JUSTICE Ibrahim Buba of a Federal High Court in Lagos has ordered a former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and the Federal Government to provide information on the spending of the alleged missing N30 trillion, which represents some accruable income to the Federal Government during the last four years of the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), had filed a Freedom of Information suit number FHC/L/CS/196/2015, following claims by the former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Charles Soludo, that at least N30 trillion had either been stolen or unaccounted for, or grossly mismanaged over the last few years under the Okonjo-Iweala’s watch.
Justice Buba said in the judgment that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government have no legally justifiable reason for refusing to provide SERAP with the information requested for.
The judge held that SERAP’s application has merits and the argument was not opposed.
“SERAP’s application is granted as prayed,” Justice Buba ruled.
The court agreed with the arguments by SERAP’s deputy director, Olukayode Majekodunmi that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government should have either supplied the information requested by SERAP or communicates her denial within seven days of receipt of the letter from SERAP if she considers that the request should be denied.
“Preliminary objection by Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government is misconceived; the court upholds the arguments by SERAP for the reasons stated herein.
“SERAP commenced this proceeding by way of Originating Summons dated February 23, 2015 and filed February 25, 2015. Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government filed a Memorandum of Conditional Appearance, a Notice of Preliminary Objection and written address, all undated but filed on September 29, 2015, ” the judgement reads in part.
“The main issue in this Court’s view bothers on the legal binding obligation imposed on Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act access to a record of information requested for. In the case at hand, SERAP through its letter of February 2, 2015, Exhibit A, sought the information relating to the spending of the alleged missing N30 trillion, which represents some accruable income to the Federal Government during the last four years of the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. Exhibit A has been received by them, and Exhibit B is the acknowledgement of receipt of Exhibit A.
“However Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government have since the receipt of the request letter failed, refused and or neglected to provide SERAP with the information it requested for within their custody. They should have either supplied the information requested by SERAP or communicate their denial within seven days of receipt of the application from SERAP if it considers that the application should be denied,” the Judge further held.
SERAP had in February 2015, dragged Mrs Okonjo-Iweala to court over a failure to provide information about spending of the alleged missing N30trillion, which represents some accruable income to the Federal Government in the past four years.
Commenting on the judgment, SERAP’s Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said; “This judgment shows the important role that Nigerian courts can play in the efforts to promote transparency in government and combat corruption and the impunity of perpetrators. It also confirms that high-ranking government officials can no longer escape accountability for their action while in office. We urge Mrs Okonjo-Iweala to cooperate with the authorities in the efforts to ensure the full and effective enforcement of the judgment.”