N5.9tn, $4.6bn loans: 36 govs, Wike sued!

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*36 state govs, FCT Minister sued over alleged failure to account for N5.9tn, $4.6bn loans

*SERAP asks court to compel them to publish copies of loan agreements, sites of projects

*That court should also compel them to invite EFCC, ICPC to investigate spending of such loans

*Says it’s in public interest for court to grant reliefs sought on the matter

By Kenneth Atavti

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against Nigeria’s governors and the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, Chief Nyesom Wike “over their failure to account for N5.9 trillion and $4.6 billion loans obtained by their states and the FCT and to publish copies of the loan agreements including details and locations of projects executed with the loans.”

The suit followed the disclosure last month by Governor Uba Sani of Kaduna State that the immediate past administration of Nasir El-Rufai left $587m, N85bn debt and 115 contractual liabilities, making it impossible for the state to pay salaries.

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/592/2024 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Abuja, SERAP is asking the court to “direct and compel the governors and Mr Wike to account for N5.9trn and $4.6bn loans obtained by their states and the FCT and to publish copies of the loan agreements, location of projects executed with the loans.”

SERAP is also asking the court to “direct and compel the governors and Mr Wike to invite the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC] and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission [ICPC] to investigate the spending of all the loans obtained to date by their states and the FCT.”

In the suit, SERAP is arguing that, “It is in the public interest to grant the reliefs sought. Nigerians have the right to see and scrutinise the loan agreements and know the details of how the domestic and external loans obtained by the governors and FCT minister are spent.”

According to SERAP, “Opacity in the spending of the loans obtained by the governors and Mr. Wike would continue to have negative impacts on the fundamental interests of the citizens.

SERAP is also arguing that, “Many states and the FCT are reportedly spending public funds which may include the loans obtained by them to fund unnecessary travels, buy exotic and bulletproof cars and generally fund the lavish lifestyles of politicians.”

SERAP is also arguing that, “Many states and the FCT are also allegedly mismanaging public funds which may include domestic and external loans obtained from bilateral and multilateral institutions and agencies.”

According to SERAP, “Many states and the FCT reportedly owe civil servants’ salaries and pensions. Several states are borrowing to pay salaries. Millions of Nigerians resident in the state and FCT continue to be denied access to basic public goods and services such as quality education and healthcare.”

According to SERAP, “Transparency in the spending of the loans obtained by the states and FCT is fundamental to increase accountability, prevent corruption, and build trust in democratic institutions with the ultimate aim of strengthening the rule of law.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare, Kehinde Oyewumi and Ms Valentina Adegoke, read in part: “States and the FCT should be guided by transparency and accountability principles and proactively account for the loans obtained and publish copies of the loan agreements.”

“Widely publishing copies of the loan agreements and spending details of the loans obtained would ensure that persons with public responsibilities are answerable to the people for the performance of their duties in the management of public funds.”

“State governors and Wike cannot hide under the excuse that the Freedom of Information Act is not applicable to their states and the FCT. The legal obligations to publish the information sought are also imposed by the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”

“According to Nigeria’s Debt Management Office, the total public domestic debt portfolio for the country’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory is N5.9 trillion. The total public external debt portfolio is $4.6 billion.”

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.