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SERAP Sues Buhari, NASS Leaders, Others Over ‘Failure To Account For Security Votes Since 1999’

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Buhari - National Assembly

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit in the Federal High Court, Abuja “seeking leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus to direct and compel President Muhammadu Buhari, Senate president Ahmed Lawan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila to disclose details of allocations, disbursement and spending of security votes by the Federal Government, 36 state governors and 774 local governments between 1999 and 2019.”

The suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1369/2019 and filed last Friday followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information requests and “the respondents’ failure to account for some N241.2 billion of public funds allocated, disbursed and spent yearly as security votes, and the corresponding lack of effective protection of the rights to security and welfare, life and physical integrity of millions of Nigerians.”

Others joined as parties in the suit are: Mr Godwin Emefiele, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Ahmed Idris, Accountant General of the Federation and Mr Anthony Ayine, Auditor General for the Federation.

According to SERAP: “Nigerians have the constitutional and international human right to know details of the exact amounts that have been spent as security votes and specific areas and projects covered by the allocations, disbursement and spending. There is overriding public interest in Nigerians having access to these details, and the respondents have legal obligations to facilitate public access to such information.”

SERAP also argued that: “Constitutional provisions requiring governments to ensure the security and welfare of the people are intended to protect the security and safety of citizens and not the security of a few individuals in government. Without transparency and accountability, the mismanagement and corruption in the allocation, disbursement and spending of security votes will continue with devastating consequences.”

The suit filed by SERAP’s lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi read in part: “The respondents have a legal duty to proactively record, keep and disclose information in respect of allocation, disbursement and spending of security votes without waiting for SERAP to request for such information. They are also required to maintain and publish documents containing information relating to the receipt or expenditure of public funds.”

“Public officials receiving and spending security votes ought to come clean with Nigerians on how exactly these public funds are spent. Unless the reliefs sought are granted, Nigerians would continue to see the appropriation of public funds as security votes as a tool for self-enrichment.”

“The suit is seeking to offer governments at all levels an important opportunity to be transparent and accountable with the exercise of their discretionary powers in the allocation, disbursement and spending of security votes. The public interest in the disclosure of these details outweighs any private interest the respondents may be seeking to protect.”

“The right to know allows Nigerians to gain access to information essential to the fight against corruption, which is entirely consistent with the government’s own anti-corruption strategy to encourage citizens’ involvement in the fight against corruption. Access to information on details of security votes will ultimately foster security, sustainable peace, and development of democratic institutions across the country.”

“Public officers are mere custodians of public records. The citizens are entitled to know how their commonwealth is being utilized, managed and administered in a democratic setting, as this positively influences the feeling of belonging in the society.”

“The huge financial resources budgeted for security votes by successive governments have not matched the security realities in the country, especially given the level of insecurity, violence, kidnappings and killings in many parts of the country, which seem to suggest massive political use, mismanagement or stealing of security votes by many governments.”

“As revealed by a 2018 report by Transparency International (TI), most of the funds appropriated as security votes are spent on political activities, mismanaged or simply stolen. It is estimated that security votes add up to over N241.2 billion every year. On top of appropriated security votes, governments also receive millions of dollars yearly as international security assistance.”

SERAP is therefore seeking the following reliefs:

A declaration that the failure of the Respondents to provide the Applicant with specific information on details of the expenditure, non-planned extra-budgetary spending on “Security” (otherwise referred to as ‘Security Votes’) allocated and disbursed to the Federal Government of Nigeria, 36 States of the Federation and 774 local governments in Nigeria for the periods covering between 1999 and 2019 is illegal and constitutes a breach of the Applicant’s rights under the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.

An Order of Mandamus directing and/or compelling the Respondents to urgently compile and provide the Applicant with specific information on details of the expenditure, non-planned extra-budgetary spending on “Security” (otherwise referred to as ‘Security Votes’) by the Federal Government of Nigeria, 36 States of the Federation and 774 local governments in Nigeria for the periods covering between 1999 and 2019.

And for such further order(s) this Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstances.

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

Inside Nigeria

BREAKING: Senate Passes Bill To Make Tenure Of IGP Single 4-Year Tenure

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The Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that will make the tenure of office of the Inspector-General of Police by a single four-year term.

According to the Senate, the action became imperative to enable for a secured tenure of plan
a serving Inspector- General of Police, just as it passed that the community policing be strengthened.

The Senate has changed the name of “Nigeria Police” to Nigeria Police Force” as presently in use in view of the failed constitution alteration attempt to amend the name.

The Bill which was read the third time and passed, was a sequel to the consideration of the report on Police ACT CAP P19 LFN 2004( Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill, 2020( SB.181) presented by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Police Affairs, Senator Dauda Haliru Jika, APC, Bauchi Central.

The Upper Chamber has also approved that on the Appointment and Removal of the Inspector-General of Police, the provisions of the constitution in line with Section 2l5 of the l999 constitution (as amended) should be retained, as any proposal contrary to this provision will require constitution alteration for it to be viable.

The Senate resolved that the Police abide and enforce certain constitutional provisions, particularly fundamental rights at persons in Police custody under chapter 4 of the l999 constitution (as amended) and other international instruments on Human rights to which Nigeria is a signatory (including of provisions that reiterate the importance of fundamental human rights and advocating for their observance).

The Senate also passed that it should he made binding on the lnspector-General of Police to adhere to policing plans. The national policing plan should be made with inputs from the Police Force Headquarters and all the various Police formations nationwide before the end of each financial year, setting out priorities, objectives, cost implications and expected outcomes of Policing for the next succeeding financial year in order to change budgeting from a top-down approach to a bottom -up approach.

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Do You Know Hate Speech Bill Is Still Alive And Well At The Senate?

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By Fredrick Nwabufo

Social media/internet freedom is a basic human right. It is unalienable. In the pool of freedoms, it is as basic as the right to exist. Take away the power of thought and expression from a man, and you have a breathing cadaver.
On June 25, The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice ruled that the September 2017 internet shutdown ordered by the Togolese government during protests was illegal and an affront to the applicants’ right to freedom of expression, this is according to Business and Human Rights Resource, which also reported that ‘’the court ordered the government of Togo to pay two million CAF to the plaintiffs as compensation and to take all the necessary measures to guarantee the implementation of safeguards with respect to the right to freedom of expression of the Togolese people’’.

The 2009 UN resolution on freedom of opinion and expression accentuates the primacy of the internet on human rights. The resolution foregrounds ‘’the importance of all forms of the media, including the Internet, in the exercise, promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, calling on states to facilitate equal participation in, access to and use of ICTs, applying a gender perspective’’.

This right is what Nigeria’s lawmakers at the national assembly seek to arrest and banish.

On November 6, 2019, the Senate introduced a bill seeking to regulate social media in the country. The proposed legislation entitled, ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations bill, 2019’ was sponsored by Mohammed Sani Musa, senator representing Niger east – a district in the thrall of bandits. The bill has passed the first reading.

According to the sponsor of the bill, Nigeria needs the legislation because it would protect its “fragile unity”.

It proposes a fine of N150,000 or three years imprisonment for any offender and accords the government the carte blanche to shut down the internet – like in some authoritarian regimes across Africa.

A week after the anti-social media bill was floated; the senate introduced a bill seeking to establish a commission for the prohibition of hate speech in Nigeria. The bill entitled, ‘National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches Bill 2019’ was couriered by Sabi Abdullahi, the deputy majority whip of the senate.

The bill prescribed death by hanging for any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person.

It said crime is committed when: “A person publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, distributes and/or directs the performance of any material, written and/or visual, which is threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, commits an offence if such person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up against any person or persons from such an ethnic group in Nigeria.’’

While the hate speech bill exists still at the senate – it has not been withdrawn and the courier has insisted it will not be pulled out – the anti-social media bill is currently at the committee stage of the legislative process.

Interrogating these bills, it is clear they are symptoms of the fear of a failing administration. Only a failing government will be afraid of citizens’ criticisms on social media or interpret civil actions as subversion. If the government was living up to expectations, it would not need to worry about social media.

The anti-social media bill, for instance, which the courier said is designed to protect Nigeria’s ‘’fragile unity’’ is the fallout of critical takes at the government on social platforms by citizens who have elected to be defiant owing to the vacancy of a viable opposition. The sponsor, Musa Sani, once cited the controversy over the hoaxed wedding of the president on social media as the inclination for his pursuit.

Also, the hate speech bill leaves many grey areas. How do you define hate speech? Hate speech is simply according to whoever defines it, and in this case – the government. The proposed legislation was conceived to be a slave whip to suppress dissent and to drown citizens’ voices against the rising insecurity of which the instigators are perceived to be from one section of the country.

Nigeria being what it is, there is no telling how things will turn out. We could all carry on, only waking up after a journalist; a critic or anyone at all is arrested based on these inchoate legislations.

The Centre for Liberty (CFL) has been on passionate advocacy for the termination of these two bills through its Digital Freedom Advocacy (DFA), sponsored by Voice. It has embarked on citizens’ actions, mobilising voices and consciences against the gestating anti-people legislations. And the non-governmental organisation, supported by the Voice, has shown resolve of not relenting until these bills are decapitated and interred. Nigerians must, as well, lend their support and voices to this cause. It concerns us all.

Really, these bills are in the pursuit of fear, repression and autocracy. They have not been put to sleep yet at the senate. Nigerians must stay woke.

Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist.

Twitter: @FredrickNwabufo

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Inside Nigeria

COVID-19: PTF Chairman Says Another Lockdown Looms If…

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Chairman of the Presidential Taskforce PTF on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Mr. Boss Mustapha, Monday, during the daily briefing of the Taskforce in Abuja stated that there may be another lockdown.

Boss Mustapha said the Taskforce will not shy away from recommending another lockdown to be imposed on the country should the need arises.

The PTF chairman said; “As to whether we would advise Mr. President to consider another lockdown, I have said it here that lockdowns might not be popular but what will happen in the preceding weeks will determine.

“Madagascar has imposed a lockdown in spite of its herbal cure. About 39 states in the US because of the Thanksgiving Holiday and their National Day celebration on the 4th of June have begun to see spikes in their figures and the speed with which they were considering the ease of lockdown, a lot of states have slowed down.

“We have now isolated 11 local governments. We started with 20 but the dynamics of figures that keep jumping every week, there are now about 11 local governments that we have advised the sub-nationalities to consider precision lockdowns in these areas.”

He warned that the attitude of Nigerians in the coming days would determine whether there should be a need for another round of lockdown to be imposed in Nigeria.

“I believe as the days and weeks ahead would present, I will not be speculative as to what would happen in the future, but we will do everything within our mandate to ensure the safety and the protection of the well-being of the people of Nigeria.

“If that would require a recommendation of a lockdown, this Taskforce will not shy away from its responsibilities. We will take that decision. We will make our recommendations to Mr. President who will finally decide but we would first take a decision on our side as members of this Taskforce within the context of the mandate that has been given to us and make that recommendation.

“But such a decision or advice being taken now would be speculative. What would happen in the next two to three weeks would determine what would eventually be our recommendation.”

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