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 about N895 billion of Nigerians’ money in the form of their unclaimed dividends and balances in dormant accounts.
The legal action is due to the recent plan 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 excludes dormant official bank accounts by all branches of government and their agencies.
This disclosure is contained in a statement issued by SERAP on Sunday, March 14, 2021, and seen on its website by Nairametrics.
The move by the Federal Government under the guise of the patently unlawful, unconstitutional and discriminatory legislation known as the Finance Act, 2020, has been termed illegal by SERAP.
What SERAP is saying in the lawsuit
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.”
SERAP said that despite Nigeria’s dwindling oil revenue, 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. They said that at the same time, millions of Nigerians continue to bear the brunt of mismanagement and corruption.”
The statement also said that 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.”
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Ms Adelanke Aremo, partly reads, “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.”
“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 an 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.”
What you should know
- It can be recalled that the Federal Government had announced plans to borrow funds from unclaimed dividends and dormant bank accounts unattended to for at least 6 years following the enactment of the 2020 Finance Act which was recently signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari.
- Despite opposition from stakeholders, the government have perfected ways to go ahead with the implementation of this law which empowers it to borrow from the two sources with proceeds from the 2 sources standing as special credit to the federal government through the Unclaimed Funds Trust Fund contained in the Finance Act 2020.
FG explains why the loan for youth investment fund is limited to N300,000
At N300,000 per beneficiary, only 41,000 beneficiaries would be covered in the first tranche of N12.5bn.
The Federal Government has explained why it limited the loan amount for the current beneficiaries of the N75 billion Nigeria Youth Investment Fund (NYIF) to N300,000.
The government said that it had to place a limit of N300,000 for individuals and eligible businesses who meet the conditions and guideline in order to ensure that it gets to as many beneficiaries as possible.
This disclosure is contained in a statement signed by the Director of Press, Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, who noted that the disbursement of the fund is being done in phases.
What the statement from the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development is saying
The statement explained that the ministry had received more than 3 million applications for the initial N12.5bn made available adding that at the current cap of N300,000 per beneficiary, only about 41,000 beneficiaries could be covered.
The statement from the ministry partly reads, “The Ministry of Youth and Sports Development has been following with interest the reaction of some beneficiaries of the NYIF, particularly those expressing disappointment at the N300,000 cap on disbursement under the first tranche of N12.5bn.
Firstly, the framework specified N250,000 as the maximum for individuals and eligible businesses that are critical can access up toN3m subject to meeting key criteria set in the guideline and conditions.
Considering the number of applications received, there was the need to ensure spread and enable more beneficiaries enjoy the facility.”
The ministry assured beneficiaries that higher loan thresholds would be possible once additional funds were available in subsequent phases.
The ministry in the statement also noted that it is ideal to start and gradually increase, considering that there are lots of first-time borrowers as well.
The ministry reaffirmed that NYIF was not a grant, but a loan, targeted at supporting the youth to start small businesses or to inject funds into existing small businesses.
What you should know
- It can be recalled that the Federal Government had on October 15, 2020, launched the N75 billion Nigerian Youth Investment Fund, which was set up for investment in the innovative ideas, skills, and talents of Nigerian Youth.
- It is to also institutionally provide the Nigerian youth with a special window for accessing much-needed funds, finances, business management skills, and other inputs critical for sustainable enterprise development.
- The Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development is the lead implementation entity and is responsible for budgetary provisions and for funds mobilization.
How FCT residents, businesses are adjusting to ease of lockdown
FCT residents are putting aside the pains of the lockdown period as they go about their daily lives and businesses in the typical resilient fashion that Nigerians have come to be known for.
On the 2nd of January, 2021, the Federal Government announced the guidelines for the extension of the eased lockdown (phase 3) by one month following the rising cases of coronavirus disease in the country.
The eased lockdown has since seen businesses reopen nationwide albeit cautiously and in line with social distancing and other government protective recommendations implemented. The most heralded of these recommendations, the use of nose masks in public places and social distancing, have been fairly adhered to although, in recent times, it would seem that many Nigerians are moving on from the initial dread that sparked full compliance with these directives in the heat of the pandemic last year.
As with many parts of Nigeria, life has gradually returned to normal in the FCT. On Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency announced the arrival of the expected COVAX Astrazeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccines, which today has seen Nigeria record 1,096,727 vaccinations, with the FCT recording 49,192 vaccinations as of April 18th 2021. Although vaccine apathy is still reasonably high, residents are warming up to the idea of getting the required shots to protect themselves and others against the virus.
The FCT is typically a ‘Civil Service’ domain but this is not to say that there aren’t other businesses being conducted in the region. Nairametrics took a tour around the Abuja metropolis to get a general feel and assessment of business reopening in the region.
The first points of call were the banks which have maintained strict compliance with the enforcement of the use of nose mask and the admission of a limited number of people into the banking hall at a time. As with several other banks, at the Guarantee Trust Bank branch at AYA junction in Asokoro, customers are required to obtain a ticket from the bank security with a number written on it. Customers are admitted into the banking hall in order of the number on their tickets.
One customer, Mary, expressed displeasure at the turn of events, citing the discomfort and the amount of time expended in carrying out hitherto simple transactions. “It used to be uncomfortable at first, but since it for our safety, we have no choice but to adhere to the protocol,” she stated.
In the area of transportation, ride-hailing services which had until last year enjoyed immense patronage, are also just beginning to pick up. Emmanuel a driver for a ride-hailing service confirmed that business has picked up compared to the first phase of the lockdown easing. He, however, lamented the effect that rising inflation was having on his daily income from the executive cab business.
“Honestly, I am happy that businesses are picking up but we still need support. The rising prices of things are not reflected in the fare that our passengers are charged. We have to service the car, pay for fuel, and other needs. Although we are happy to be back, we feel things can be better,” he affirmed.
Public transport, on the other hand, has long moved on from the days of enforcement of a limited number of passengers in vehicles and the compulsory masking up of all passengers. Neither the drivers nor the conductors of the buses boarded during this investigation were particular about social distancing or the use of masks. Many safety-conscious passengers were, however, observed to still use their masks while onboard.
Bus fares have largely remained the same as they were pre-covid. For instance, the fare for a trip from Karu Junction to Berger still ranges from N150-N200, depending on the time of the day.
Restaurants and food outlets including fast food grottos are also businesses that enjoyed immense patronage pre-covid but were forced to shut down or at best, streamline their services to strictly take-outs and online orders in the aftermath of the breakout of the pandemic. A trip to a KFC outlet at Area 11 in Garki, and a number of other food courts revealed that customers are not allowed entry without a mask. However, once inside, the mask could be set aside to place orders and eat meals.
In Gwarinpa, at the Rooftop Puzzles Restaurant and Bar, customers are required to sanitise their hands and wear a mask before entry, but once inside, are allowed to sit anywhere and be attended to by staff kitted in nose masks.
To conclude, life has pretty much returned to normal in the FCT and residents are gradually putting aside the pains of the lockdown period as they go about their daily lives and business concerns in the typical resilient fashion that Nigerians have come to be known for.
On the Legislative side of things, the FCT Minister has recently concluded plans with the FEC to boost infrastructure development in the city, with Nairametrics recently reporting that the Federal Economic Council has approved the sum of N82 billion for the completion and rehabilitation of infrastructure projects in the Federal Capital Territory. The projects range from the Federal Secretariat to the expansion of the outer Southern Expressway amongst many others.
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