From Blessing Ibunge, Port Harcourt
A group known as Rivers state Anti-corruption network convened by a Port Harcourt based NGO, Social Action has dragged the Rivers state government to a federal high court sitting in port Harcourt, over alleged lack of accountability and transparency in governance.
The group is praying the court to prevail on the government to mainstream transparency and accountability in governance.
The matter was registered in suit number FHC/PHC18/74/2020 between Sebastian Kpalap and Arochukwu Ogbonna representing the anti-corruption network as plaintiffs and the Accountant general of the state and Rivers state government as the defendants.
The plaintiffs asked the court to declare that the failure by the government to make available information regarding some projects being carried out in the state is a breach of the FOI law.
Consequently, the court was asked to make an order directing the government to furnish the plaintiffs with information relating to the cost of some selected projects in the state; such projects which include three flyovers at Garrison junction, Rumuokoro and Artillery; expansion of Airport road; construction of landing jetty at Abissa, Akuku Toru; reconstruction work at GRA2; clearing of site for a school building project in Borikiri, renovation of staff quarters and provision of 800 desk top computers at Ignatius Ajuru university of education and the rehabilitation work at Elechi Amadi Polytechnic, Rumuola, Port Harcourt.
This daily gathered that the court option was taken after several efforts to allegedly obtain the information through the FOI requests were ignored by the government.
It was also gathered that on three different times when the matter came up in the court, neither the state representatives nor the state counsels showed any appearance.
However, after the last adjourned date in December when the group, through its counsel, Mr Chika Nweke Esq obtained the leave of the court to serve the court summons on the plaintiffs, the Attorney General, served a counter affidavit on the plaintiffs on Monday, February 1, 2021 requesting the court to strike out the suit.
On Wednesday, February 3, when the matter came up again, counsel for the group, Mr Nweke informed the court that a counter affidavit has been served on him and his clients by the Attorney General of the state.
He pleaded for time to enable him respond to some issues raised in the counter affidavit. His pleas were objected to by the Attorney General who was present in court to defend the state government.
However, the matter has been adjourned till February 22 for hearing.
Speaking with journalists briefly after the case adjournment, counsel for the group, Mr Nweke explained that the case was adjourned to enable him respond to issues raised in the counter affidavit.
He said what they are praying the court to do is ‘simply to prevail on the government to respect the FOI law and furnish my clients information they are requesting with respect to projects being implemented in the state’.
He said citizens have the right to know how public funds are being spent.
On his part, Green Isaac on behalf of Social Action and the Anti-Corruption Network told our correspondent that the action was commenced as part of their campaign to ensure open governance and open contracting are achieved.
He said ‘as laudable as the projects being implemented may be, citizens have the rights to know the cost of such projects as well as to know whether due processes are respected in carrying out the projects’.