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Court Orders Former Minister to Account for N729bn Payment to Poor Nigerians

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The Federal High Court in Lagos has mandated Sadiya Umar-Farouq, former Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, to provide a detailed account of N729 billion distributed to 24.3 million poor Nigerians over six months. This ruling came from Justice Deinde Isaac Dipeolu following a Freedom of Information (FOI) suit filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

Justice Dipeolu’s judgment requires Umar-Farouq to disclose the list and details of beneficiaries, the number of states covered, and the specific payments made per state. The decision was delivered in June under suit number FHC/L/CS/853/2021, with the certified judgment obtained by SERAP last Friday.

The court emphasized that under the FOI Act, the former minister must provide requested information to any individual or organization, including SERAP. Consequently, an order of mandamus was granted to compel the minister to disclose the spending details of the N729 billion allocated to the 24.3 million poor Nigerians in 2021.

Additionally, the minister must explain the selection process for the beneficiaries and the mechanisms used for the payments. The judge highlighted the significance of this inquiry, noting that the minister had previously failed to provide reasons for withholding the requested information. Justice Dipeolu pointed out the relevant sections of the FOI Act that the minister had violated, supporting SERAP’s request for an order to release the information.

Justice Dipeolu dismissed the minister’s counsel’s objections, supporting SERAP’s arguments and ruling in favor of the organization. The court’s decision has been hailed by SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, as a significant win for transparency and accountability in public fund management.

“This ground-breaking judgment is a victory for transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds,” Oluwadare stated. He urged the Tinubu administration to address corruption within the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and other governmental departments, as highlighted by the Auditor-General of the Federation.

In a letter dated July 6, 2024, SERAP called on President Bola Tinubu to ensure compliance with the court’s ruling. The organization requested that Tinubu direct the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and the Attorney General’s office to compile and release the spending details of the N729 billion as ordered.

“We urge you to demonstrate your expressed commitment to the rule of law by immediately obeying and respecting the judgment of the court,” the letter read. It stressed that enforcing the judgment would represent a triumph for the rule of law, transparency, and accountability in managing public resources.

SERAP’s letter emphasized that immediate compliance with the court order would reinforce the government’s dedication to transparency and proper governance, particularly concerning the substantial funds in question.

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