There is prospect Nigerians keen on knowing why the country’s water and sanitation infrastructure have continued to deteriorate despite budgetary allocations on the sector may soon have some answers, as Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has won the latest round in the legal battle to compel the Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu and the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Audu Ogbehto account for the spending of trillion of naira on water projects between 1999 and 2016.
Justice Hadiza Rabiu Shagari of the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos last week ruled that, “I have looked at the papers filed by SERAP and I agree that leave ought to be granted in this case to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus, in the interest of justice.” The Court also ruled that the Defendants be put on notice and adjourned the matter to Friday, 29th June 2018 for the mention.
Justice Shagari granted the order for leave following the hearing of an argument in court on exparte motion by SERAP counsel Ms Bamisope Adeyanju.
The suit number FHC/L/CS/632/18 filed in April followed Freedom of Information requests by SERAP requesting Mr Adamu and Mr Ogbeh to “explain why millions of Nigerians have to resort to drinking water from contaminated sources with deadly health consequences, despite the authorities claiming to have spent trillions of naira of budgetary allocations on the sector since the return of democracy in 1999.”
Although Mr Adamu in a letter with reference number FMWR/LU/S/374/I, and dated March 12 responded to the FOI request, saying that “The Federal Ministry of Water Resources will work hard to provide SERAP with the details of spending, and the information requested as they relate specifically to Water and Sanitation projects from 2010 to 2016”, the organization told Justice Shagari that the Minister has so far failed to fulfil his commitment, hence the suit.
Mr Ogbeh has so far failed to respond to the FOI request.
The order by Justice Shagari has now cleared the way for SERAP to advance its case against the Minister of Water Resources and the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The suit read in part: “The interest of the public in making this information released is far greater that any other interest Mr Adamu and Mr Ogbeh may be trying to preserve, considering the grievous consequences associated with lack of access to clean and potable water and its impact on other sectors of the economy and on the realisation of other human rights.”
“Many toilets in public offices are out of order because of lack of water while millions of Nigerians remain desperate for water in their homes, often resorting to contaminated sources and drilling their own boreholes that can become easily mixed with sewage, with negative environmental impacts, and be devastating for people’s health.”
“Millions of Nigerians do not have access to clean and potable water and adequate sanitation. There is no water to show for the huge budgetary allocations and purported spending and investment in the sector since the return of democracy in 1999. Successive governments have failed to improve the affordability of water for millions of low-income Nigerians, thereby denying them access to water.”
“The right to water to which the information requested relates is a human right which places certain responsibilities upon the government and in this case Mr Adamu and Mr Ogbeh to ensure that people can enjoy the sufficient, safe, accessible and affordable water, without discrimination.”
“The alleged stealing and mismanagement of large sums earmarked for water projects may be responsible for the lack of access of millions of Nigerians to clean and potable water, with its attendant consequences. Due to inadequate maintenance of water facilities, Nigerians have contacted various water-borne diseases like typhoid fever, cholera, hookworm, infections and Hepatitis A; and some others have died because of these diseases.”
“Democracy cannot flourish if governments operate in secrecy, no matter how much open discussion and debate is allowed. The very nature and quality of public discussion would be significantly impoverished without the nourishment of information from public authorities and to guarantee freedom of expression without including freedom of information would be a formal exercise, denying both effective expression in practice and a key goal which free expression seeks to serve.”
“In its General Comment 15, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights asserts inter alia that the human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses, noting that an adequate amount of safe water is necessary to prevent death by dehydration, to reduce the risk of water-related diseases and to provide for consumption, cooking, personal and domestic hygienic requirements. Nigeria has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.”