The Nigerian government has told a court in Lagos that how 388.304 billion Naira London Paris Club Loan refunds was spent by 35 states is protected by professional privilege, and therefore confidential.

Federal and state governments have claimed that a large portion of the refunds released to the states by Federal Government was used for the payment of overdue pensioners' entitlements and workers' salaries.

Despite these claims, some states are still owing works salary, as some workers have not been paid for over 5 months.

Responding to a suit filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) at the Federal High Court in Lagos, the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, said "states have exclusive control over their revenue and expenditure and the Accountant General of the Federation cannot demand obligatorily from any tier of government including the 35 states information on how they have spent the Paris Club refunds".

SERAP had filed the suit, seeking "an order of mandamus directing and/or compelling the government to publish details of spending of 388.304 billion Naira London Paris Club Loan refunds allegedly diverted and mismanaged by 35 States".

The rights group said the Federal Government's response filed last Friday followed the ruling in June by Justice Muslim Hassan that SERAP could proceed with the legal challenge to unravel how exactly 35 states spent Paris Club Loan refunds.

Justice Hassan had, while granting leave, stressed that it was important for the authorities "to come and tell us how they spent our money".

However, in its defence the Federal Government is now arguing that, "the relationship between the Accountant General and the 35 states is professional and confidential.

"It is a fiduciary one akin to that between a bank and its customer and allied professionals.

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"On that score, record of the spending of 388.304 billion Naira London Paris Club Loan refunds by the 35 states is exempted from publication, assuming the Federal Government has the information sought by SERAP".

The Federal Government is also arguing that, "the Accountant General does not have custody or possession of the information or record relating to the spending of N388.304billion London Paris Club Loan refunds by 35 states which the government gave them.

"The Accountant General did not release the funds to the states. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Accountant General argues that assuming we have the information sought, the government is not obliged to comply with the request".

It however agreed that "SERAP has the right to the information sought but not to request that the information be passed to the Attorney General of the Federation. In any case, the Accountant General has no record of the spending of 388.304 billion London Paris Club Loan refunds by 35 states and therefore cannot be compelled to release the record, as the court does not act in vain.

"An order of mandamus should not be issued because it will be unnecessary and not effective and will not serve the purpose," the government stated.

Responding, SERAP argued that, "due to non-payment of overdue pensions and salaries of workers by the states, citizens have continued to languish in untold hardship and poverty. Therefore, there is compelling public interest in knowing how exactly the Paris Club loan refunds were spent by the 35 states.

"There is also no professional relationship or privilege between the Accountant General and the 35 states as to warrant any duty of confidentiality on the part of the Accountant General".

It insisted that "there must be transparency and accountability in the spending of the refunds, in line with the principle of Open Government Partnership (OGP) to which Nigeria is a signatory. In addition, section 15(5) of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) provides that the state shall abolish corrupt practices and abuse of power.

"Citizens must be able to access the performance of government, and this depends on access to record about spending of the refunds by the 35 states".

SERAP also argued that, "nothing stops the Accountant General from working with other agencies/ministries to release information on the spending, especially being the Chief Accounting Officer of the Federation, and constitutionally charged with the overall responsibility of keeping and managing all the receipts and payments of the Federal Government".

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It insisted that "the Accountant General cannot therefore say he is unaware of the spending of the refunds by the states. Otherwise, this would mean that the Accountant General is lacking in his duty as Chief Accounting Officer of the Federation".

The Federal Government had released 388.304 billion Naira of the 522.74 billion Naira to 35 states as refunds of over-deductions on London-Paris Club loans.

Here is a list of states and the amounts the received.

1.    Akwa Ibom 14.5 billion Naira
2.    Bayelsa 14.5 billion Naira
3.    Delta 14.5 billion Naira
4.    Kaduna 14.3 billion Naira
5.    Katsina 14,5 billion Naira
6.    Lagos 14.5 billion Naira
7.    Rivers 14.5 billion Naira
8.    Borno 13.65 billion Naira
9.    Imo 13 billion Naira
10   Jigawa 13.2 billion Naira
11.  Niger 13.4 billion Naira
12.  Bauchi 12.7 billion Naira
13.  Benue 12.7 billion Naira
14.  Anambra 11.3 billion Naira
15.  Cross River 11.3 billion Naira
16.  Edo 11.3 billion Naira
17.  Kebbi 11 billion Naira
18.  Kogi 11.2 billion Naira
19.  Osun 11.7 billion Naira
20.  Sokoto 11.9 billion Naira
21.  Abia N10.6 billion Naira
22.  Ogun 10.6 billion Naira
23.  Plateau 10.4 billion Naira
24.  Yobe 10 billion Naira
25.  Zamfara 10 billion Naira
26.  Adamawa 4.8 billion Naira
27.  Ebonyi 3 billion Naira
28.  Ekiti 8.8 billion Naira
29.  Enugu 9.9 billion Naira
30.  Gombe 8.3 billion Naira
31.  Kwara 5.4 billion Naira
32.  Nasarawa 8.4 billion Naira
33.  Ondo 6.5 billion Naira
34.  Oyo 7.2 billion Naira
35.  Taraba 4.2 billion Naira.

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