Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari over “the failure to thoroughly, effectively and transparently investigate spending on all social safety-nets and poverty alleviation programmes and projects executed between 2015 and 2022.”
Joined in the suit as respondent is the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
A recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows damning revelations that some 133 million Nigerians are poor, despite the government reportedly spending N500 billion yearly on ‘social investment programmes.’ Half of all poor people in the country are children.
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/2357/2022 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Abuja, SERAP is asking the court to “direct and compel President Buhari to thoroughly and transparently investigate the spending on all social safety-nets and poverty alleviation programs and projects executed between 2015 and 2022.”
SERAP is also asking the court to “direct and compel President Buhari to ensure that suspected perpetrators of corruption and mismanagement of public funds meant to take care of the poor face prosecution, as appropriate, and any stolen public funds are recovered.”
In the suit, SERAP is arguing that, “Nigerians have the right to be free from poverty. Allegations of corruption in social safety-nets and poverty alleviation programmes pose both direct and indirect threats to human rights, and contribute to extreme poverty in the country.”
SERAP is also arguing that, “Investigating the allegations of corruption in the spending on social safety-nets and poverty alleviation programmes and projects and recovering any stolen public funds would serve the public interest.”
According to SERAP, “The Federal Government has a legal responsibility to ensure transparency and accountability in how public funds are spent, to reduce vulnerability to corruption and mismanagement.”
SERAP is also arguing that, “The government has legal obligations to effectively and progressively address and combat extreme poverty as a matter of human rights.”
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare, Kehinde Oyewumi, and Blessing Ogwuche, read in part: “The failure to address extreme poverty has resulted in high levels of inequality, and serious violations of economic and social rights of socially and economically vulnerable Nigerians.”
“The NBS report suggests a grave violation of the public trust, and the lack of political will by the government to uphold the country’s constitutional and international human rights obligations.”
“The consequences of corruption are felt by citizens on a daily basis. Corruption exposes them to additional costs to pay for health, education and administrative services.”
“Corruption undermines economic development of the country, trapping the majority of Nigerians in poverty and depriving them of employment opportunities.
“Extreme poverty is the greatest denial of the exercise of human rights, as it denies millions of Nigerians not only their economic and social rights but also civil and political rights such as the rights to life, human dignity, and political participation.
“The failure to address extreme poverty has resulted in high levels of inequality, and serious violations of economic and social rights of Nigerians, particularly the socially and economically vulnerable sector of the population.
“The report that 133 million Nigerians are poor suggests corruption and mismanagement in the spending of trillion of naira on social safety-nets and poverty alleviation programmes, including the reported disbursement of over $700 million from the repatriated Abacha looted funds to these programmes.
“The report also shows that the purported social safety-nets and poverty alleviation programmes are clearly not working. It also shows a failure by the government to uphold the constitutionally and internationally guaranteed human rights of the Nigerian people.
“The government has a sacred duty to ensure transparency and accountability in the spending of the country’s resources, including the spending of public funds on social safety-nets and poverty alleviation programmes and projects.
“Section 14(2)(b) of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended] provides that, ‘the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.’
“Under Section 16(1)(a)(b), the government has the obligations to ‘harness the resources of the nation and promote national prosperity and an efficient, a dynamic and self-reliant economy’, and to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen.’
“Nigeria has also ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognize legally enforceable economic and social rights, such as the rights to education, health, safe food and clean water, security, and shelter.
“Successive governments have systematically neglected social and economic rights, and failed to address severe poverty and inequality in the country.
“The allegations corruption and mismanagement in the spending of public funds on social safety-nets and poverty alleviation programmes and projects would clearly amount to a fundamental breach of national anticorruption laws and the country’s international anticorruption obligations.
“The 2022 Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) Survey reveals that 65% of the poor (86 million people) live in the North, while 35% (nearly 47 million) live in the South. Poverty levels across States vary significantly, with the incidence of multidimensional poverty ranging from a low of 27% in Ondo to a high of 91% in Sokoto.
“The NBS also shows that over half of the population of Nigeria are multidimensionally poor and cook with dung, wood or charcoal, rather than cleaner energy. High deprivations are also apparent nationally in sanitation, time to healthcare, food insecurity, and housing.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.