A Federal High Court in Abuja last week ordered the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to “account for the spending of $460 million Chinese loan to fund the failed Abuja Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) project.”
The Court also ordered the government to “publish the total amount of money paid to Chinese and local companies and contractors and specific details of the names of the companies and contractors and status of the implementation of the project.”
Hon. Justice Emeka Nwite made the orders while delivering judgment in a Freedom of Information suit number: FHC/ABJ/CS/1447/2019 brought by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
The suit followed the disclosure in 2019 by the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed that “Nigeria was servicing the loan”, adding that she had ‘no explanations on the status of the project.’ She reportedly said, “We are servicing the loan. I have no information on the status of the CCTV project.”
In his judgment, Justice Nwite agreed with SERAP that “there is a reasonable cause of action against the government. Accounting for the spending of the $460 million Chinese loan is in the interest of the public. It will be inimical for the court to refuse SERAP’s application for judicial review of the government’s action.”
Justice Nwite also said that, “The Minister of Finance is in charge of the finance of the country and cannot by any stretch of imagination be oblivious of the amount of money paid to the contractors for the Abuja CCTV contract and the money meant for the construction of the headquarters of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).”
Justice Nwite also ordered the government “to provide the details clarifying whether the sum of N1.5 billion Naira paid for the failed contract meant to construct the headquarters of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) was part of another loan obtained from China.”
Justice Nwite’s judgment, read in part: “SERAP’s core objectives are to promote human rights, transparency and accountability and anticorruption in Nigeria.”
“I am of the humble view that there is a reasonable cause of action against the government [through the Minister of Finance] and I so hold that SERAP has made out a case to be entitled to the reliefs sought.”
“The law is well settled that where a document or letter is sent by post, it is the law that same is taken or presumed to have been delivered.”
“Following this principle of law and relying on exhibit OS2, SERAP’s Freedom of Information request sent to Ms Ahmed is deemed to have delivered. Therefore, the averment by the government [through her] that they were not served with the letter is hereby discountenance. I so hold.”
Joined as defendants in the suit are Ms Ahmed and the Minister of Police Affairs.
Justice Nwite granted the following orders of mandamus against the Nigerian government:
AN ORDER OF MANDAMUS is hereby made directing and compelling the government [through the Minister of Finance] to provide and make available to SERAP information on the total amount of money paid to contractors, with specific details of names of companies local contractors involved, from the $460 million loan obtained in 2010 from China by the Federal Government of Nigeria to fund the failed Abuja CCTV contract.
AN ORDER OF MANDAMUS is hereby made directing and compelling the government [through the Minister of Finance] to provide the details of the local companies and Chinese contractors that have received funds from the $460 million loan for the finance of the Abuja CCTV contract as well as details of the status of implementation of the project.
AN ORDER OF MANDAMUS is hereby made directing and compelling the government [through the Minister of Finance] to provide the details clarifying whether the sum of N1.5 billion Naira mobilisation fee reportedly paid to the contractors for the construction of the Headquarters of the Code of Conduct Bureau in Abuja was part of another loan from China. This is the judgment of the court.
SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare said: “The onus is now on President Buhari to immediately comply with the court’s orders. We commend Justice Nwite for his courage and wisdom, and urge President Buhari and Abubakar Malami, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to immediately obey the court orders.”
“This is a victory for justice, rule of law, transparency and accountability. The judgment shows the way forward in the fight against corruption and impunity of perpetrators. We will do everything within the law to ensure full compliance by President Buhari with this ground-breaking judgment on Chinese loans.”
“We call on President Buhari to use the judgment as the basis for publishing details of spending of all Chinese loans and other loans obtained by his government since May 2015.”
Nigeria’s total borrowing from China climbed from $1.39 billion to $4.29 billion between June 2015 and December 2022, according to data from Debt Management Office (DMO).
Nigeria’s 2023-2025 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) revealed earlier in the year that the federal government will spend N6.31 trillion on debt servicing in 2023, which amounts to about 74.6% of the government’s projected revenue of 8.46 trillion for the year.
Nigeria risks losing key national assets to China in the event that it defaults in paying back loans obtained from China.
According to a report, Nigeria may have defaulted on Chinese loan repayment and stands the risk of paying a penalty amounting to N41.31 billion. The report quoted the Debt Management Office (DMO), which said Nigeria has failed to fully service its debt to China, which has accumulated to N110.31 billion in the last two years.
It would be recalled that SERAP had in December 2019 filed a lawsuit against Ms Ahmed over failure to “disclose information and specific documents on the total amount of money paid to contractors from the $460 million loan obtained in 2010 from China to fund the apparently failed Abuja CCTV project.”
The suit number, read in part: “Servicing Chinese loans for failed projects is double jeopardy for Nigerians—they can neither see nor benefit from the projects; yet, they are made to pay both the loans and the accrued interests.”
“The $460 million loan got for the failed Abuja CCTV project and the N1.5 billion for the construction of CCB headquarters, which may be part of another Chinese loan, may have been mismanaged or stolen, and in any case, remain unaccounted for.”
“Transparency in the spending of Chinese loans is good for everyone, as this would help to increase the effectiveness, legitimacy, and contribution of the loans to the development of public goods and services, and the general public interests.”
“The information being requested does not come within the purview of the types of information exempted from disclosure under the Act. The Respondent has no legally justifiable reason for refusing to provide SERAP with the information requested.”
“Democracy cannot flourish if governments operate in secrecy. The citizens are entitled to know how the commonwealth is being utilized, managed and administered in a democratic setting.”