at reinforcing our ability to meet these standards, we totally reject the accusation by Mrs Okonjo-Iweala that we are a tool for the APC.
“To be sure, SERAP is completely independent of any political party, ideology, or economic interest. Our work is driven solely by the fundamental principles of justice, impartiality, solidarity and universality of human rights. For us, no government regardless of the political party they represent, is beyond scrutiny and accountability.
“Just to cite a few examples: SERAP has filed cases against the Lagos State Government, the latest being a freedom of information suit on the spending of the World Bank loan of $90 million meant to improve education in the 639 public secondary schools, and on the increased tuition fees for the students of Lagos State University (LASU). We have also obtained a judgment by the ECOWAS Court of Justice in a suit we brought against the Rivers State Government over demolition of some houses in the state. Lagos and Rivers states are APC states,” the organisation said.
According to the organisation, the examples alone made it untenable to attribute SERAP’s work to political bias. It says the “Minister’s allegations fly in the face of commendations for SERAP from government agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and Independent Corrupt Practices And Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). International NGOs like Amnesty International and Transparency International have also recognised SERAP’s non-partisan work in the field of human rights, transparency and accountability”.
The organisation said its FOI request and suit are “based on the constitutional and international responsibilities of the government to millions of Nigerians who are victims of corruption, and the unique position of trust by the Minister to promote the ideal of a corruption-free society. We believe that it is through action like this that the government can be motivated to live up to its commitments and to meet the expectations of Nigerians for good governance, human rights and the rule of law”.
SERAP had instituted the case against the Minister for “failure to provide information about spending of the alleged missing 30trillion Naira”, which the group said represented “some accruable income to the Federal Government in the past four years”.
The suit number filed at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, followed a Freedom of Information request by the civil society group to the Minister on February 2.
SERAP’s suit came after the disclosure by Mr Soludo in an article that over 30 trillion Naira was missing, or stolen, or unaccounted for, or simply mismanaged under the minister’s watch.