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Court Dismisses FOI Request On Stella Oduah’s BMW Cars
A Federal High Court sitting Lagos on Monday quashed the Freedom of Information suit filed by the Media Right Agenda, MRA, demanding information about the controversial armoured BMW cars purchased for former minister of aviation, Stella Oduah, by Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA.
MRA, alongside the incorporated trustees of Public and Private Development, had filed the suit seeking to force the NCAA and the Attorney General of the Federation to make available the information on the procurement of the controversial BMW bulletproof cars.
The presiding judge, Justice Ibrahim Buba in his verdict, ruled that the information demanded went outside the contemplation of the Freedom of Information, FOI, Act.
He said that the requested information is a published material that falls under the exception stated in Section 26(a) of the FOI Act and that the budgetary allocation for the mentioned procurement process was contained in the 2013 budget of the federal government.
The applicants, through their counsel, Ayodeji Acquah, had sought a relief to the effect that the failure of the first respondent to reveal to the applicants the information demanded in their letter dated October 21, 2013 was a violation of applicants right of access to information recognized and guaranteed by section 1(1) and section 4(a) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
The letter had requested for NCAA’s annual budget, the public procurement plans, procurement record for the purchase of two BMW 760 LI vehicles, evidence of advertisements to that effect, a list of bids tendered, copies of bid evaluation meetings, pro forma invoice of those documents as well as documents showing delivery of procured vehicles among other things.
In the affidavit deposed to by one John Gbadamosi, the applicants insisted that the information requested for, apart from not being exempted from disclosure under the FOI Act, bothers on an issue of national interest, public concern, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability.
“The first respondent has no reason whatsoever to deny the applicants access to the information sought for. The information requested for, apart from not being exempted from disclosure under the FOI Act, bothers on an issue of national interest, public concern, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability,” Gbadamosi said.
But defence counsel, Emeka Okpoko, in his objections said the applicants did not meet up with the condition precedent before instituting an action against the respondents.
He further argued that the applications failed to issue the 30 days notice required by Section 24(2) of the Civil Aviation Act 2006 among other objections.
“This suit as constituted is incompetent and this honourable court has no jurisdiction to entertain same to the extent that concerns the first respondent/applicant,” Okpoko argued in a notice of preliminary objection.
As a result, he asked the court to quash the suit for absence of jurisdiction.
Justice Buba, who agreed with the defence in his ruling, dismissed most of the applicants’ requests but awarded no cost.
It will be recalled the House of Representatives on December 19, 2013, approved the recommendation by its aviation committee asking for the removal of aviation minister, Stella Oduah, over her decision to order the illegal purchase of two armoured cars at an inflated N255 million.
The cars were purchased by NCAA, an agency under the supervision of the minster, which is also charged with the responsibility of ensuring the airworthiness of commercial planes flying within the Nigerian airspace.
The federal lawmakers has said the contract breached the federal appropriation and public procurement laws, as it was neither budgeted for by government nor was it publicly advertised and bided for.
Oduah claimed she did nothing wrong as funding for the cars, made available for First Bank, was arranged to comply with her spending limit and relevant laws. She said the purchase was not done in her name.