A Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday directed President Muhammadu Buhari to order the security and anti-corruption agencies to forward to him (Buhari) reports on their investigations into allegations of padding and stealing of some N481 billion from the 2016 budget by some principal officers of the National Assembly.
Justice Mohammed Idris further mandated the president to ensure the prosecution of the lawmakers over their alleged involvement in the theft of N481 billion from the 2016 budget.
The judge in his judgment specifically asked Buhari to “direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), or the appropriate anti-corruption agencies to without delay commence prosecution of the indicted lawmakers”.
Justice Idris arrived at the decision consequent upon a mandamus suit instituted by a civil society organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
The court also ordered the president to “direct the publication of the report of the investigations by the security and anti-corruption bodies into the alleged padding of the 2016 budget”.
Justice Idris, in the action initiated against the President of Nigeria and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, declared that in the exercise of his executive powers, Buhari has a duty to ensure compliance with the provisions of Article 22 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
The court further held that Buhari was “expected to use his executive powers for the public good of Nigeria”.
In his declaration, the judge granted an order directing the president to: “Urgently halt the alleged attempt by some principal officers of the National Assembly to steal N40 billion of the N100 billion allocated by his government as ‘zonal intervention’ in the 2017 budget.
“To closely monitor and scrutinise the spending of N131 billion (accrued from increased oil benchmark) allocated for additional non-constituency projects expenditure, to remove the possibility of corruption.”
Justice Idris equally held that SERAP, being a human rights non-governmental organisation, had sufficient interest in the way and manner public funds are utilised in this country.
Article 22 of the African Charter provides that “all peoples shall have the right to their economic, social and cultural development with due regard to their freedom,” and that “states shall have the duty, individually or collectively, to ensure the exercise of the right to development”.
Reacting to the judgment, Deputy Director of SERAP, Timothy Adewale said: “This judgment confirms the pervasive corruption in the budget process and the prevailing culture of impunity of our lawmakers as well as the failure of the authorities to uphold transparency and accountability in the entire budget process and implementation.
“The judgment is an important step towards reversing a culture of corruption in the budget process that has meant that many of our lawmakers see the budget more as a ‘meal ticket’ to look after themselves than a social contract to meet people’s needs and advance equity and development across the country.
“This is a crucial precedent that vindicates the right to a transparent and accountable budget process and affirms the budget as government’s most important economic policy document, which is central to the realisation of all human rights including the rights to health, water and education.
“SERAP will do everything within its power to secure the full and effective enforcement of this important judgment.”
SERAP last year had filed the suit after the CSO said it received credible information from multiple sources that the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had completed investigations into the allegations of padding of the 2016 budget.
SERAP said it discovered that the agencies had completed their reports and indicted some principal officers of the House of Representatives and the Senate and that the accounts of some of the principal officers containing allegedly illicit funds had been frozen, with the case files for the prosecution of those indicted ready.
The investigation by the DSS and EFCC may not be unconnected to the alarm raised by the former Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin that the 2016 budget had been padded.
He had accused the Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara and other lawmakers of padding the budget, and filed a petition to the police and EFCC, asking them to investigate his colleagues.
Although nothing was heard of the case after the initial uproar, Jibrin was suspended by the House for 180 legislative days for making the allegation.
It was not until last week that a court nullified his suspension, by which time he had resumed sitting.