Power grab – The Nation

  • Court orders FG to publish names of contractors who absconded with funds

The order by Justice Chuka Obiozor of the Federal High Court for “the full disclosure and publication of the names of companies and the whereabouts of the contractors paid by successive governments since the return of democracy in 1999, to carry out electricity projects across the country but disappeared with the money without executing any projects” is commendable. The order followed a suit by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), under the Freedom of Information Act, after the Federal Ministry of Power had illegally refused to furnish it with the information requested.

The Deputy Director of SERAP, Kolawale Oludare, further quoted the judge as ordering: “specific names and details about contractors and companies paid by each government; the total amounts paid by each government and the objects for the payments; the level of implementation of electricity projects; as well as details and specific locations of projects executed across the country by each government since 1999.”

We commend SERAP for its dogged pursuit of accountability in public service, and urge government agencies to cooperate with it, since their demands are in tandem with the avowed goal of the All Progressives Congress (APC) – led Federal Government, to fight corruption.

It is indeed strange that while the Federal Government claims to be fighting corruption, yet when information is demanded from an agency of government as guaranteed by law to expose potential corrupt practices, such agency will refuse to cooperate. In the judgment, the court held: “the failure by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to provide SERAP with the details of payments made to contractors by each government since 1999 is a breach of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.”

We urge President Buhari not to tolerate such unlawful conduct by any agency, unless his avowal to fight corruption is a ruse. He must remember that history will judge him on the success or failure of arguably this most critical programme of his administration. Those who refused to release the information to SERAP need to be reprimanded. No doubt, the debilitating corruption in public service is responsible for the lack of infrastructure in the country. If we ask, how can our country spend billions of dollars over the years to improve electricity infrastructure, and all we get is darkness?

Those responsible for the crisis in that sector need to be exposed and punished. So, we support the order of the court compelling the Federal Government to: “urgently disclose if there is an ongoing investigation or prosecution of contractors and companies paid by successive governments since 1999 to carry out electricity projects but failed to execute the projects for which public funds were collected.” If no prosecution is ongoing, then the relevant anti-corruption agencies are lax in carrying out their statutory responsibilities, and they should do the needful.

It might interest President Buhari to note that the presidential candidate of the main opposition party, Atiku Abubakar, was quoted to have raised concerns about the failure of the present government to bring those responsible for the general deprivation in the electricity sector to account. According to SERAP, it made the demand on the Ministry of Power, after Atiku confirmed the money spent on electricity went down the drain. Atiku also said: “up till now, we are not holding the contractors responsible. People have collected money upfront, one hundred per cent, and have disappeared; and they have not even done any work.”

We agree with SERAP that the judgment by Justice Obiozor is ground breaking and “a victory for transparency and accountability of public officials, electricity contractors and companies and their shareholders.” To efficiently fight corruption, the judiciary must be in the forefront.

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