In a letter to the President dated May 30, 2020, the group urged the Nigerian leader to use his leadership position and the opportunity of the fifth year anniversary of his government to grant its request.
It called for an independent audit of all loans to resolve the purported allegations of mismanagement and corruption.
SERAP also urged the President to publish the spending details of loans obtained by successive administrations since 1999, as well as the list of countries and bodies that have given such loans with the specific repayment conditions.
It noted that President Buhari had last week sought the National Assembly’s approval for a fresh loan of $5.513 billion to fund the 2020 budget deficit, critical projects, and support some states.
In its Freedom of Information request, the group decried that while successive governments have borrowed money in the name of Nigeria and its citizens since 1999, much of the funds have reportedly been mismanaged, stolen or squandered.
According to it, opacity in the spending of loans will continue to have negative impacts on the fundamental interests of citizens.
SERAP, however, believes transparency will ensure the loans are not diverted to private pockets, increase public trust, provide good value for money, and reassure Nigeria’s creditors.
It also advised the President to cut the costs of governance rather than taking more loans and increasing the nation’s debt burden.
30 May 2020
Muhammadu Buhari GCFR
President, Federal Republic of Nigeria
Aso Rock Presidential Villa
Re: Freedom of Information request to publish details of spending of loans and Nigeria’s debts since the return of democracy in 1999
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) is writing on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of your government in office and pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) to request you to provide details of the spending loans obtained by your government since May 29, 2015, including details of projects on which the loans have been spent.
SERAP is also urging you to disclose information on details of spending of loans obtained by successive governments since the return of democracy in 1999, a list of countries and bodies that have given the loans, and specific conditions of repayment of the loans.
SERAP is a non-profit, nonpartisan, legal and advocacy organization devoted to promoting transparency, accountability, and respect for socio-economic rights in Nigeria. SERAP received the Wole Soyinka Anti-Corruption Defender Award in 2014 and was nominated for the UN Civil Society Award and Ford Foundation’s Jubilee Transparency Award. SERAP serves as one of two Sub-Saharan African civil society representatives on the governing Committee of the UNCAC Coalition, a global anti-corruption network of over 380 civil society organizations (CSOs) in over 100 countries.
According to our information, your government has recently sought the approval of the National Assembly for a fresh loan of $5.513 billion, reportedly to finance the 2020 budget deficit and critical projects as well as support states in the country. Several such loans have been obtained from China, the World Bank, and other sources, including the N850 billion loan, which the National Assembly speedily approved. Another loan of $22.79bn, which has reportedly been approved by the Senate is now pending before the House of Representatives.
SERAP is seriously concerned that while successive governments since 1999 have borrowed money in the name of Nigeria and its citizens, much of the funds have reportedly been mismanaged, stolen, or squandered, leaving the future generation of Nigerians with the burden to repay these loans.
We are concerned about the massive and growing national debts, and the negative impacts on socio-economic development as well as access of Nigerians to public goods and services, including quality education, adequate healthcare, clean water, and regular electricity supply.
While access to loans can provide indispensable resources, the mismanagement and squandering of any such resources would be counter-productive. Nigerians should no longer be made to repay debts incurred in their name but which have not benefited them in any manner, shape, or form.
Transparency and accountability in the spending details of all the loans that have so far been obtained by your government and those obtained by previous administrations would mean that the loans can help Nigeria to overcome its acute development challenges, reduce the possibility of mismanagement and corruption. It would also help to avoid a morally repugnant result of visiting the sins of corrupt governments and officials on innocent Nigerians.
Opacity in the spending of loans would continue to have negative impacts on the fundamental interests of citizens. Transparency would ensure that the loans are not diverted to private pockets, increase public trust that these loans would be used to benefit Nigerians, provide good value for money, and reassure Nigeria’s creditors.
Any unresolved allegations of mismanagement, bribery and corruption in the use of loans would continue to deprive millions of Nigerians access to basic public goods and services including quality education, adequate healthcare, clean water, and would leave your government without the resources to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
Rather than taking more loans and increasing Nigeria’s debts burden, we urge you to exercise sufficient political will to urgently promote ground-breaking reforms to cut the costs of governance, including by instructing the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr Abukabar Malami, SAN to immediately enforce the judgment by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo ordering your government to recover pensions collected by former governors and challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting public officials to collect such pensions.
Ensuring the enforcement of the judgment would remove the burden on your government of constantly providing financial support to state governors, and ensure that state governors are not using financial support from the Federal Government to finance the lavish lifestyles of former governors with impunity.
SERAP, therefore, urges you to urgently commission an independent audit on the spending of loans so far obtained by your government and previous administrations with a view to resolving any allegations of mismanagement and corruption in the spending of such loans.
We urge you to ensure that those suspected to be responsible for any mismanagement and corruption are promptly referred to appropriate anti-corruption agencies for further investigation, and where there is relevant admissible evidence, prosecution.
We also urge you to promptly instruct Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to monitor the spending of all loans obtained since the assumption of office of your government in May 2015.
SERAP also urges you to disclose:
- Details of the spending of loans obtained by your government since May 29, 2015, including specific details of projects and locations of the projects as well as the conditions of any such projects;
- Total amount of debts that have so far been incurred by your government, including the interest rate, the details of debts inherited from the previous administrations, and details of refinancing of any such loans, as well as any strategy put together on borrowing decisions, and to promote sustainable borrowing;
- Whether any public officials solicited and/or received bribes in the negotiations for any of the loans
By Section 1 (1) of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act 2011, SERAP is entitled as of right to request for or gain access to information, including information on the details of spending of the loans and debts incurred by your government and previous administrations. By Section 4 (a) of the FoI Act, when a person makes a request for information from a public official, institution or agency, the public official, institution or urgency to whom the application is directed is under a binding legal obligation to provide the applicant with the information requested for, except as otherwise provided by the Act, within 7 days after the application is received.
By Sections 2(3)(d)(V) & (4) of the FoI Act, there is a binding legal duty to ensure that documents containing information relating to the details of spending of the loans and debts incurred by your government and previous administrations are widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means. The information being requested does not come within the purview of the types of information exempted from disclosure by the provisions of the FOI Act.
The information requested for as indicated above, apart from not being exempted from disclosure under the FOI Act, bothers on an issue of national interest, public concern, the interest of human rights, social justice, good governance, transparency, and accountability.
We would be grateful if the requested information is provided to us within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions under the Freedom of Information Act to compel you to comply with our request.
Please accept the expression of our highest consideration. Thanking you in advance for your urgent attention to the matter.
Mr Abukabar Malami, SAN
Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice
Federal Ministry of Justice
Shehu Shagari Way,
Mrs Zainab Ahmed
Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning
Ahmadu Bello Way, Central Business District
Ms Patience Oniha
Director-General of the Debt Management Office
NDIC Building (1st Floor)
Plot 447/448 Constitution Avenue,
Central Business District
P.M.B. 532, Garki Abuja