There appears to be increased scrutiny of institutions of government in Nigeria, which is as natural in democracy as is breathing to human life. But Nigeria is anything but natural, and the welcomed scrutiny is a breath of fresh air and very needful for the country’s 20-year strong civilian democracy.
Nigeria is a country with a history of repression of the press, individuals, whole communities and peoples, and in many recorded cases non-governmental bodies that have taken up the task of shining a light on the activities of government institutions.
In the span of barely 24 hours, two such institutions have publicised some of the work they have been doing to ensure the Nigerian government is held to account for every lastKobo in the nation’s coffers.
The first, Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project (SERAP) announced yesterday evening via their Twitter handle @SERAPNigeriathat the organisation has won the first leg of its suit seeking to compel Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to disclose details of COVID-19 donations received, list of donors, details of spending of the donations, etc.
The case, which listed the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, seeks judicial remedy in the form of an order from the court to the Apex bank, to release the information SERAP requires.
Also, SERAP is asking the court to declare the failure of the CBN to provide the information on the sources of the donations – how they are being used, and other related concerns- a violation of the SERAP’s rights under the Freedom of Information Act and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
Signed on 28 May 2011 by then President, Goodluck Jonathan, the Freedom of Information Act grants every person now the legal right of access to information, records and documents held by government bodies and private bodies carrying out public functions. This notwithstanding, many government institutions stall or outright refuse to honour the law.
In 2018, Lagos State Government had rejected the request of civic organisation BudgIT asking for a breakdown of the state’s education budget between 2015 to 2018, on the ground that the law does not apply to State Governments except it is domesticated by the State Government.
The civic organisation had then taken the state to an appellate in Akure court seeking redress, and the court ruled that the no Nigerian state has the power to reject a request filed under the FOI. Despite the ruling, the state government still didn’t budge. Neither did BudgIT because the organisation has remained undaunted in its work.
BudgIT is the second civic organisation to release information on its extensive work shining a light on governance as it stands in Nigeria. The organisation released a press statement which it shared on its Twitter page expressing concern over discrepancies it has observed in the breakdown of capital expenditure by the Nigerian government.
The breakdown by BudgIT revealed among other things, duplications of what appear to be the same projects in 3 and 2 places with different budget codes. The projects, which in addition to appearing suspect for the duplications also lack description, will cost the country over N41 billion.
A wrong categorization also put what is titled, “Peculiar Allowance” in Nigeria Christian Commission, under capital expenditure worth N41 million. And it isn’t the only miscategorisation in the 2021 fiscal budget.
With Nigeria in its second depression in 5 years after gross domestic product contracted for the second consecutive quarter, it is ever more critical that public scrutiny follows every kobo spent by the government.
More than the need to ensure no penny is lost to the country’s perennial budget leaks that are enabled by opaque budgetary allocations, projects with no specified locations, and repeated allocations, the scrutiny is important to Nigeria’s journey to building strong institutions of government which will, in turn, strengthen the country’s democracy.