The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to “direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN to widely publish the names of those indicted in the alleged misappropriation of over N6 trillion in the running of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) between 2000 and 2019, as documented in the recent Forensic Audit Report on NDDC”.
In a statement on Sunday, SERAP also urged the president “to direct Mr Malami and appropriate anti-corruption agencies to promptly bring to justice anyone suspected to be responsible for the missing N6 trillion, and to fully recover any misappropriated public funds”.
In its open letter dated 25 September 2021 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “It is in the public interest to promptly publish the names of those indicted in the audit report, and to ensure that they face prosecution, as appropriate”.
SERAP said: “Taking these decisive steps would advance the victims’ right to restitution, compensation and guarantee of non-repetition, as well as improve public confidence in the fight against corruption.”
It added that, “Using the audit report to genuinely combat the corruption epidemic in the NDDC and rein in those indicted would alleviate poverty, improve access of Nigerians to basic public goods and services, and enhance the ability of your government to meet its human rights and anti-corruption obligations.”
“Despite the country’s enormous oil wealth, ordinary Nigerians have derived very little benefit from trillions of naira budgeted for socio-economic development in the region primarily because of widespread grand corruption, and the entrenched culture of impunity of perpetrators,” the letter, read in part.
“The level of grand corruption in the NDDC, and the devastating effects on poor Nigerians are serious enough to meet the requirements of crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, to which Nigeria is a state party.
“The public interest in publishing the names of those indicted by the audit report outweighs any considerations to withhold the information, as there would be no prejudice against those whose names are published as long as the information is appropriately framed and truthful.”
“The audit report raises prima facie evidence of grand corruption and its staggering effects in the Niger Delta. Nigerians have the right to know the names of those indicted and other details in the report, as guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Freedom of Information Act.
“Publishing widely the report and the names of those indicted would remove the possibility of obstruction of justice, and provide insights relevant to the public debate on the ongoing efforts to combat grand corruption and the longstanding impunity of perpetrators in the country.
“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.”
According to SERAP, “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 any perceived harm.
“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, the Incorporated Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel your government to comply with our request in the public interest.
“Misappropriation of public funds meant to ensure access to basic public goods and services rises to the level of crimes against humanity, as this has forced millions of Nigerians in the region to live in inhuman or degrading conditions, in violation of the Rome Statute.
“According to our information, the Forensic Audit Report into the activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) reveals grim allegations of misappropriation of N6 trillion in the commission between 2000 and 2019, and that there are over 13,000 abandoned projects in the Niger Delta.”
“According to the report, the NDDC operated a total of 362 bank accounts, which resulted in a ‘lack of proper reconciliation of accounts.’
“The missing N6 trillion and over 13,000 abandoned projects in the Niger Delta have continued to have a negative impact on the human rights of Nigerians, undermining their access to basic public goods and services, such as education, healthcare, and regular and uninterrupted electricity supply.
“Public schools have been left to crumble and wither away, and health care facilities in several parts of the region lack even the most basic of amenities.
“Section 15 subsection (5) of the Constitution requires your government to abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power. The UN Convention against Corruption requires your government to ensure effective prosecution of allegations of corruption.
“Specifically, article 26 of the convention requires your government to ensure ‘effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions’ including criminal and non-criminal sanctions, in cases of grand corruption. Article 26 complements the more general requirement of article 30, paragraph 1, that sanctions must take into account the gravity of the corruption allegations.”
The letter was copied to Mr Malami; Professor Bolaji Owasanoye SAN, Chairman Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC); Abdulrasheed Bawa, Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).