The Federal Government on Wednesday, agreed that it would publish the names of treasury looters as ordered by the Federal High court in Lagos today so Nigerians can see.
In a disclosure made by the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, to State House correspondents, the presidency indicated their agreement with the ruling of the court and hence, will carry out the order as long as it does not amount to violation of the rules of the court.
It is noteworthy to recall that the Lagos Federal High Court had, in a ruling, ordered the Federal Government to “immediately release to Nigerians information about the names of high ranking public officials from whom public funds were recovered
The ruling also indicated that details such as the circumstances under which funds were recovered, as well as the exact amount of funds recovered from each public official were to be made public.
Subsequently, SERAP issued an FOI request and gave the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Muhammed 14 days to disclose the names of all suspected looters.
The request reads in part: “While we believe that suspects generally are entitled to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction, SERAP opposes blanket non-disclosure of names of high-ranking public officials from whom some of the funds were recovered.”
The NGO further insisted that it was in the interest of the general public that the government released the list stating it as an obligation of the government to the people.
“SERAP insists that the public interest to know is greater than any other legitimate interest that the government might wish to protect. The Nigerian government has an obligation to balance whether the risk of harm to the legitimate aim (that is secrecy of ongoing corruption investigation and presumption of innocence) from disclosure of the names of public officials is greater than the public interest in accessing the information.”
“According to public interest test, even if the government demonstrates that the publication of the names of public officials would substantially harm a legitimate interest, it is nevertheless obliged to disclose the requested information if, as it is the case here, the public interest in disclosure is sufficient enough to overweigh the harm.”
“SERAP believes that the recoveries, specifically from high-ranking public officials (and not private individuals), are matters of public interest. Publishing the names of those public officials will provide insights relevant to the public debate on the ongoing efforts to prevent and combat a culture of grand corruption and the longstanding impunity of perpetrators in the country.”
“The gravity of the crime of grand corruption, the devastating effects on the socially and economically vulnerable sectors of the population, and the fact that recovery of huge funds from high-ranking public officials entrusted with the public treasury raise a prima-facie case and therefore amount to exceptional circumstances that justify naming those high-ranking officials in the public interest.”
“SERAP also argues that Nigerians are entitled to the right to truth derived from the obligations of the government to carry out an investigation of violations of human rights and crime of corruption committed within its jurisdiction; to identify, prosecute and punish those responsible; and to ensure that victims have the simple and prompt recourse for protection against violation of fundamental rights, as well as to ensure transparency in public administration.”
“SERAP believes that the right to truth allows Nigerians to gain access to information essential to the fight against corruption and in turn development of democratic institutions as well as provides a form of reparation to victims of grand corruption in the country.”
“Publishing the names of public officials involved could go a long way in preventing senior public officials from turning the public treasury into a private cashbox. SERAP argues that the public interest in publishing the names of the high-ranking government officials from whom funds were received outweighs any considerations to withhold the information, as there would be no prejudice against those whose names are published as long as the information is appropriately framed and truthful.”
“There is a general public interest in promoting transparency, accountability, public understanding and involvement in the democratic process. While the government in some limited cases can legitimately place restrictions on the public’s right to access certain information, attempts of the Nigerian authorities to justify the total closure of information related to the names of public officials from whom funds were recovered on the basis of “ongoing criminal investigation” and “presumption of innocence goes far beyond the limitations allowed under international law, and would promote secret recoveries.”
“The information being requested is not related to detailed investigatory activities of anticorruption agencies regarding the recoveries so far made.
Similarly, the mere fact that the information being requested is related to ongoing investigation does not necessarily mean that the information could not be disclosed. In addition, governmental agency has the obligation to prove that the disclosure of the names of public officials would disrupt, impede, or otherwise harm the ongoing or pending investigations or presumption of innocence.”