THE Federal High Court, Abuja, has granted the request of an anti-corruption group, Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), demanding details of bidders for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s e-Naira technical partner’s project.
In the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1542/2021, between the Incorporated Trustees Of HEDA Resources Centre and the CBN, the group sought an order of mandamus to compel the apex bank to reveal details of the bidding process for the project.
The CBN had announced Bitt Incorporated as a technical partner for its digital currency project named “eNaira” after what it described as a competitive bidding process.
In a letter dated September 1, 2021, signed by the Chairman of HEDA, Olanrewaju Suraju, and addressed to the former CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, HEDA requested details of the bidding process.
The organisation requested the following from the apex bank: evidence of a newspaper advert calling for bidders for the contract, a list of bidders, and proof of public opening of the bid.
The organisation said the demand was keeping with international best practices. The request was dated September 1, 2021.
According to the Certified True Copy (CTC) of the case sighted by The ICIR, HEDA, in a motion on notice dated and filed on February 22, 2022, prayed the court for an order of mandamus compelling the CBN to supply the information in the request.
On the main application, the applicant’s counsel, Labiru Ahmad, drafted a sole issue in his written address dated and filed on February 22, 2022, which is whether, considering the facts and circumstances of the case, the applicant provided sufficient ground(s) for the grant of the reliefs sought in the application.
He argued that the demand was to make public records and information freely available to the public and that every person had the right to access or request information, as enshrined in Section 1(1) of the FOI Act, 2011.
In his written address, counsel for the CBN, Bamikole Folorunso, citing Section 15(2) of the Public Procurement Act, contended that a newspaper advertisement for bidders and a public opening of bids were not necessary for the e-Naira bidding process, which involved specific products, works, and services connected to national defence and security.
He further argued that releasing the information sought would harm Nigeria’s foreign policy, economic interests, and security, especially because other countries were approaching the CBN for advice on how to implement e-currency in their own countries.
He said such information was exempted by Section 11(1) of the FOI Act, 2011.
In his response, the applicant’s lawyer abandoned two of the requested pieces of information: evidence of the newspaper advert calling for bidders and evidence of public opening of the bid. He left the list of bidders as the only information requested by HEDA.
According to him, it does not come under exemption in any law.
In its ruling on Friday, November 10, the judge, Z.B. Abubakar, emphasised that the CBN is a public institution or agency, as defined in Section 31 of the FoI Act, 2011.
Abubakar stressed that the mandatory nature of the provisions, employing the term “shall,” leaves the respondent with no discretion but to comply.
“Therefore, the disclosure of the information requested by the applicant, which is reduced to only the list of bidders, cannot possibly interfere with the contractual or other negotiations of a third party, nor can it frustrate any procurement process or exercise in relation to that or give an advantage to any person howsoever.
“What the applicant requested is only the list of the bidders and nothing more. Thus, the facts and circumstances of the two cases are distinct, which makes the case under reference inapplicable to this instant one.
“Based on the foregoing, the applicant merits the grant of the sole relief sought, which, however, relates only to the information on the list of the bidders, and it is accordingly granted, the judge ruled.
Consequently, the court deemed the applicant’s application meritorious and granted the relief sought.
Speaking on the matter, HEDA’s chairman, in a chat with The ICIR, said the judgment strengthened HEDA’s resolve to promote accountability in governance in the country.
“It is also pushing back on attempts by public officials to personalise government and its institutions,” he said.
He added that HEDA would continue challenging every illegal, unconstitutional, and disobedience of the rule of law by public office holders.