The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, on Thursday, May 4, has struck out a suit seeking to make the 36 state governors account for the security votes collected in their respective domains.
Justice Muslim Hassan of the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court held that the court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the suit. He said the appropriate court in the respective state’s high courts.
“This suit is hereby struck out for want of jurisdiction.”
Security votes are monthly allowance allocated to the 36 state governors to fund security services. The controversial funds, which run into hundreds of millions of naira per state and drawn from the federal purse, are usually spent at the governor’s discretion and without accountability.
Last year, the chief of army staff, Tukur Buratai, questioned the legality of the use of the funds by the governors.
The suit at the federal high court was filed by Legal Defence and Assistance Project, Legal Resources Consortium, and Chino Obiagwu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
Joined as defendants were the 36 state governors and their houses of assemblies; the Attorney-General of the Federation; the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission; and the National Assembly.
In their defence, counsel to the Akwa Ibom governor and the state house of assembly, Thelma Coco-Bassey, said the plaintiffs do not have the right to institute the action against the defendants.
She said there is nothing in the plaintiffs’ testimony to disclose that their rights and obligations or interests have violated or about to be violated.
The counsel for Ebonyi State, Ogbonna Ernest, said being that the state is not the federal government, an arm of it, or any of its agencies, the court lacks the jurisdiction to entertain the suit. He further argued that the funds being claimed by the plaintiff to have been misappropriated do not belong to the federal government or its agencies.
In her response, I.P. Akubue, argued that the plaintiffs have the right to institute the action because their registered mandate is to advance, demand and campaign for public transparency and accountability of public funds in all the states of the federation.
Mrs Akubue further argued that the plaintiffs, being public organisations, can bring an action to enforce public interest matters or defend the rights of others.
In his judgment, Mr Hassan agreed with the Ebonyi State counsel that the appropriation and allocation of funds for security votes arose out the operations of the state’s house of assembly. And, as a result, it can only be challenged or questioned at the state high court, not the federal court.