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SERAP Sues Buhari Over “Missing ₦3.8 Billion Health Funds”

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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari over “his failure to probe allegations that N3,836,685,213.13 of public funds meant for the Federal Ministry of Health, teaching hospitals, medical centres, and National Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) are missing, mismanaged, diverted or stolen, as documented in the recently released 2018 audited report by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation.”

The suit is coming in the wake of the controversy over Buhari’s travel to London for a “routine” medical check-up at a time the country’s resident doctors are on strike over unpaid salaries, upward review of hazard allowances, and COVID-19 care incentives, leaving millions of poor Nigerians without access to medical treatment.

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/433/2021 filed last week at the Federal High Court in Abuja, SERAP is seeking: “an order of mandamus directing and compelling President Buhari to investigate alleged missing N3.8bn health funds, and to promptly investigate the extent and patterns of widespread corruption in the Federal Ministry of Health, teaching hospitals, medical centres and NAFDAC.”

In the suit, SERAP is arguing that: “Corruption in the health sector exacerbates inequality in already unequal and unfair political, social, and economic environments, and produces a ‘cash and carry’ health care system based on one’s ability to pay for care or one’s political position.”

According to SERAP: “transparency and accountability in the management of health funds is essential for promoting access of people living in poverty to physical and mental healthcare, satisfactory health conditions, equality and non-discrimination, development, as well as good governance and the rule of law.”

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SERAP is also arguing that, “The failure to investigate the alleged missing health funds, bring suspected perpetrators to justice, and to recover any missing public funds has exposed millions of poor Nigerians to serious health risks, amounting to violations of constitutional and international human rights and anti-corruption obligations.”

According to SERAP: “The fight against corruption in the health sector is vital for the effective enjoyment of the right to health by socially and economically vulnerable Nigerians, which in turn is essential to all aspects of a person’s life and well-being, and to the realisation of all the other fundamental human rights.”

Joined in the suit as Respondents are Mr Abubakar Malami, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation; and Dr Osagie Ehanire, Minister of Health.

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part: “Corruption in the health sector forces socially and economically vulnerable Nigerians to seek health services and treatment in unsafe and unregulated environments, leaving them susceptible to avoidable injuries and death.”

“Poor Nigerians are not enjoying the right to health maximally because the Nigerian government is failing to address systemic corruption in the health sector, thereby rendering the authorities incapable of providing the basic amenities, infrastructure and resources that facilitate the full enjoyment of the right to health.”

“A corrupt and dysfunctional health care system can hardly fulfil the physical and health needs of citizens. Such a system denies people access to the highest attainable standard of health care and simultaneously undermines their ability to pursue personal development and prosperity.”

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“The Nigerian government has the legal obligations to take the necessary measures to protect the health of the Nigerian people and to ensure that they receive medical attention when they are sick.”

“This means taking prompt measures to investigate the alleged missing health funds, to ensure that health systems can deliver quality health care and services in an equal and non-discriminatory manner.”

“The failure to promptly investigate the alleged missing health funds, bring suspected perpetrators to justice and to recover any missing public funds has continued to have serious implications for the ability of the government particularly the health ministry and agencies under its control to meet the health needs of socially and economically vulnerable Nigerians.”

“By the combined reading of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], the Public Procurement Act, and the country’s obligations including under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, President Buhari and his government have legal duties to promptly probe allegations of corruption in the spending of health funds, and to ensure access of poor Nigerians to quality healthcare.”

SERAP is also seeking the following reliefs:

1. AN ORDER granting leave to the Applicant to apply for judicial review to enable the Applicant seek an order of mandamus directing and compelling the 1st Respondent to direct the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation and appropriate anti-corruption agencies to investigate allegations that N3,836,685,213.13 of public funds budgeted for the Federal Ministry of Health, teaching hospitals, medical centres and NAFDAC are missing, and unaccounted for.

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2. AN ORDER granting leave to the Applicant to apply for judicial review to enable the Applicant seek an order of mandamus directing and compelling the 1st Respondent to direct the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation and appropriate anti-corruption agencies to promptly investigate the extent and patterns of widespread corruption in the Federal Ministry of Health, Teaching Hospitals, Medical Centres and NAFDAC indicted in the 2018 Audit Report by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation.

3. AN ORDER granting leave to the Applicant to apply for judicial review to enable the Applicant seek an order of mandamus directing and compelling the 1st and 2nd Respondents to take meaningful and effective measures to clean up an apparently entrenched system of corruption in the health sector

4. AND for such further order[s] the Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstances.

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

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