SERAP sues FG over move to borrow ₦895bn from Nigerians’ dormant accounts

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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit asking the Federal High Court in Abuja “to restrain and stop President Muhammadu Buhari and the Federal Government from borrowing an estimated N895bn of Nigerians’ money in the form of their unclaimed dividends and balances in dormant accounts, under the guise of the patently unlawful, unconstitutional, and discriminatory legislation known as ‘the Finance Act, 2020.’”

The suit followed recent move by the Federal Government to take over and borrow unclaimed dividends and dormant account balances owned by Nigerians in any bank in the country. But the same legislation explicitly excludes dormant official bank accounts by all branches of government and their agencies.

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/31/2021 filed last Friday, SERAP is seeking: “an order of perpetual injunction restraining and stopping President Buhari from demanding, taking over, borrowing, and collecting Nigerians’ money in the form of their unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts or transferring and moving the money into a trust fund known as ‘Unclaimed Funds Trust Fund.”

In the suit, SERAP is arguing that “the Federal Government should not be allowed to borrow Nigerians’ money. Borrowing unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts owned by ordinary Nigerians would negatively affect their right to an adequate standard of living, and access to clean water, quality healthcare and education.”

According to SERAP: “Despite Nigeria’s dwindling oil revenue, the growing level of public debt, and widespread poverty, public officers including the President, Vice President, governors and their deputies, and members of the National Assembly have refused to cut their emoluments, allowances and security votes. At the same time, millions of Nigerians continue to bear the brunt of mismanagement and corruption.”

Joined in the suit as Defendants are: Mr Abubakar Malami SAN, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan; the Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila; and the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Ms Zainab Ahmed.

SERAP is also arguing that “For there to be a borrower, there must be a lender. The intention to enter into such borrower-lender relationship must be known to both parties. Any other arrangement that allows a borrower to access funds from a lender without the knowledge and express consent of the lender will amount to stealing.”

According to SERAP: “The Federal Government has repeatedly failed to ensure transparency and accountability in the spending of public wealth and resources such as recovered stolen public funds, and the loans so far obtained, estimated to be $31.98bn, and failed to address the systemic and widespread corruption in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Ms Adelanke Aremo, read in part: “By the combined reading of section 44(1) of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended) and Article 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Federal Government has absolutely no right to borrow Nigerians’ money in the form of their unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts without their knowledge and express consent.”

“The move to borrow Nigerians’ money amounts to unlawful expropriation, as it is neither proportionate nor necessary, especially given the unwillingness or inability of the government to stop systemic and widespread corruption in MDAs, cut waste and stop all leakages in public expenditures. The borrowing is also not in the public interest.”

“Respect for the right to property is important to improve the enjoyment of other basic human rights and to lift Nigerians out of poverty. There is a limit on the ability of any government to interfere with private property without legal justification. The right to property is a sacred and fundamental right.”

“Borrowing unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts without due process of law and the knowledge and explicit consent of the owners is arbitrary, and as such, legally and morally unjustifiable.”

“To create a valid trust relationship, there must be explicit agreement between the setlor and the trustee, for the benefits of the trust beneficiary. There must also be sufficient evidence of the setlor’s intention to create a trust. The relationship cannot be arbitrarily created. It can also not be forced or assumed unilaterally, which is exactly what the Federal Government is pushing to do in this case.”

“According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), four in ten Nigerians or over 82.9 million Nigerians live in poverty.”

“Where agencies of government are allowed to operate at large and at their whims and caprices in the guise of performing their statutory duties, the end result will be anarchy, licentiousness, authoritarianism and brigandage leading to the loss of the much cherished and constitutionally guaranteed freedom and liberty.”

SERAP is also seeking the following reliefs:

1. A DECLARATION that the provisions of Section 60[3] and Section 77[1] and [2] of the Finance Act allowing the Federal Government under the leadership of President Buhari to borrow Nigerians’ money in the form of unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts and transferring the money into the “Unclaimed Funds Trust Fund” is unlawful, unconstitutional and a breach of Nigerians’ fundamental human rights particularly the right to property.

2. A DECLARATION that the provisions of Section 60[3] and Section 77[1][2] of the Finance Act, being inconsistent with section 44[1] of the Nigerian Constitution, is therefore null and void to the extent of its inconsistency pursuant to Section 1[3] of the Constitution.

3. AN ORDER of perpetual injunction restraining the Defendants, or any other organisation, institution or officer[s] acting under their instruction or control, from demanding, collecting or transferring unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts of beneficiaries and account holders into Unclaimed Funds Trust Fund.

4. AND ANY OTHER ORDER(S) that the Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstance of this suit.

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