President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has been asked to provide an explanation for how the abandoned Abuja Closed-Circuit Television project was funded with a $460 million Chinese loan.
The Federal High Court in Abuja issued the directive.
According to the court’s decision, the government must make public the total amount of money paid to Chinese and local enterprises and contractors, along with specifics about their names and the project’s present state of completion.
In his ruling in the FHC/ABJ/CS/1447/2019 Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Hon. Judge Emeka Nwite provided the directions.
The suit followed the disclosure in 2019 by the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, that “Nigeria was servicing the loan,” adding that she had ‘no explanations on the status of the project.’ She reportedly said, “We are servicing the loan. I have no information on the status of the CCTV project.”
In his judgement, Justice Nwite agreed with SERAP that “there is a reasonable cause of action against the government. Accounting for the spending of the $460 million Chinese loan is in the public’s interest. It will be inimical for the court to refuse SERAP’s application for judicial review of the government’s action.”
Justice Nwite also said that “the Minister of Finance is in charge of the finances of the country and cannot by any stretch of imagination be oblivious of the amount of money paid to the contractors for the Abuja CCTV contract and the money meant for the construction of the headquarters of the Code of Conduct Bureau.”
He also ordered the government “to provide the details clarifying whether the sum of N1.5 billion paid for the failed contract meant to construct the headquarters of the Code of Conduct Bureau was part of another loan obtained from China.”
Justice Nwite’s judgement, read in part, “SERAP’s core objectives are to promote human rights, transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption in Nigeria.
“I am of the humble view that there is a reasonable cause of action against the government [through the Minister of Finance], and I so hold that SERAP has made out a case to be entitled to the reliefs sought.
“The law is well settled that where a document or letter is sent by post, it is the law that same is taken or presumed to have been delivered.
“Following this principle of law and relying on exhibit OS2, SERAP’s Freedom of Information request sent to Ms Ahmed is deemed to have delivered. Therefore, the averment by the government [through her] that they were not served with the letter is hereby discountenance. I so hold.”
Joined as defendants in the suit are Ms Ahmed and the Minister of Police Affairs.
Justice Nwite also granted some orders of mandamus against the Nigerian government, saying, “ An of mandamus is hereby made directing and compelling the government [through the Minister of Finance] to provide and make available to SERAP information on the total amount of money paid to contractors, with specific details of names of companies local contractors involved, from the $460 million loan obtained in 2010 from China by the Federal Government of Nigeria to fund the failed Abuja CCTV contract.
“An order of mandamus is hereby made directing and compelling the government [through the Minister of Finance] to provide the details of the local companies and Chinese contractors that have received funds from the $460 million loan for the finance of the Abuja CCTV contract as well as details of the status of implementation of the project.”
In his statement, SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare said, “The onus is now on President Buhari to immediately comply with the court’s orders. We commend Justice Nwite for his courage and wisdom, and urge President Buhari and Abubakar Malami, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to immediately obey the court orders.”
“This is a victory for justice, rule of law, transparency and accountability. The judgement shows the way forward in the fight against corruption and impunity of perpetrators. We will do everything within the law to ensure full compliance by President Buhari with this ground-breaking judgement on Chinese loans.
“We call on President Buhari to use the judgement as the basis for publishing details of spending of all Chinese loans and other loans obtained by his government since May 2015.”