The Federal High Court in Lagos State has given the go-ahead to Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) in its suit seeking: “an order for leave to apply for an order of mandamus compelling the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola SAN to disclose the names of the contractors.”
SERAP had in January issued a Freedom of Information request and sued Mr. Fashola following allegations by former Nigeria’s Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar that “contractors who were paid hundred percent upfront for power projects disappeared with public funds without carrying out any work.”
The decision by Justice Chuka Austine Obiozor, a Professor of Law, last Friday has now paved the way for SERAP to move forward with its suit to compel Mr Fashola to publish: “the names of all contractors and companies engaged in the power sector since the return of democracy in 1999 to date, details of specific projects and the amounts paid for them.
Justice Obiozor granted the order for leave following the hearing of an argument in court on exparte motion by SERAP’s counsel Mrs Adelanke Aremo. Justice Obiozor also ruled that Mr. Fashola be put on notice and adjourned the matter to Thursday 11 April 2019, for the hearing of arguments on the motion on notice, on why the names of the alleged corrupt contractors should not be published.
In the suit number FHC/L/CS/105/19, SERAP is seeking reliefs to compel Mr Fashola “to provide specific details on the names and whereabouts of the contractors who collected public funds meant for electricity projects but disappeared with the money without executing any projects, starting from the return of democracy in 1999 to 2018.”
It would be recalled that Mr. Fashola had earlier this month written to SERAP promising: “to refer the request for details of alleged contractors and companies that collected money for electricity projects and failed to executive any projects to the Ministry’s agencies for necessary action and appropriate response.”
Mr. Fashola’s response followed his letter to SERAP in February in which he said: “We have searched the Ministry’s record and the information you applied for is not held by the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing (Power Sector).”
However, SERAP disagreed with the response, saying: “The public expectation is that government information, when in the hands of any public institutions and agencies, should be available to the public, as prescribed by the FOI Act. The FOI Act should always be used as an authority for disclosing information rather than withholding it.”
In his response to SERAP’s reaction, Mr. Fashola said: “The Ministry’s letter to your organization was not an attempt to deny the request for information. The Ministry is committed to compliance with the Laws of Nigeria including the Freedom of Information Act, 2011. The Ministry will refer your request to its agencies for necessary action and appropriate response.”