A Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to provide information regarding the volume of US dollars it sold at the subsidised rate of N305 and details of those that benefited from its forex intervention scheme.
The CBN was ordered to provide the information to Incorporated Trustees of the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) Resource Centre, which sought the details through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which the apex bank declined.
In its judgment, delivered on May 3 and obtained by The ICIR on May 11, marked No: FHC/ABJ/CS/1622/2020, the court presided by M. O. Olajuwon held that under sections 4, 7(4) and 20 of the FOI Act and Order 34 Rule 3(1) of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules, the respondent was obliged to make the information requested by the applicant available.
The judge noted that “I hold that the Applicant is entitled to the information requested in Exhibit HEDA2, which is deemed to have been denied the Applicant by the Respondent.
“The Respondent, as a Public institution, has a duty under the FOI Act to provide details of the information requested by the Applicant. The failure of the Respondent to disclose the information on request by the Applicant is, therefore, unlawful.
“I find and hold that the Applicant is entitled to the reliefs sought as per its Motion on Notice filed on the 22nd day of September 2021.”
“Consequently, this Court makes the following Order: An Order of Mandamus compelling the Respondent to release the information requested by the Applicant in its FOI Request, dated 14/10/2020 (Exhibit HEDA2).”
Responding to the Court judgment in a chat with The ICIR, The Executive Director of HEDA Olanrewaju Suraju, said the verdict was a remarkable development.
He added that though the case took so long, the outcome is a measure of achievement.
“It took so long, almost like four years, because of the delay we have in the Nigerian judicial system and court.”
“For the court to have gone this way finally in also supporting the citizens and the civil societies to ensure that public officials understand that the occupation of the office is for the purpose of good governance, we are very happy that at long last we eventually get the required result,” Suraju said.
He added that HEDA will ensure that the judgment is enforced.
Speaking on CBN’s response to the judgment, Suraju said, “CBN does not have any response for now except going for an appeal because they were represented in court and the judgment went against them.”
Also commenting on the judgment, Legal Officer, HEDA Resource Centre David Ogungbesan stated that the court verdict shows that the FOIA will always be a viable tool in promoting transparency and public accountability.
He hoped the development would help reduce corruption and promote transparency, public accountability and good governance.
“It is an acknowledgement that all our efforts in the campaign for good governance, public transparency and the fight against corruption is gaining ground. It is also a positive outcome for the hard work HEDA has put into this campaign over the years,” he stated.
Prior to HEDA’s request, another CSO, Civic Media Lab, had made a similar FOI request to CBN which was not acceded to.
The Civic Media Lab had told the press that the request was prompted by claims by the then-chairman of the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria, Tunji Oyebanji, who said that he was not aware of any marketer obtaining foreign currency at the rate of N305 to the US dollar.
The CBN had rolled out a forex intervention scheme it co-managed with the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Oil marketers were supposed to be part of the beneficiaries of the subsided forex.
NOTE: This report was edited to reflect that Civic Media Lab was not part of the suit.