SERAP threatens court action

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has advised the Federal Government to drop plan to borrow about N895billion from unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts using the “patently unconstitutional and illegal Finance Act, 2020.”

In an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, SERAP urged him to ensure full respect for Nigerians’ right to property. The letter was copied to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) and Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed.

According to the group, the Finance Act, signed into law by Buhari last December, would allow the government to borrow unclaimed dividends and dormant account balances owned by Nigerians in any bank in the country.

But SERAP, in the letter dated January 9, 2021 and signed by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, stated that the right to property is sacred and fundamental.

“Borrowing unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts amounts to an illegal expropriation, and would hurt poor and vulnerable Nigerians who continue to suffer under reduced public services, and ultimately lead to unsustainable levels of public debt.”

SERAP further argued: “The right to property extends to all forms of property, including unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts. Borrowing these dividends and funds without due process of law, and the explicit consent of the owners is arbitrary, and as such, legally and morally unjustifiable.”

To SERAP, the borrowing is neither proportionate nor necessary, especially given the unwillingness or inability of the government to stop systemic corruption in ministries, departments and agencies, cut waste and stop all leakages in public expenditures.

“Rather than pushing to borrow unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts, your government ought to move swiftly to cut the cost of governance, ensure review of jumbo salaries and allowances of all high-ranking political office holders, and address the systemic corruption in ministries, departments and agencies as well as improve transparency and accountability in public spending.

“The borrowing also seems to be discriminatory, as it excludes government-owned official bank accounts, and may exclude the bank accounts of high-ranking government officials and politicians, thereby violating constitutional and international prohibition of discrimination against vulnerable groups, to allow everyone to fully enjoy their right to property and associated rights on equal terms.”

SERAP is concerned that the government has also repeatedly failed and/or refused to ensure transparency and accountability in the spending of recovered stolen assets, and the loans so far obtained, which, according to the Debt Management Office, currently stands at $31.98 billion.

The group urged Federal Government to drop the borrowing plan and to return the Finance Act to the National Assembly to repeal it within 14 days or face legal action.

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