SERAP asks Buhari to drop the decision to borrow savings account balances, unclaimed dividends
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari urging him to use his leadership position “to promptly drop the plan by the federal to borrow about N895bn of unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts using the patently unconstitutional and illegal Finance Act, 2020, and to make sure full respect for Nigerians’ right to property.”
The Finance Act, signed into law by Buhari last December, would allow the govt to borrow unclaimed dividends and savings account balances owned by Nigerians in any bank within the country.
But SERAP during a letter dated 9 January 2021 and signed by its deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare said: “The ownership is sacred and fundamental. Borrowing unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts amount to an illegal expropriation, and would hurt poor and vulnerable Nigerians who still suffer under reduced public services, and ultimately cause unsustainable levels of debt .”
SERAP said: “The ownership extends to all or any sorts of property, including unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts. Borrowing these dividends and funds without due process of law, and therefore the explicit consent of the owners is bigoted, and intrinsically, legally and morally unjustifiable.”
According to SERAP: “The borrowing is neither proportionate nor necessary, especially given the unwillingness or inability of the govt to prevent systemic corruption in ministries, departments, and agencies [MDAs], cut waste, and stop all leakages publicly expenditures. The borrowing is additionally clearly not in pursuit of public or social interest.”
The letter, read in part: “The security of property, next to non-public security against the exertions of state, is of the essence of liberty. it’s next in degree to the protection of private liberty and freedom from undue interference or molestation. Our constitutional jurisprudence rests largely upon its sanctity.”
“Rather than pushing to borrow unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts, your government need to move swiftly to chop the value of governance, ensure review of jumbo salaries and allowances of all high-ranking political office holders, and address the systemic corruption in MDAs, also as improve transparency and accountability publicly spending.”
“The borrowing also seems to be discriminatory, because it excludes government’s owned official bank accounts and should exclude the bank accounts of high-ranking officialdom and politicians, thereby violating the constitutional and international prohibition of discrimination against vulnerable groups, to permit everyone to completely enjoy their right to property and associated rights on equal terms.”
“SERAP cares that the govt has also repeatedly failed and/or refused to make sure transparency and accountability within the spending of recovered stolen assets, and therefore the loans thus far obtained, which consistent with the Debt Management Office, currently stands at $31.98 billion.”
“SERAP notes growing allegations of corruption and mismanagement within the spending of those loans and recovered stolen assets.”
“We would be grateful if your government would drop the choice to borrow unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts, and to point the measures being taken to remit the Finance Act to the National Assembly to repeal the legislation and take away its unconstitutional and unlawful provisions, including Sections 60 and 77, within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter.”
“If we’ve not heard from you by then on the steps being taken during this direction, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel your government to implement these recommendations within the public interest, and to market transparency and accountability publicly spending.”
“The government cannot lawfully enforce the provisions on psychotherapy Fund and Unclaimed Funds fund under the guise of a trust arrangement, as Section 44(2)[h] of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] is inapplicable, and can’t justify the establishment of those funds.”
“SERAP notes that while targeting the accounts of ordinary Nigerians, the Finance Act exempts official bank accounts owned by the federal, government or local governments or any of their ministries, departments or agencies.”
“Our requests are brought within the public interest, and keep with the wants of the Nigerian Constitution, the country’s international human rights obligations including under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Nigeria may be a state party, and which has been domesticated as a part of the country’s domestic legislation.”
“According to our information, your government has reportedly completed plans to borrow an estimated N895bn of unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts using the Finance Act 2020 you latterly signed into law.”
“Under the law, the govt is going to be ready to access and take without consent unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts in any bank supported the vague and undefined ‘Crisis Intervention Fund,’ and patently unlawful ‘Unclaimed Funds Trust Fund’.”
“The government is justifying the borrowing on the bottom that it might improve access of the federal to much-needed funds, and take away the burdens of exchange and punitive loan conditions imposed by multilateral lenders.”
“According to the Finance Act, the operation of the fund is to be supervised by the Debt Management Office (DMO) and governed by a governing council chaired by the minister of finance and a co-chairperson from the private sector appointed by you.
“The Nigerian Constitution in Section 44(1) provides that, ‘no moveable property or any interest in an immovable property shall be taken possession of compulsorily and no right over or interest in any such property shall be acquired compulsorily in any a part of Nigeria except within the manner and for the needs prescribed by a law.’”
“Similarly, Article 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantee the ownership and prohibit the arbitrary deprivation of the proper. Thus, most are entitled to have property alone also as in association with others.”
“Respect for ownership is vital to enhance the enjoyment of other basic human rights and to lift Nigerians out of poverty. The Nigerian Constitution and international human rights law limit the power of any government to interfere with personal property with none legal justifications.”
The letter is copied to Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, and Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning.