Wike and 36 Governors Face Legal Battle Over N5.9trn, $4.6bn Loans

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has taken legal action against the governors of the 36 states of the Federation and the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike.

This lawsuit is in response to their failure to provide an account of and publish the agreements related to the N5.9 trillion and $4.6 billion loans obtained by their respective states and the FCT.

The decision to file this suit came after Governor Uba Sani of Kaduna State revealed last month that the previous administration of Nasir El-Rufai left behind significant debt and contractual liabilities, totaling $587 million, N85 billion, and 115 contractual obligations.

This financial burden has made it challenging for the state to meet its salary obligations

In the suit filed with the Federal High Court, Abuja, under the number FHC/ABJ/CS/592/2024 last Friday, SERAP is seeking a court order to compel the governors and Mr.

Wike to provide a detailed account of the N5.9 trillion and $4.6 billion loans obtained by their states and the FCT.

Additionally, SERAP is demanding the publication of copies of the loan agreements and information regarding the projects executed with these loans.

In addition to seeking the publication of loan agreements and project details, SERAP is requesting the court to mandate the governors and Mr. Wike to invite the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to investigate the spending of all loans obtained by their states and the FCT.

SERAP asserts that it is within the public interest to grant these reliefs, emphasizing that Nigerians have the right to scrutinize how domestic and external loans acquired by the governors and the FCT minister are utilized. The organization argues that opacity in loan spending can have detrimental effects on citizens’ fundamental interests.

Furthermore, SERAP contends that many states and the FCT are allegedly misappropriating public funds, including loans, to finance unnecessary expenditures such as extravagant travel, luxury vehicles, and lavish lifestyles for politicians.

This mismanagement, according to SERAP, extends to the neglect of civil servants’ salaries and pensions, with some states resorting to borrowing to meet basic obligations.

The organization underscores the importance of transparency in loan spending to enhance accountability, curb corruption, and foster trust in democratic institutions.

It asserts that transparency is essential for upholding the rule of law and strengthening democratic governance.

The lawsuit, filed by SERAP’s legal team comprising Kolawole Oluwadare, Kehinde Oyewumi, and Valentina Adegoke, stresses the obligation of states and the FCT to adhere to transparency and accountability principles.

It emphasizes that publishing loan agreements and spending details is crucial for ensuring that public officials are held accountable for managing public funds responsibly.

Additionally, SERAP argues that the Freedom of Information Act, along with constitutional provisions and international human rights instruments, imposes legal obligations on state governors and the FCT minister to provide access to information on loan utilization.

According to data from Nigeria’s Debt Management Office, the total public domestic debt portfolio for the country’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory is N5.9 trillion, while the total public external debt portfolio amounts to $4.6 billion.

SERAP emphasizes that both domestic and external loans acquired by the states and the FCT are susceptible to corruption and mismanagement.

Therefore, it is imperative for these entities to uphold transparency and accountability standards in the utilization of such funds to mitigate these risks.

By directing the states and FCT to publish copies of loan agreements, Nigerians would have the opportunity to scrutinize them, fostering transparency and accountability in the expenditure of public funds, including loans.

Furthermore, providing and widely disseminating details of how domestic and external loans are spent by the states and FCT would empower Nigerians to actively engage in the oversight and management of these loans, ensuring that they are utilized for their intended purposes and benefit the public.

SERAP underscores that transparency in disclosing details of loan agreements and expenditures aligns with the fundamental principles of democracy.

Citizens have the right to access such information, enabling them to engage meaningfully in governance processes and contribute to decision-making.

Access to information about loan expenditures empowers citizens to hold their state governments and the FCT accountable, thereby serving as a vital safeguard against potential misuse of public funds.

Given the history of allegations regarding corruption and mismanagement of public funds, including loans obtained by states and the FCT, transparency becomes even more crucial in addressing poverty, underdevelopment, and the lack of access to essential services.

The suit reflects the constitutional obligations and international treaties aimed at promoting accountability and preventing financial mismanagement. It emphasizes the need for public oversight to ensure that loans are utilized for the benefit of the citizens.

While no hearing date has been scheduled yet, SERAP’s legal action signals its commitment to promoting transparency, accountability, and good governance in Nigeria’s public financial management processes.