The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has called for the conversion of seized stolen assets into facilities to isolate COVID-19 cases in the country.
It made the call in an ‘urgent appeal’ to the President, dated May 2 and signed by SERAP deputy director in Nigeria, Kolawole Oluwadare.
The group urged President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abukabar Malami, to work with appropriate ministries and agencies to identify, publish and use confiscated stolen assets as isolation centres.
It explained that this would provide safe and enabling environments for the treatment and care of infected people, as well as improve the government’s ability to respond to COVID-19 and reduce the threat posed by the disease.
SERAP noted that the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, was said to have begged Nigerians to donate and temporarily make their buildings available as isolation centres.
It stressed that making such donation would be counter-productive, as it would put the donors at a greater risk of contracting and spreading coronavirus.
“Rather than begging Nigerians to donate their buildings as isolation centres, the authorities should identify, publish, and use confiscated assets as isolation centres, as a temporary measure.
“Using confiscated assets as isolation centres would be proportionate, necessary, and serve a legitimate objective, namely to protect public health and public order,” the group said.
It added, “The proposed measure would be lawful, and more effective, as it would be in the public interest.
“Using the confiscated assets as proposed would neither violate the accused’s right to property nor entail a duty to compensate. The proposal by the Minister of Health would pose unnecessary risks to public health.”
The urgent appeal read in part:
SERAP urges you to ask Mr Malami to urgently work out the details and modalities for implementing these recommendations with the Ministry of Health, Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
SERAP urges you to ask the Minister of Health to drop the idea of begging Nigerians to donate their buildings as isolation centres, and to move swiftly to focus on implementing these recommendations as a step towards effectively reducing the spread of COVID-19, treating and caring for people, and fulfilling the right to health, in line with Nigeria’s human rights obligations and the sustainable development goals.
Our recommendations, apart from being entirely compatible with Nigeria’s international anti-corruption obligations including the UN Convention against Corruption, which has been ratified, would also enhance the ability of the authorities to effectively and satisfactorily respond to COVID-19.
Reducing health risks associated with Nigerians donating their buildings as isolation centres would complement the authorities’ objectives of ending COVID-19.
As the right to health is closely related to and dependent upon the realization of other human rights, including the right to private and family life, asking Nigerians to donate their buildings as isolation centres may also violate this fundamental human right.
The recommendations would also enhance the ability of the authorities to effectively implement the country’s international human rights obligations particularly regarding to take effective steps to prevent, treat, and combat epidemic, endemic and other diseases, such as COVID-19.
SERAP’s request is also in line with the repeated public commitment by your government to provide details and locations of all recovered stolen public funds.
Publishing confiscated assets would also be entirely consistent with the judgment by Justice Hadiza Rabiu Shagari of the Federal High Court, Lagos, which ordered your government to tell Nigerians about the stolen assets it allegedly recovered.
The judgment was delivered in July 2017 following a Freedom of Information suit number: FHC/CS/964/2016 brought by SERAP. Your government has refused to obey the judgment, despite Mr Malami publicly promising to do so.
We hope that the aspects highlighted will help guide your actions in acting to ensure enabling environments as isolation centres to treat and care for Nigerians, as the NCDC takes steps to ramp up testing for COVID-19.