The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against Osagie Ehanire, Nigeria’s Minister of Health, and Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control over alleged failure to account for public funds and other resources so far spent and used to combat the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria.
The suit FHC/ABJ/CS/616/2020 was filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Friday.
SERAP is seeking an order for leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus to direct and compel the Minister of Health and the NCDC to publish details of the funds and resources from federal, state governments and the private sector as well as details of how the funds and resources have so far been spent and used to combat COVID-19.
It also wants an order to compel the government to disclose the exact number of tests carried out for high-ranking public officials, the number of such persons in self-isolation or quarantine, as well as the number of tests carried out for the country’s poorest.
According to SERAP, Nigerians have the right to know the details of spending of COVID-19 money as this was essential to the fight against corruption and will foster the development of democratic institutions and rule of law in Nigeria.
The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information requests dated March 27, 2020 to the Minister of Health and the NCDC, stating, “Concern that lack of transparency in the use of the funds and resources to combat COVID-19 would lead to diversion or mismanagement of funds and resources, unnecessarily cost lives, and result in serious damage to public health in the country.”
It noted that millions of Nigerians continue to lack access to an improved water source and to proper sanitation, thereby making them vulnerable to COVID-19 and other illnesses.
The suit filed by SERAP lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare, Atinuke Adejuyigbe and Opeyemi Owolabi, relied on the Freedom of Information Act 2011 and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Nigeria is a state party to take the matter to court.
The body said the government had no legally justifiable reason for refusing to provide SERAP with the information requested.