By Myke Uzendu, Abuja
Socio-Economic Rightsand Accountability Project (SERAP) has charged President Muhammadu Buhari todirect the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice MrAbubakar Malami, SAN to publish the names of those indicted in the allegedmisappropriation of over N6 trillion in the Niger Delta Development Commission(NDDC) between 2000 and 2019, as documented in the recent Forensic Audit Reporton NDDC.
SERAP further urgedthe President to direct Mr Malami and appropriate anti-corruption agencies topromptly bring to justice to all those suspected to be responsible for themissing N6 trillion, and to fully recover any misappropriated public funds.
In a letter addressedto President Buhari and dated 25 September 2021, signed by SERAP DeputyDirector Kolawole Oluwadare, it stated that it is in the public interest topublish the names of the alleged looters indicted in the NDDC audit report andensure that they face prosecution, as appropriate
SERAP in the letterstated, “Taking these decisive steps would advance the victims’ right torestitution, compensation and guarantee of non-repetition, as well as improvepublic confidence in the fight against corruption.
“Using the auditreport to genuinely combat the corruption epidemic in the NDDC and rein inthose indicted would alleviate poverty, improve access of Nigerians to basicpublic goods and services, and enhance the ability of your government to meetits human rights and anti-corruption obligations.”
The letter notes thatdespite the country’s enormous oil wealth, ordinary Nigerians have derived verylittle benefit from trillions of naira budgeted for socio-economic developmentin the region primarily because of widespread grand corruption, and theentrenched culture of impunity of perpetrators.
“The level of grandcorruption in the NDDC, and the devastating effects on poor Nigerians areserious enough to meet the requirements of crimes against humanity under theRome Statute of the International Criminal Court, to which Nigeria is a stateparty.”
“The public interestin publishing the names of those indicted by the audit report outweighs anyconsiderations to withhold the information, as there would be no prejudiceagainst those whose names are published as long as the information isappropriately framed and truthful.
“The audit reportraises prima facie evidence of grand corruption and its staggering effects inthe Niger Delta. Nigerians have the right to know the names of those indictedand other details in the report, as guaranteed under the African Charter onHuman and Peoples’ Rights and the Freedom of Information Act.
“Publishing widely thereport and the names of those indicted would remove the possibility ofobstruction of justice, and provide insights relevant to the public debate onthe ongoing efforts to combat grand corruption and the longstanding impunity ofperpetrators in the country.
“Nigerians areentitled to the right to receive information without any interference ordistortion, and the enjoyment of this right should be based on the principle ofmaximum disclosure, and a presumption that all information is accessiblesubject only to a narrow system of exceptions.
“According to publicinterest test, even if the government demonstrates that the publication of thenames of public officials would substantially harm a legitimate interest, it isnevertheless obliged to disclose the requested information if, as it is thecase here, the public interest in disclosure is sufficient enough to overweighany perceived harm.
“We would be gratefulif the recommended measures are taken within 14 days of the receipt and/orpublication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, theIncorporated Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions tocompel your government to comply with our request in the public interest.
“Misappropriation ofpublic funds meant to ensure access to basic public goods and services rises tothe level of crimes against humanity, as this has forced millions of Nigeriansin the region to live in inhumane or degrading conditions, in violation of theRome Statute.
“According to ourinformation, the Forensic Audit Report into the activities of the Niger DeltaDevelopment Commission (NDDC) reveals grim allegations of misappropriation ofN6 trillion in the commission between 2000 and 2019, and that there are over13,000 abandoned projects in the Niger Delta.
“According to thereport, the NDDC operated a total of 362 bank accounts, which resulted in a‘lack of proper reconciliation of accounts.’
“The missing N6trillion and over 13,000 abandoned projects in the Niger Delta have continuedto have a negative impact on the human rights of Nigerians, undermining theiraccess to basic public goods and services, such as education, healthcare, andregular and uninterrupted electricity supply.
“Public schools havebeen left to crumble and wither away, and health care facilities in severalparts of the region lack even the most basic of amenities.
“Section 15 subsection(5) of the Constitution requires your government to abolish all corruptpractices and abuse of power. The UN Convention against Corruption requiresyour government to ensure effective prosecution of allegations of corruption.
“Specifically, article26 of the convention requires your government to ensure “effective,proportionate and dissuasive sanctions” including criminal and non-criminalsanctions, in cases of grand corruption. Article 26 complements the moregeneral requirement of article 30, paragraph 1, that sanctions must take into accountthe gravity of the corruption allegations.”
The letter was copiedto Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami; Professor Bolaji Owasanoye SAN,Chairman Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission(ICPC) and Abdulrasheed Bawa, Chairman, Economic and Financial CrimesCommission (EFCC).