A Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday, in a case filed by one Ikenna Ejezie, a lawmaker at the lower arm of the National Assembly, against the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC, held that the refusal of the anti-graft agency to furnish the applicant with information amounted to non-compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.
Ejezie had written to the EFCC using the Freedom of Information Act requesting for the total number of criminal cases filed by the commission from 2003 to 2012, total number of criminal conviction secured and how much has been paid as professional fees to external solicitors in the same period.
He also sought to know how much of the N10. 6 billion which represents total allocation approved by the National Assembly for the commission in 2012 was finally released and how much of N3 billion which was allocated for the construction of a new EFCC Headquarters complex was released, as well as who the Contractors for the project were.
The applicant observed that the sum of N357 million was budgeted for the Agency for Local travels and transportation, another N100 million for international travels, N73 million for local training and another N130 million for international training and demanded that EFCC provide payment vouchers on how it spent these sums, including a list of officers who attended the international trainings and travels and the venue of these travels and trainings.
Ejezie also asked the commission to provide total amount received as grants and aids from international agencies, diplomatic missions and other donors since 2004, among other requests.
The EFCC however had refused to provide the requested information arguing that the case was a frivolous one and they are not willing to give out any of such information to the public.
However, in ruling on the matter, the presiding judge, G. O Kolawole, squashed the provision of order 34 rule 3(4) of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2009, which states that the only way which a court can grant such application is after ascertaining “that the applicant has a sufficient interest in the matter to which the application relates” or that the application is frivolous.
Citing the section 1 (2) of the FOIA which states that “an applicant under this act need not demonstrate any specific interest in the information being applied for”, the judge noted that the act establishing the FOI Act supersedes the Civil Procedure Rules
The court held that Ejezie was right in asking for the information as the Act was “a conscious legislative instrument to ensure probity and good governance in the management of finance and other resources of the state”, stressing that the applicant’s demands were not frivolous.
Justice noted that there was no justifiable reason before the court on why the EFCC should deny the applicant his request and advised Ejezie to seek for an order of mandamus (a mandate which orders public agency or government body to perform an act required by law when it has neglected or refused to do so) and serve on the commission.
Efforts to reach the EFCC acting head of Media & Publicity, Wilson Uwujaren, to find out how the commission was reacting to the ruling, proved abortive as his phone lines were switched off. He also did not reply a mail sent to him.