A civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has sent a Freedom of Information request to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Minister of Finance, urging her to “urgently provide information about spending of the alleged missing N30 trillion, which represents some accruable income to the Federal Government in the past four years.”
SERAP’s request followed a disclosure by Charles Soludo, a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, that over N30 trillion had been either been missing, stolen, unaccounted for, or simply mismanaged under the minister’s watch.
In the letter of request dated February 2, 2015, and signed by Adetokunbo Mumuni SERAP executive director, the organization threatened legal actions under the FOI Act to compel Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala to comply with the request if the information was not provided within 14 days.
“As a trustee of public funds, SERAP contends that your Ministry has a legal duty to render account on the missing N30tn to the beneficiaries (Nigerians) of the trust, if and when called upon to do so,” the letter read.
“As a key agency of government, the Ministry of Finance has a sacred duty to ensure that the country’s resources and wealth is used solely to fulfil the basic economic and social rights of all Nigerians and achieve the country’s overall socio-economic development. This implies providing strong leadership in the efforts to curb public sector corruption, and to refer to appropriate anticorruption agencies any allegations of corruption in which any agencies of government may be involved or officials of your Ministry may be complicit.”
The organization also expressed concern that the stealing or mismanagement of such a large sum of public funds may be responsible for the economic crisis and attendant hardships being faced by millions of Nigerians.
“SERAP considers this a serious allegation that requires your immediate and urgent clarifications,” the letter continued.
“If true, such allegation will clearly amount to a fundamental breach of national anti corruption laws and the country’s international anti corruption obligations and commitments including under the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party. Any failure or refusal to render account on the missing N30tn will also be clearly inconsistent with the attitude of a government that has repeatedly expressed commitment to the fight against corruption, and in fact signed the Freedom of Information Act.
“Therefore, it is necessary to provide clarity as to what exactly happened to the missing N30tn if the Ministry of Finance is to continue to play a leadership role in the transparent and accountable management of the country’s resources and wealth, and to enjoy the public trust and confidence essential for the Ministry’s effectiveness and impact.”
SERAP further requested the minister to provide detailed information on the spending of the alleged missing N30 trillion, that presumably represented income or return accruing to or derived by the federal government “from any source, including: a) any receipt, however described, arising from the operation of any law; b) any return, however described, arising from or in respect of any property held by the Government of the Federation; c) any return by way of interest on loans and dividends in respect of shares or interest held by the Government of the Federation in any company or statutory body.”
“This information should cover the past four years of your role as Ministry of Finance and Coordinating Minister under the President Goodluck Jonathan government. By virtue of Section 1 (1) of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2011, SERAP is entitled as of right to request for or gain access to information, including information on the alleged missing N30tn under your watch, and the said information is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution,” the organization also said.
“By virtue of Section 4 (a) of the FOI Act when a person makes a request for information from a public official, institution or agency, the public official, institution or urgency to whom the application is directed is under a binding legal obligation to provide the applicant with the information requested for, except as otherwise provided by the Act, within 7 days after the application is received.By Sections 2(3)(d)(V) & (4) of the FOI Act, there is a binding legal duty to ensure that documents containing information relating to spending of the alleged missing N30tn is widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means,” the organization also said.
According to SERAP, the information being requested did not come within the purview of the types of information exempted from disclosure by the provisions of the FOI Act.
“The information requested for, apart from not being exempted from disclosure under the FOI Act, bothers on an issue of national interest, public peace and concern, interest of human rights, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability.”