The Federal High Court in Lagos has mandated that former Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, provide a detailed account of the payments totaling N729 billion made to 24.3 million impoverished Nigerians over a six-month period.

The court also ordered the former minister to provide the list and details of the beneficiaries who received the payments, the number of states covered, and the payments per state.

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The judgment was delivered in June by Justice Deinde Isaac Dipeolu, following a Freedom of Information suit, numbered FHC/L/CS/853/2021, brought by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP). The certified true copy of the judgment was obtained by the organization last Friday.

In his judgment, Justice Dipeolu held that “The former minister is compelled by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act to give information to any person, including SERAP. I therefore grant an order of mandamus directing and compelling the minister to provide the spending details of N729 billion to 24.3 million poor Nigerians in 2021.”

Justice Dipeolu ordered the minister to “provide SERAP with details of how the beneficiaries were selected and the mechanisms for the payments to the beneficiaries.”

The judge also required the minister to “explain the rationale for paying N5,000 to 24.3 million poor Nigerians, which translates to five per cent of Nigeria’s budget of N13.6 trillion for 2021.”

She noted that “the minister did not give any reason for the refusal to disclose the details sought by SERAP. SERAP has outlined the relevant sections of the Freedom of Information Act 2011 that the minister contravened and has, in line with sections 20 and 25(1) of the Act, prayed this Court for an order of mandamus to direct and compel the minister to provide the information sought.”

Justice Dipeolu dismissed the objections raised by the minister’s counsel and upheld SERAP’s arguments. Consequently, the court entered judgment in favor of SERAP against the minister.

Reacting to the judgment, SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, described the ruling as a victory for transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds.

He stated, “This groundbreaking judgment is a victory for transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds.

Justice Dipeolu’s judgment shows the urgent need for the Tinubu government to genuinely address the systemic allegations of corruption in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, and other ministries, departments, and agencies, as documented by the Auditor-General of the Federation.

We commend Justice Dipeolu for her courage and wisdom and urge President Bola Tinubu to immediately obey the court orders.”

In a letter dated July 6, 2024, sent to President Bola Tinubu regarding the judgment, and signed by SERAP Deputy Director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization asked him to direct the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, and the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, to immediately comply with the ruling. The organization also asked the President to order the release of the spending details of the N729 billion as ordered by the court.

The letter reads, “We urge you to demonstrate your expressed commitment to the rule of law by immediately obeying and respecting the judgment of the court.

We urge you to direct the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, and the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, to immediately compile and release the spending details of the N729 billion as ordered by the court.

The immediate enforcement and implementation of the judgment by your government will be a victory for the rule of law, transparency, and accountability in the governance processes and management of public resources, including the N729 billion.”