Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a Civil society organisation has threatened to drag the federal government to court if after 14 days, it failed to make public names of high ranking public officials from whom public funds were recovered and the circumstances under which funds were recovered, as well as the exact amount of funds recovered from each public official.
This threat is contained in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request dated June 8, 2016 and signed by SERAP executive director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, and send to the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
According to the organisation, if after 14 days the requested information was not provided the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions under the Freedom of Information Act to compel the government to comply with its request.
SERAP, in the FOI request copied to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, argued that Nigerians are entitled to the right to receive information without any interference or distortion, and the enjoyment of this right should be based on the principle of maximum disclosure, and a presumption that all information is accessible subject only to a narrow system of exceptions.
The request reads in part: “While we believe that suspects generally are entitled to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction, SERAP opposes blanket non-disclosure of names of high-ranking public officials from whom some of the funds were recovered.”
“SERAP insists that the public interest to know is greater than any other legitimate interest that the government might wish to protect. The Nigerian government has an obligation to balance whether the risk of harm to the legitimate aim (that is secrecy of ongoing corruption investigation and presumption of innocence) from disclosure of the names of public officials is greater than the public interest in accessing the information.
“According to public interest test, even if the government demonstrates that the publication of the names of public officials would substantially harm a legitimate interest, it is nevertheless obliged to disclose the requested information if, as it is the case here, the public interest in disclosure is sufficient enough to overweigh the harm.”
“SERAP believes that the recoveries, specifically from high-ranking public officials (and not private individuals), are matters of public interest. Publishing the names of those public officials will provide insights relevant to the public debate on the ongoing efforts to prevent and combat a culture of grand corruption and the longstanding impunity of perpetrators in the country.”