Missing N30trn: Okonjo-Iweala Takes Legal Action

Okonjo-IwealaThe former Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, says that she was never served any court processes in relation to the allegation by former CBN Governor, Professor Charles Soludo that 30 trillion Naira was missing during the past administration.

The suit was instituted by the Socio-Economic Rights Accountability Project (SERAP) pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.

A statement signed by the former minister’s Media Adviser, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu, says that she has instructed her lawyers to take steps to set aside the judgment as it affects her.

The statement adds that the decision of SERAP to anchor its case on an allegedly baseless and unsubstantiated allegation by former CBN Governor, Professor Charles Soludo that 30 trillion Naira is missing confirms SERAP’s alleged dubious motives and its role as a tool for politically motivated actors.

The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos had ordered Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government to provide information on the spending of the alleged missing N30 trillion.

The fund, according to the court, represents some accruable income to the Federal Government during the last four years of the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

The judgment was delivered by Justice Ibrahim Buba following a Freedom of Information suit brought by SERAP.

SERAP’s suit followed revelations by the former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Charles Soludo, that at least N30 trillion “has either been stolen or unaccounted for, or grossly mismanaged over the last few years under the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s watch.”

You Must Account For Alleged Missing N30tn, Court Tells Okonjo-Iweala, FG

Dr-Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala-2The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has ordered former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government to provide information on the spending of the alleged missing N30 trillion.

The fund according to the court represents some accruable income to the Federal Government during the last four years of the Administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

The judgment was delivered last week by Justice Ibrahim Buba following a Freedom of Information suit brought by a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

SERAP’s suit followed revelations by the former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Charles Soludo, that at least N30 trillion “has either been stolen or unaccounted for, or grossly mismanaged over the last few years under the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s watch.”

Justice Buba said, “Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government have no legally justifiable reason for refusing to provide SERAP with the information requested for. The Court has gone through the application and agrees that SERAP’s application has merits and the argument is not opposed. SERAP’s application is granted as prayed.”

The Court agreed with the arguments by SERAP Deputy Director, Olukayode Majekodunmi that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government “should have either supplied the information requested by SERAP or communicate her denial within 7 days of receipt of the letter from SERAP if she considers that the request should be denied.”

The judgment by Justice Buba reads in part: “Preliminary objection by Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government is misconceived, the court upholds the arguments by SERAP for the reasons stated herein.”

“SERAP commenced this proceeding by way of Originating Summons dated 23 February 2015 and filed 25 February 2015. Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government filed a Memorandum of Conditional Appearance, a Notice of Preliminary Objection and written address, all undated but filed on 29 September 2015.”

“The preliminary objection is on the following grounds: that SERAP did not obtain the mandatory leave of the Federal High Court to issue and serve the Originating Summons and other processes outside Lagos State; that there is no mandatory endorsement on the Originating Summons that it is to be served on Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government in Abuja and outside jurisdiction of this Court.”

“The only issue for determination is whether Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government should be heard on their preliminary objection considering the totality of the circumstances of this case.”

“He who wants equity must do equity. This suit was filed on 25 February 2015 and from the record of the court was served on Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government on 3rd July, 2015. It took about 3 months for them to come up with technical response to the simple request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2011.”

“Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government have therefore been caught by Order 29 of the Rules of this Court, which requires that an application shall be made within 21 days after service on the Defendants of the originating summons.”

“If Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government want to raise issues about service, the law does not permit of demurer. The proper route for them should have been to join issues with the originating summons and also file their objections. In the present case by SERAP, the Notice of Preliminary Objection by Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government is incurably defective for not conforming to order 29 of the Rules of this Court.”

“The process adopted by Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government in this suit is to come by way of demurer. This process has long been abolished by the Rules of this Court. By Order 16 Rule 1 of the Rules of this Court, no demurer shall be allowed and rule 2 provides that a party shall be entitled to pursue by his pleadings any point of law and any point of law so raised shall be disposed by the judge who tries the cause at or after trial.”

“The implication of this clear provision of the rule of court is that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government must join issues with SERAP on the originating summons no matter how flimsy, instead of looking for a technical way out. This technical way out has failed.”

“The concept of demurer as presently raised by Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government is no longer known to law especially the Federal High Court of Nigeria. It is the position of the law that the application of Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government should fail. Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government, having failed to file Counter Affidavit to SERAP’s suit, are deemed to have forfeited that option of filing anything again.”

“Having shown why the Application by Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government should be dismissed for failing to join issues with SERAP, the originating process must be moved on the merits.”

“On the issue of failure to obtain pre-requisite consent/leave of Court to issue and serve the originating summons on Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government outside of jurisdiction, Order 6 Rule 31 states that ‘in this Order out of jurisdiction means out of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.’”

“It is also necessary to refer to sections 97 and 99 of the Sheriff and Civil Process Act. The provisions apply to the validity of the service and have nothing to do with the validity of the originating process. On the strength of this clear provision, which Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government did not deny and incapable of denying at this point, their objection is dismissed as the validity of the process is not affected in any way.”

“The main issue in this Court’s view bothers on the legal binding obligation imposed on Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act access to a record of information requested for. In the case at hand, SERAP through its letter of 2 February 2015, Exhibit A, sought the information relating to the spending of the alleged missing N30 trillion, which represents some accruable income to the Federal Government during the last 4 years of the Administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. Exhibit A has been received by them, and Exhibit B is the acknowledgement of receipt of Exhibit A.”

“However Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government have since the receipt of the request letter failed, refused and or neglected to provide SERAP with the information it requested for within their custody. They should have either supplied the information requested by SERAP or communicate their denial within 7 days of receipt of the application from SERAP if it considers that the application should be denied.”

It would be recalled that SERAP in February 2015 dragged Mrs Okonjo-Iweala to court over “failure to provide information about spending of the alleged missing N30tn, which represents some accruable income to the Federal Government in the past four years.”

SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni said: “This judgment shows the important role that Nigerian courts can play in the efforts to promote transparency in government and combat corruption and the impunity of perpetrators. It also confirms that high-ranking government officials can no longer escape accountability for their action while in office. We urge Mrs Okonjo-Iweala to cooperate with the authorities in the efforts to ensure the full and effective enforcement of the judgment.”

Mr Soludo had earlier reportedly asked Mrs Okonjo-Iweala: “How many trillions of naira were paid for oil subsidy (unappropriated?) How many trillions (in actual fact) have been ‘lost’ through Customs duty waivers over the last four years? Can you tell Nigerians why the price of diesel has still not come down despite the crash in global crude oil prices, and how much is being appropriated by friends in the process?”

Saraki’s Senate Is Perpetrating A Parliament Of Men, Not Of Laws – SERAP

fuel scarcitySocio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) on Wednesday accused the 8th Senate under the leadership of Dr Bukola Saraki of perpetrating a parliament of men and not of laws.

The non governmental organisation has also called on the leadership of the Senate to immediately withdraw the unconstitutional summon for Justice Danladi Umar, Chairman Code of Conduct Tribunal to appear before its Ethics Committee.

The Senate, according to SERAP, “can’t arrogate to itself the power to summon judges without violating constitutional safeguards.”

The group said that “The summon represents a direct assault upon the principle of judicial independence as it undermines the constitutional principle of separation of powers and guarantee of a judicial system that is free from outside influence of whatever kind and from whatever source”.

The statement, signed by SERAP Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, adds that “the constitutional power of the Senate can only be validly exercised if it’s intended to be in aid of the function of law-making itself.

“There is clearly no suggestion of contemplated legislation in this case. The Senate not only has exceeded the limit of its own authority, but assumed a power which could only be properly exercised by another branch of the government.

“We therefore advise Justice Umar to ignore its invitation as it is of no legal effect whatsoever.

“The Senate in its blind zeal to protect the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, who is facing corruption charges before the Tribunal is working hard to destroy the foundation of the country’s constitutional democracy. This is a blatant usurpation of power, and an attack upon the integrity of constitutional government and the rule of law.

“The Senate doesn’t have the power to summon any judge, including Justice Umar. If there is any credible allegation of corruption against Justice Umar, it ought to be dealt with by the appropriate law enforcement agencies and that cannot be the Senate.”

“The Senate can’t lawfully exercise any authority beyond the limits marked out by the constitution. It is manifestly repugnant to constitutional safeguards which assigns to each organ of the government its exclusive functions and a limited sphere of action. This invitation, coming on the heels of the decision by the Tribunal for Saraki’s trial to be conducted day-by-day pursuant to Section 396(6) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, is clearly politically motivated.”

“While the Senate is empowered under Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to conduct an inquiry for the purpose of enabling it to among others make laws, correct any defects in existing laws, expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence, it doesn’t possess the power to get involved in alleged criminal matter.

“The Senate is in no sense a court, police or anti-corruption agency, and for it to attempt to act as one, would bring about insurmountable legal and political problems.”, SERAP said.

Xenophobia: ICC To Probe Zuma, Zulu King

serap have tasked the icc over statement made by the zulu king on xenophobiaFollowing a petition from Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has decided to probe the xenophobic attacks against Nigerians and other African citizens in South Africa.

This development was disclosed in a statement today by SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni.

SERAP had in a petition, dated 23 April 2015 and sent to the Court requested the Prosecutor, Mrs. Fatou Bensouda, to use her “good offices and position to investigate allegations of hate speech by the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, which has resulted in killing, violence and discrimination against Nigerians and other African citizens living in South Africa, as well as the complicity/negligence of the country’s law enforcement agencies to prevent these crimes against civilian population.”

In response, the ICC in a letter dated 28 April 2015, and signed by M.P. Dillon, Head of Information & Evidence Unit of the Office of the Prosecutor said, “The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court acknowledges receipt of your documents. This communication has been duly entered in the Communications Register of the Office. We will give consideration to this communication, as appropriate, in accordance with the provisions of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. As soon as a decision is reached, we will inform you, in writing, and provide you with reasons for this decision.”

SERAP in its petition had urged Mrs Bensouda to “bring to justice anyone who is responsible for these international crimes prohibited under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”

SERAP also said that it “considers the use of speech by the Zulu King to promote hatred and/or incite violence against non-nationals such as Nigerians, particularly in the media as a clear violation of the provisions of the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court.

“Grave statements by political leaders/prominent people that express discrimination and cause violence against non-nationals cannot be justified under any law. This hate speech generated fear and hatred that created the conditions for violence and discrimination against Nigerians and other African citizens. SERAP believes that this has given rise to individual criminal responsibility under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” the organisation said.

The organisation argued that, “the statement by the Zulu King amounts to a harmful form of expression which incites or otherwise promotes hatred, discrimination, violence and intolerance. We are seriously concerned that crimes against humanity are often accompanied or preceded by the kind of statement made by the Zulu King.”

“Once the climate of violence has been created, direct and public incitement to crimes builds on it, exacerbating the situation by further heating up passions and directing South Africans’ hatred towards non-nationals such as Nigerians. Hate speech by King Zulu is legally tied to contemporaneous, large-scale violence and inhumane and discriminatory treatment of Nigerians and other African citizens,” the organisation also argued.

The organisation also said that, “The statement by the Zulu King has contributed to a climate of fear, demonization and dehumanization of Nigerians and other African citizens, thus violating their human dignity through humiliation and expulsion from the human community. SERAP is seriously concerned that hate speech by the Zulu King amounts to crime against humanity of persecution and has directly contributed to an infringement of the right to life, equality and non-discrimination of Nigerians and other African citizens.”

“SERAP considers the statement by the Zulu King and the apparent complicity/negligence by the country’s law enforcement agencies to prevent the violence and discrimination as amounting to active encouragement of South African citizens to develop feelings of contempt for Nigerians and other African citizens; as amounting to incitement to violence and discrimination against Nigerians and other African citizens, and to mistreat them; and as amounting to an appeal for South African citizens to separate themselves from Nigerians and other African citizens,” the organisation further stressed.

“The statement by the Zulu King and the apparent complicity/negligence by the country’s law enforcement agencies to prevent the violence and discrimination has contributed to the level of persecution against Nigerians and other African citizens. According to Professor Bassiouni, persecution in this instance is “a state action leading to the infliction upon an individual of harassment, torment, oppression, or discriminatory measures, designed to or likely to produce physical or mental suffering or economic harm, because of the victims’ beliefs, views, or membership in a given identifiable group (such as non-nationals),” the organisation also said.

The petition further reads:

“In the Mugesera case, the Canadian Supreme Court held that hate speech may constitute persecution, even if it does not result in the commission of acts of violence. In arriving at this conclusion, the court considered that a link was demonstrated between the speech at issue and the widespread or systematic attack against the civilian population. Thus, the post-World War II jurisprudence generally establishes that hate speech not urging an audience to commit imminent violence can constitute persecution.”

“The government does not have the political will to bring those suspected to be responsible for crimes under international law to justice. Given the complicity/negligence by the country’s law enforcement agencies to prevent the violence, killing and discrimination, it is unlikely that the government will take any serious action to bring perpetrators to justice.”

“Without accountability for these serious human rights crimes, the victims will continue to be denied access to justice, and impunity of perpetrators will remain widespread and the result will continue to be a vicious cycle of violence and discrimination against Nigerians and other African citizens living in South Africa.”

“SERAP believes that substantial grounds exist to warrant the intervention of the Prosecutor in this case. Under Article 17 of the Rome Statute, the Court is a court of last resort, expected to exercise its jurisdiction only if states themselves are unwilling or unable genuinely to investigate and prosecute international crimes. Also, pursuant to the Rome Statute, the Prosecutor has power to intervene in a situation under the jurisdiction of the Court if the Security Council or states parties refer a situation or if information is provided from other sources such as the information SERAP is providing in this case.”

On the basis of the above, SERAP asks you to:
1. Urgently commence an investigation proprio motu on the allegations of hate speech and the accompanying killing, violence and discrimination against Nigerians and other African citizens living in South Africa, with a view to determining whether these amount to international crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction. In this respect, we also urge you to invite representatives of the South African government to provide written or oral testimony at the seat of the Court, so that the Prosecutor is able to conclude on the basis of available information whether there is a reasonable basis for an investigation, and to submit a request to the Pre-Trial Chamber for authorization of an investigation.

2. Bring to justice those suspected to be responsible for serious human rights crimes in South Africa.

3. Urge the South African government to fulfil its obligations under the Rome Statute to cooperate with the ICC; including complying with your requests to arrest and surrender suspected perpetrators of international crimes, take testimony, and provide other support to the ICC.

It would be recalled that while addressing Pongolo community members during a moral regeneration event recently, Zwelithini reportedly said, “Most government leaders do not want to speak out on this matter because they are scared of losing votes. As the king of the Zulu nation, I cannot tolerate a situation where we are being led by leaders with no views whatsoever. We are requesting those who come from outside to please go back to their countries. The fact that there were countries that played a role in the country’s struggle for liberation should not be used as an excuse to create a situation where foreigners are allowed to inconvenience locals. I know you were in their countries during the struggle for liberation. But the fact of the matter is you did not set up businesses in their countries.”

Mr Mumuni, Also added that Zwelithini, who spoke from a prepared speech, made the remarks in the presence of Police Minister Nathi Nhleko.

SERAP Urges Jonathan To Take Legal Action Over Xenophobic Attack On Nigerians

serapSocio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged the government of President Goodluck Jonathan to “urgently take legal action against the South African government before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to seek effective remedies, including adequate compensation, for Nigerian victims of xenophobic attacks in South Africa.”

In a statement on Monday by SERAP Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organization said that, “Several Nigerians have been attacked and have lost more than 21 million Rand (N1.2 million) in the on-going xenophobic attacks in South Africa. This is unacceptable as it clearly violates the obligations of South Africa under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. These serious human rights abuses call for strong and decisive action from our government.

“Both South Africa and Nigeria have ratified the African Charter. If President Goodluck Jonathan is to side with the victims and ensure that they receive adequate compensation he has to immediately instruct the Attorney General of the Federation Mohammed Adoke, SAN to urgently file an inter-state communication before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights,” the organization stated.

According to the organization, “there is no better time for President Jonathan to do this as the African Commission is meeting this week in Banjul, The Gambia for its 56th Ordinary Session. Articles 48 and 49 read together with Article 47 provide the legal basis for Nigeria to submit communication against South Africa for violations of the right to life and non-discrimination provisions of the Charter. Countries like Uganda have taken full advantage of this procedure in the past and there is absolutely no reason why Nigeria can’t do the same.”

The organization also said that, “By taking the proposed legal action against South Africa, the Jonathan government will be giving Nigerians in South Africa the best parting-gift ever while also sending a powerful message to the authorities there that Nigeria will no longer accept the inadequate response by South Africa to blatant attacks against our citizens.”

“The South African authorities have persistently failed to strongly speak out against xenophobic attacks, and to hold perpetrators accountable. This in turn has continued to amplify the negative impact and the feeling of fear and vulnerability of Nigerian community in South Africa. Such a failure to act also sends a message of impunity to those who commit such crimes. An expectation of impunity can contribute to an escalation of such attacks. And this is exactly why our government must act decisively to stop this trend,” the organization added.

According to the organization, “The proposed legal action will put pressure on South African authorities to hold responsible those who perpetrate violence against Nigerians, to adopt effective measures to end discrimination against non-nationals and to provide effective remedies, including adequate compensation and guarantee of non-repetition, to Nigerians affected.

“South African authorities have the primary responsibility to protect individuals, including Nigerians resident in that country, from all types of violence and the duty to implement their international legal obligations to combat xenophobic and other forms of bias-motivated violence. The authorities need to be told in clear and unmistaken terms that tolerance and non-discrimination are important elements in the promotion of human rights and democratic values,” the organization also said.

“SERAP notes that the Durban Declaration and Program of Action (2001) called on States to carry out thorough investigations and to combat impunity in cases of racist or xenophobic violence. As part of the Durban Review Conference (2009), most U.N. Member States agreed in an Outcome Document that reaffirmed the responsibility of governments to respond to racist and xenophobic crimes.”

SERAP Urges U.S. To Limit FG’s Control Of Abacha Loot

serapThe Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has proposed to the U.S. Department of Justice “a repatriation arrangement to limit control or management of $480 million forfeited Abacha funds by the Nigerian government to the extent necessary to ensure that there is transparency and accountability in the process.”

The organisation said this has become necessary “in the light of the unflattering indicators that the Nigerian government condones corruption in public service and its precedent on repatriated funds.”

The letter dated 25 March 2015 was sent to Mr Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour by SERAP’s Volunteer Counsel, Professor Alexander Sierck and Omolola Adekanye of Cameron LPP, Washington DC.

According to the organisation, the Department of Justice should “lend itself to public suggestions and proposals prior to drafting a proposal for repatriation and disbursement of Abacha assets for Court approval. SERAP seeks the State Department’s support for this purpose.”

The letter reads in part: “SERAP is in ongoing communications with the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section of the Department of Justice by Order of Court entered on February 6, 2014 by District Judge John D. Bates of the District of Colombia.

“Hence, SERAP has respectfully requested that the U.S. Department of Justice publish an invitation in the Federal Register for public suggestions and comments to be made regarding inter-alia i) Proposed permitted and prohibited use of the Abacha funds; ii) Proposed framework for monitoring and evaluation of development programs; and iii) Integration of transparency and accountability protocols in the process of disbursement.”

“Corruption remains the primary factor undermining democracy, human rights and economic development in Nigeria. Fostering robust anti-corruption measures should therefore be a prime objective of U.S. foreign policy regarding Nigeria and other comparable nations. Accordingly, SERAP respectfully invites the State Department to support SERAP’s ongoing discussions with the U.S. Department of Justice to achieve our shared objective.”

“SERAP’s concern about the repatriation and ultimate disbursement of these funds stems from the fact that an arrangement that would potentially allow the Nigerian government access, control or management of the funds when repatriated undermines the objective of the Kleptocracy Initiative. This is because the Nigerian government has shown no disposition towards actively combating corruption by public officials and has not promoted transparency and accountability in public spending.”

“SERAP specifically notes that as testament to the above claims, the Nigerian government dropped the nine counts of corruption charges against the co-conspirators in the Abacha case, as well as in several other high profile cases of large-scale embezzlement. Indeed, in 2014, the highest honor of the Nation was conferred on the late Dictator Sani Abacha by the Nigerian government in spite of his reputation, and a co-conspirator in the Abacha matter currently holds office as a member of the Senate in Nigeria.”

“SERAP further notes that the World Bank’s expenditure report on the spending of the $500 million looted assets stolen by Sani Abacha, which was repatriated in 2005, indicates that the weakness in the public financial system in Nigeria and lack of a proper audit made it difficult to track the spending of those repatriated funds.”

“SERAP’s objective for the repatriation of these assets aligns with the policy objectives of the U.S. under the Kleptocracy Initiative with regards to repatriation of forfeited assets. However, SERAP, like the UN Convention on Corruption Coalition, is concerned about the challenges of ensuring that repatriation process and allocation of the funds will indeed be transparent, promote accountability and ultimately not undermine human rights and other interests of the true beneficiaries, the Nigerian people.”

In a separate letter also dated 25 March 2015 addressed to the U.S. Attorney General, the Honorable Eric Holder, Jr. “SERAP notes that the Nigerian Government has made its intentions to seek repatriation of these funds known. However under the technical provisions of the relevant U.S. Laws and going by precedents, also alluded to in your to SERAP, there is no basis for the Nigerian Government to legitimately initiate the process of repatriation unless by way of an international agreement such as in the Kazakhstan case which led to the establishment of the BOTA Foundation.”

“It is our understanding that at this juncture, the Department faces the challenging responsibility of establishing a method of disbursement of the funds that indeed meets the objectives of the Kleptocracy Initiative for approval by Order of Court.”

“SERAP notes that there is a lot at stake for the Nigerian Nation and Her people in the event that the forfeited fund are repatriated without pragmatic controls established by a formal arrangement. Nigeria’s development and security hinges on the ultimate fight against corruption, and as the Secretary of States John Kerry has repeatedly emphasized, the U. S. shares this concern. We therefore hold that meticulous consideration of thorough proposals in form of comments and suggestions made by the public is apposite in the circumstance.”

SERAP Drags FG To UN Over ‘Exploitative Insurance Scheme For Students’

serapThe Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an urgent appeal to four UN Special Rapporteurs and the Special Envoy on Global Education over the imposition of compulsory insurance scheme for students of the Federal Government Colleges.

The organisation is asking them to use their  “good offices and positions to urgently request the Nigerian government to immediately and unconditionally withdraw exploitative insurance scheme imposed on the students on the excuse of protection against attack and violence by Boko Haram”.

Those petitioned are: Mr Kishore Singh, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Mr Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Mr Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Mr Ben Emmerson, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, and Mr Gordon Brown, Office of the UN Special Envoy for Global Education.

In the urgent appeal dated 24 February, 2015 and signed by SERAP Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organisation said that it “considers this insurance scheme to constitute an abusive practice and renouncement of the obligation by the government to provide education as a public good. The insurance scheme also flies into face of prohibited grounds of discrimination and amounts to exploitation of the students and parents involved, and a shocking attack on the right of access to education”.

“Rather than expanding public educational opportunities for all Nigerian children especially children from poor families, the government is restricting them, and commercialising education. In its response to the Boko Haram, the government has not prioritised the right of children to quality education. Many Nigerian children are driven to Cameroon as refugees and made to recite Cameroon national anthem as a precondition for attending school,” the organisation also said.

“Imposing a mandatory insurance scheme on students and their parents will also not contribute to better security for the children. Inequalities in opportunities for education will be exacerbated if this insurance scheme is allowed to continue. The government is simply failing in its international human rights obligation to ensure the right to education in a safe and protected environment,” it further stated.

According to the organisation, “under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to which Nigeria is a state party, the government has legal obligation to outlaw discrimination in education based on “social origin”, “economic condition”, or “property”.

The organisation also said that, “Nigerian children have the right to safety in school establishments that are conducive to a positive learning environment. The right to education as a matter of access and quality means that all children have a right to access school and be provided with quality education regardless of the circumstances they live under”.

The organisation expressed “serious concern about the government’s policy asking 125,000 pupils in the 104 Federal Government Colleges to pay a mandatory insurance premium of 5,000 Naira per annum to cover supposed risks against violence and attack by the Boko Haram insurgency. The measure is expected to generate N625 million for NICON Insurance Plc, which the government chose to underwrite the ‘risk'”.

“SERAP is in possession of a circular to this effect which was sent to the schools. According to the circular, “In view of the current security challenges in the country which has impacted seriously on the safety of our students and teachers in Federal Unity Colleges, the Ministry of Education has decided to engage the services of NICON Insurance Company to insure our students. To this end, an Insurance Premium of 5,000 Naira is to be paid once in a year. Students are hereby expected to pay the above amount through the college upon resumption for third term.”

The organisation therefore asked the rapporteurs and special envoy to urgently ask the government to:

1. Immediately and unconditionally withdraw the mandatory insurance scheme for students in Federal Unity Colleges throughout the country, and to return any premium that may have been paid
2. Make every effort to ensure that school children are fully protected throughout all of Nigeria, and to ensure that the Boko Haram and any other extremist groups do not restrict the ability of Nigerian children to realise their human rights and pursue their dreams
3. Ensure that resources for providing quality education to Nigerian children are not diverted and directed towards military expenditure
4. Publicly support and commit to the right of all children to attend school in all parts of Nigeria without fear of violence or attack and without being forced to take a mandatory insurance scheme
5. Preserve education as a public good, and ensure that “for-profit” education through illegal insurance scheme or other similar initiative is outlawed.

The organisation also said that, “education not only helps build responsible citizenship but has an important role in peacebuilding and reconstruction, but most importantly education as an empowering and awareness raising tool can contribute to address root causes of conflicts and prevent their occurrence. The right to education is also essential for future generations to prosper”.

“We also urge the Special Rapporteurs and Mr Brown to request to visit the country to assess the efforts by the government to implement the right to education,” the organisation added.

SERAP Asks GEJ, Buhari, Others To Endorse Anti-corruption Program

SERAPSocio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an open letter to President Goodluck Jonathan, General Muhammadu Buhari and other presidential candidates asking them to make “a clear and unequivocal commitment to uphold and implement 7-point anti-corruption and human rights program in your political policies if elected.”

Other presidential candidates include: Chekwas Okorie, All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA); Oluremi Sonaiya, Kowa Party; Nani Ibrahim Ahmad, African Democratic Congress (ADC); Ambrose Albert, Hope Democratic Party (HDP); Martin Onovo, National Conscience Party (NCP); and Ganiyu O. Galadima Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN).

In the letter dated 16 January 2015 and signed by SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni the organization said that, “We believe that the forthcoming presidential election holds the potential to usher in changes in the way that Nigeria enforces and implements its human rights and anti-corruption commitments. We urge you to clearly and unequivocally commit to concrete human rights reforms to end the increasing level of corruption and the impunity of perpetrators.”

According to the organization, “Evasive and obfuscatory commitments by politicians undermine transparency and accountability of elected public officials and contribute to bad governance. By making a clear and unequivocal commitment to implement the proposed 7-point program, Nigerians will be able to make an informed and unbiased decision to vote for issues and not personalities. They will also be able to compare what you are promising to do and what you actually do while in the office.”

“We believe that the president after the election must come to term with the reality of massive high-level official corruption, and the devastation and suffering it has caused millions of innocent Nigerians,” the organization said.

The 7-point program reads in part: “We ask you to demonstrate your total rejection of corruption by publicly declaring your assets ahead of the election. Nigerians are not prepared to trust a would-be president that is unwilling to come clean and be straight with them.

“We also ask you to make a clear and unequivocal commitment to recover all stolen public funds since the return of democracy in 1999 and to spend the funds on projects that can ensure respect for basic socio-economic rights of all Nigerians”

“We ask you to clearly and unequivocally commit that if elected your government will cut-down unnecessary and wasteful expenses in particular that spending on presidential jets, on foreign and local trips, on meals and refreshment, and on fuelling generators will be drastically cut and that the savings will be used for better projects that can add value to good governance and improve the conditions of millions of Nigerians living in poverty.”

“We ask you to commit to ensuring that within six months in office that allegations of corruption in spending on military equipment will be fully investigated and suspected perpetrators brought to justice.

“We believe that transparency and accountability in the management of funds meant to end the problem of Boko Haram is key to efficient and effective security forces capable of responding to Nigerians’ legitimate security needs. We ask you to tell Nigerians what you would do to promote transparency and accountability in military spending and ensure that the conflict in the north-east is swiftly and satisfactorily brought to an end.”

“We ask you to make a clear and unequivocal commitment to within six months of assumption of office begin to resolve all outstanding cases of high level official corruption, in particular, cases of corruption in the aviation, oil subsidy scandal, alleged mismanagement of trillions of Naira by the Security and Exchange Commission, missing N300 billion in the petroleum ministry since 2011, the KPMG report involving large-scale corruption in the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the missing $20 billion from the account of the NNPC, and the missing $12.4 oil windfall during the Babangida administration.”

“We ask you to tell Nigerians that within your first 100 days in government you will lead the process to domesticate and effectively implement the UN Convention against Corruption within the legal system. We also ask you to commit to ensuring a robust and effective whistle-blowers’ law, and to establishing a politically independent and well-resourced anti-corruption commission with potent and effective prosecutorial powers. We ask you to commit to non-interference in the work of the anti-corruption commissions and agencies.”

“We ask you to commit to ensuring within 1 year of your government the inclusion of legally enforceable economic, social and cultural rights in the Nigerian Constitution. We believe that the entrenched legacy of poverty and inequality in the country requires far-reaching positive and redistributive measures in areas such as education, housing, health care, water reform and social security. Without such measures the socio-economic legacy of the past would be perpetuated and continue to generate classes of people marginalised from full participation in our fragile democracy.”

“We ask you to publicly commit to the full and effective implementation of courts’ judgments in particular the ECOWAS Court right to free education judgment, and the ECOWAS Court Niger Delta oil pollution judgment.”

“We ask you to lead the process to bring the constitution, alongside all other national laws, into line with the standards set forth in international human rights law, including the UN Convention against Corruption, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.”

“It is clear that the lack of accountable leadership – together with the deficit of transparency in the management of public finances and public spending –has continued to exacerbate the country’s growing poverty and underdevelopment,” the organisation added.

According to the organisation, “The evidence of corruption and underdevelopment is indeed staring the country in the face. Hospitals without drugs, bad roads, poor electricity supply, contaminated and undrinkable water, collapsed educational system alone provide strong evidence of the devastation that the stealing of public funds have done to this country.”

Jonathan Should Promote A Rights-Based Approach To Healthcare To Control Ebola—SERAP

EbolaSocio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Goodluck Jonathan to “promote a rights-based approach to healthcare for millions of disadvantaged Nigerians to control and combat the Ebola Virus disease.”

In a statement today signed by SERAP Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organization said that, “We note that the government’s reaction so far has contributed to curtailing the spread of the disease. But the inadequacy of a reactive approach to the problem is illustrated by the low survival rates of victims here in the country when compared to those in countries with developed and functioning healthcare systems.”

The organization said that, “the unfortunate reality is that the full enjoyment of the right to health still remains a distant goal for millions of Nigerians especially those who continue to live in poverty as a result of years of mismanagement and high level official corruption.”

“This problem is further exacerbated by the absence of functioning public health and health-care facilities, grossly insufficient resources and official corruption. The result is that payment for basic healthcare remains beyond the reach of majority of Nigerians,” the organization said.

According to the organization, “The Ebola outbreak provides an opportunity for the government to formulate a coherent health policy that is based on human rights principles. And President Jonathan needs to urgently provide the leadership to make this happen. As a starting point, the President should now publicly support the inclusion of a legally enforceable right to healthcare in the constitution.”

The organization also said that, “A long term and preventive approach that conceives health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity is urgently needed. Any such policy must adopt a holistic approach to the right to health by promoting the effective enjoyment of associated rights such as the rights to food, housing, work, education, human dignity, life, non-discrimination, and equality.”

“One of the things this government can immediately begin to do to prevent the spread of Ebola is to commit adequate resources to provide and promote an environment across the country where people can lead a healthy life, in particular by ensuring access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation, safe and healthy working conditions, and a healthy environment,” the organization also said.

The organization also said that, “The government must ensure the participation of the population in all health‑related decision-making across the country. Investments should not disproportionately favour expensive curative health services which are often accessible only to a small, privileged fraction of the population, rather than primary and preventive health care benefiting a far larger part of the population.”

“There is absolutely no justification why Nigerians especially the most vulnerable sectors of the population should not enjoy a right to health that would assure to them medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness, including the provision of equal and timely access to basic preventive, curative, rehabilitative health services and health education; regular screening programmes; appropriate treatment of prevalent diseases such as Ebola, and the provision of essential drugs and care,” the organization added.

The organization said that, “Health is a fundamental human right indispensable for the exercise of other human rights. Every human being is entitled to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health conducive to living a life in dignity. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms: ‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services’”

“The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provides the most comprehensive article on the right to health in international human rights law. In accordance with article 12.1 of the Covenant, States parties recognize “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health,” the organization added.

ECOWAS Court Judgment Shows There Is Punishment For Killing Of Protesters-SERAP

SERAPThe ECOWAS Court of Justice, Abuja yesterday ruled that the failure by the Nigerian government to investigate and prosecute members of the security forces who killed and injured protesters violated the right to protest.

The court said the rights to peaceful assembly and association are the foundation of a civilised society. It ordered the government to pay nearly $70,000 in damages to the plaintiffs for violations of their human rights to peaceful assembly and association and freedom from forced evictions.

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) today welcomed the judgment, stating that “this judgment shows that there is punishment for the government when it allows its security forces to use excessive force against peaceful protesters, and unlawfully drive them away from their homes, with tragic consequences for citizens and communities. That was the case here.”

The group said “as the rulings of the ECOWAS court are binding, the Nigerian government will be under pressure to implement this judgment and align its policing practices with international human rights standards.”

“What we would like to see now is for the government to allow all Nigerians, no matter their economic or political status, to have the same rights to peaceful assembly and association, and to freedom from forced evictions,” the group said.

SERAP Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni said, “the ECOWAS court absolved the River state government of any wrongdoing, being not a party to ECOWAS protocols and agreements. But the court stated very clearly that the government of President Goodluck Jonathan is responsible for the persistent infringement of the human rights and prolonged suffering of the residents of Bundu Waterfront community, Port Harcourt.”

The group added that “it’s a strong signal that the passage of time will not diminish government’s responsibility when its security forces kill or injure unarmed protesters. The sooner the government implements this judgment the sooner it will be able to rectify the longstanding injustice against the residents of Bundu waterfront and surrounding communities.”

“The judgment comes amid concerns about the government’s harassment and intimidation of the #bringbackourgirls campaigners. The judgment has huge legal implications for the enjoyment of the right to assembly and association, and signals that the court will not tolerate any harassment of peaceful protesters in any part of the country,” the group said.

“We commend the bravery of the residents of the Bundu Waterfront community that have taken this long battle to the ECOWAS court.”

It would be recalled that Israel Okari, Joy Williams, Austin Onwe, Tamno Tonye Ama, Victor Opium, Mark Bomowe, Napoleon Tokubiye, Napoleon Tokubiye, Jonathan Bokoko, Williams Tamuno and Linus John with the support of SERAP dragged the Federal and Rivers governments to the court in 2010.

The Suit Number ECW/CCJ/APP/10/10 dated 29 October 2010, was filed on behalf of SERAP and the residents by Femi Falana (SAN), Adetokunbo Mumuni and Sola Egbeyinka. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation; Rivers State governor Rotimi Amaechi; Commissioner for Justice Rivers State; and the Commissioner for Urban Development, were joined as Defendants.

In the suit, the Plaintiffs said “the Rivers State government with the support or complicity of the Federal government is planning large-scale demolitions of the city’s waterfront settlements. There are more than 40 waterfront settlements in Port Harcourt and they are some of the most densely populated areas of the city, home to at least 200,000 people.”

According to the Plaintiffs, “The planned large-scale demotions were developed without adequate consultation with affected communities. Njemanze waterfront, a community close to Bundu Ama, was demolished in August 2009 and it is estimated between 13,800 and 19,000 people were forcibly evicted from their homes. Thousands of people, including children, women and the elderly were left homeless and vulnerable to other human rights violations.”

 

Slum Dwellers To Receive $70,000 From FG, International Court Rules

court_courtThe Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has ordered Nigerian security forces to pay $70, 000 to some residents of Bundu Ama Community in Rivers State, as damages for opening fire at them during a protest five years ago.

The court, which ruled that there was no justification for the shooting, also held that the Nigerian Government had breached its obligation to protect and respect the right to peaceful association and assembly.

On October 12, 2009, armed security forces opened fire on unarmed protesters in Bundu Ama, an informal settlement in Port Harcourt, leaving at least one person dead and 12 seriously injured.

The total number of dead remains unknown because the Government not only refused to undertake an inquiry into the incident but denied anything had taken place.

The case was brought by 10 residents of Bundu waterfront and surrounding communities and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) against the Federal Government and the Rivers State Government.

“We have come a long way and achieved a great amount,” said Joy Williams, one of the applicants, who was 17 years old when she was shot in the leg during the incident.

“Our community refused to lie down and become victims but instead took action and have now beaten the Government in court,” she said.

“This is an important victory in our campaign for justice but it is not the end of our struggle. The judgment of the court must now be fully implemented,” said Fubara Samuel of Collaborative Media Advocacy Platform (CMAP).

Human Rights Organisations Hail Ruling

Tuesday’s court decision against the Nigerian security forces is a victory against impunity and a triumph for justice, Amnesty International and Collaborative Media Advocacy Platform (CMAP) said.

Amnesty International’s Africa Director, Netsanet Belay, said, “This remarkable victory brings to a close a long battle for justice by members of the community of Bundu Ama, who were unlawfully killed and injured at the hands of Nigerian security forces.

“It sends a clear message to governments that they cannot violate people’s rights with impunity. It also demonstrates that with courage and commitment, communities – no matter how marginalised – can successfully stand up for their rights. This judgment is a testament to the courage of a community who refused to allow their human rights to be violated with impunity.”

Amnesty International and CMAP also called on the Nigerian Government to fully and effectively implement the judgment in a comprehensive and timely way and not ignore the ruling as they have done repeatedly in other cases.

They recalled that in December 2012, the ECOWAS Court of Justice found the Nigerian Government responsible for pollution caused by oil companies and ruled that it must hold the companies and other perpetrators to account but no action has yet been taken.

The case, according to the groups, highlights a number of issues of concern to Amnesty International, including the ongoing use of forced evictions and the use of excessive force by the Nigerian Police and Army.

Amnesty International and CMAP are calling for:

 

  • The Nigerian Army and Police Force to end the use of excessive force and the repeal regulations which are not in line with international standards such as Police Force Order which permits police officers to shoot protesters, whether or not they pose a threat to life.

 

  • An immediate end to mass forced evictions in Nigeria and the enactment of legal safeguards to protect people from forced eviction.