$23m Abacha loot: SERAP sues Buhari, Malami over 'failure to publish a copy of the agreement with the U.S.'

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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari over "the failure to publish copy and details of the agreement the Federal Government recently signed with the United States for the repatriation of $23 million stolen by the late dictator Sani Abacha."

Joined in the suit as Respondent is the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN).

The United States government had August signed an agreement with the Federal Government to repatriate $23 million Abacha's loot to Nigeria. The $23 million adds to the $311.7 million Abacha loot repatriated from the U.S. to Nigeria in 2020.

In suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1700/2022 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Abuja, SERAP is asking the court to "direct and compel President Buhari and Mr. Abubakar Malami to release and widely publish a copy of the agreement on the Abacha loot with the U.S."

SERAP is also asking the court to "direct and compel President Buhari and Mr. Abubakar Malami to publish details of the transparency and accountability mechanisms that have been put in place to ensure that the repatriated funds are not mismanaged, diverted or re-stolen."

In the suit, SERAP argues that "The Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], the Freedom of Information Act, and the country's international obligations impose transparency obligations on the Federal Government to widely publish the agreement on the $23 million Abacha loot."

SERAP is also arguing that "Publishing a copy of the agreement with the U.S. would allow Nigerians to scrutinize it, and to monitor the spending of the repatriated loot to ensure that the money is not mismanaged, diverted or re-stolen."

According to SERAP, "the repatriated $23 million Abacha loot is vulnerable to corruption and mismanagement. A substantial part of the estimated $5 billion returned Abacha loot since 1999 may have been mismanaged, diverted, or re-stolen, and in any case remain unaccounted for."

SERAP also argues that "Publishing a copy of the agreement would ensure that persons with public responsibilities are answerable to the people for the performance of their duties, including the management of repatriated loot."

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Ms. Atinuke Adejuyigbe read in part: "The Nigerian Constitution, Freedom of Information Act, and the country's international obligations rest on the principle that citizens should have access to information regarding their government's activities."

"The Federal Government has a responsibility to ensure transparency and accountability in how any repatriated stolen funds are spent, to reduce vulnerability to corruption and mismanagement."

"It is in the public interest and the interest of justice to grant this application. Nigerians are entitled to their constitutionally and internationally recognized human right to information."

"The Freedom of Information Act, Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantee to everyone the right to information, including to a copy of the agreement on the repatriated $23 million Abacha loot."

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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