The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), on Sunday, January 10, issued an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, asking him “to promptly drop the plan by the Federal Government to borrow about N895bn of unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts using the patently unconstitutional and illegal Finance Act, 2020, and to ensure full respect for Nigerians’ right to property.”
The Finance Act, signed into law by Buhari in December 2020, would allow the government to borrow unclaimed dividends and dormant account balances owned by Nigerians in any bank in the country.
However, in its letter, SERAP via its deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare said: “The right to property is a sacred and fundamental right. Borrowing unclaimed dividends and funds in dormant accounts amount 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 said: “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.”
According 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 [MDAs], cut waste, and stop all leakages in public expenditures. The borrowing is also clearly not in pursuit of public or social interest.”
The letter, read in part: “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 as well as allowances of all high-ranking political office holders; and also address the systemic corruption in MDAs, as well as improve transparency and accountability in public spending.”
“The borrowing also seems to be discriminatory; as it excludes government’s owned official bank accounts; and may exclude the bank accounts of high-ranking government officials and politicians; thereby violating the constitutional and international prohibition of discrimination against vulnerable groups; to allow everyone to fully enjoy their right to property; as well as associated rights on equal terms.”
“SERAP is concerned that the government has also repeatedly failed and/or refused to ensure transparency as well as 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.”
“We would be grateful if your government would drop the decision to borrow unclaimed dividends; and funds in dormant accounts; and to indicate the measures being taken to send back the Finance Act to the National Assembly to repeal the legislation; as well as remove its unconstitutional and unlawful provisions; including Sections 60 and 77; within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter.”
The letter was copied to Abubakar Malami, SAN, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; and Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning.