There is prospect Nigerians keen on knowing details of how Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) funds are disbursed and spent by the Delta State Government may soon have some answers, as Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has won the latest round in the legal battle to compel Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and UBEC to publish spending details of the funds collected for primary schools in the state, and the locations of projects carried out between 2015 and 2019.
Justice Rilwan Aikawa of the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos, last week ruled that, “Going through the Application filed by SERAP, supported by a 13-paragraph affidavit, with supporting exhibits, statements setting out the facts, verifying affidavits and written address in support, I am satisfied that leave ought to be granted in this case, and I hereby grant the motion for leave as prayed.”
Justice Aikawa granted the order for leave following the hearing of an argument in court on exparte motion by SERAP counsel, Ms Joke Fekumo.
The suit number FHC/L/CS/803/2019 filed last year followed “the failure by Governor Okowa, UBEC, and the Delta State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) to explain how billions of naira of UBEC funds and from the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee have been spent, and to disclose the locations of primary school projects.”
The order by Justice Aikawa has now cleared the way for SERAP to advance its case against Governor Okowa, UBEC, and SUBEB and to challenge the legality of their refusal to publish the information requested. The suit is adjourned to 14th January, 2021 for motion on notice.
In the suit, SERAP is applying for judicial review and to seek an order of mandamus directing and compelling Governor Okowa, UBEC, and SUBEB to “widely publish details of disbursement and spending of UBEC funds in Delta State; locations of projects carried out, and details of primary schools that have benefited from any spending of public funds.”
SERAP is also seeking “an order of mandamus directing and compelling Governor Okowa, UBEC, and SUBEB to disclose details of actual spending to provide access to quality education for children with disabilities in Delta State, and the names of the schools that have benefited from any such spending.”
The suit, read in part: “Delta State government has received over N7.8 billion from UBEC. The government has also received funds from federal allocations to Delta State. The government accessed over N3 billion of UBEC funds between 2015 and 2016, while it also reportedly approved the release of N1.28 billion counterpart funds to enable it access UBEC funds for 2017.”
“The government also received N213 billion from Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) in 2018, at an average of N17.8 billion monthly. Yet, several of the around 1,124 primary schools across the State are in shambles, and with very poor teaching facilities.”
“Tens of thousands of Nigerian children are being left behind in Delta state and their futures put in jeopardy. These children are being short-changed and they deserve to know how much exactly have the state government and UBEC spent between 2015 and 2019, on their education.”
“The right to information and truth allows Nigerians to gain access to information essential to the fight against corruption, institutionalise good governance and improve citizens’ confidence in public institutions and officials.”
“The refusal by the governor, UBEC and SUBEB to respond to SERAP’s Freedom of Information requests can only be construed to mean denial of the information sought. We shouldn’t have to ask for the information on spending of public funds in the state. The poor conditions of primary schools across the state would seem to suggest that the government has abandoned poor children in Delta state.”
“The governor, UBEC and SUBEB have nothing to lose if the information is released to SERAP and members of the public. It is in the interest of justice that the information be released. Unless the reliefs sought herein are granted, the governor, UBEC and SUBEB will continue to be in breach of the Freedom of Information Act, and other constitutional and statutory responsibilities.”
“The information is needed to verify and establish the truth about the spending of public funds on education by the government, for the purposes of transparency and accountability. There must be accountability for the massive budgetary allocations to primary education in the state, including the funds provided by UBEC.”
“Access to information held by public authorities is a fundamental element of the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) and vital to the proper functioning of any democratic system. Providing the requested information will also allow the citizens to track the level of execution of education projects in the state.”
It would be recalled that SERAP had last year in separate Freedom of Information requests to the governor, UBEC and SUBEB stated: “The evidence of education deficit in the state is further buttressed by the case of Success Adegor, who was sent home because her parents could not pay the illegal school fee/levy of N900 and the insufficient and poor-quality education infrastructure of Okotie-Eboh Primary School 1, Sapele.”