Lagos, Tuesday, June 16, 2015: A Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday ordered First Bank of Nigeria Plc to disclose details of the loan facility it granted the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for the 2013 purchase of two bullet-proof BMW cars for the then Aviation Minister Stella Oduah.
Justice Mohammed N. Yunusa issued the order while delivering judgment in a suit instituted by Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria, a non-governmental organization, against the bank over its refusal to disclose the information to the organization following an application it made under the Freedom of Information Act on October 30, 2013.
The judgment is EIE’s second judicial victory in the matter as it obtained a similar order in March 2015 directing Coscharis Motors Limited to disclose details of the transaction. A third suit instituted by EIE against the NCAA is still pending.
In the First Bank suit filed on behalf of EIE on January 9, 2014 by Mr. Ayodeji Acquah of Media Rights Agenda’s Network of Freedom of Information Lawyers, EiE prayed the court for the following reliefs:
- A declaration that the failure and/or refusal of the First Bank to grant access to or make available to EIE the information it requested in its letter dated October 30, 2013 amounts to wrongful denial of access to information under Section 7(5) of the FOI Act;
- A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by the First Bank to give EIE a written notice that access to all or part of the information requested would not be granted and stating reasons for the denial and the section of the FOI Act upon which the bank relied to deny EIE access to the information it requested amounts to a flagrant violation of Section 4(b), 7(1), (2), and (3) of the FOI Act and is therefore wrongful;
- An order of mandamus compelling First Bank to grant access to or make available to EIE the information it requested in its letter dated October 30, 2013, namely:
- The credit application file the bank provided for the loan facility of N836,970,156 for the purchase of two bullet proof BMW 760 Ll HSS vehicles for the NCAA from Coscharis Motors with the following details:
- original documents including pro-forma invoice(s) from the supplier, request letter from NCAA and insurance certificate for the assets (the BMW vehicles);
- rationale for approval including the credit application (or an acceptable alternative) originating the request and details of the approving authority; and
- offer letter to NCAA stating the terms and conditions of the loan facility.
- The loan account statement reflecting the two payments already made as stated during the testimony of Mr. Joyce D. Nkemakolam, the Director of the Aerodrome and Airspace Standards and former Acting Director General of NCAA; and
An order of mandamus compelling the Attorney-General of the Federation to initiate criminal proceedings against First Bank for wrongful denial of access to information to EIE under Section 7(5) of the FOI Act.
Although First Bank claimed at the hearing of the suit that as a private company, it is not covered by the FOI Act, Justice Yunusa noted that the bank did not deny EIE’s claim that the bank collects levies and taxes on behalf of various governments and government institutions and is therefore a private company performing public functions within the meaning of the Act.
He held that going by the provisions of Sections 2(7) and 31 of the FOI Act, the bank is covered by the Act.
Justice Yunusa ruled that Sections 1(3) and 20 of the FOI Act give EIE the right to apply to the court to compel the First Bank to disclose the information that it applied for but which was denied, observing that the bank did not give any reason for its refusal to disclose the information requested by the organization.
Saying that the objective of the FOI Act, as stated in its preamble, is to make public records and information more freely available, the judge granted the reliefs prayed for by EIE but declined to issue an order directing the Attorney-General of the Federation to initiate criminal proceedings against First Bank. He asked EIE to write formally to the Attorney-General of the Federation requesting that criminal proceedings be initiated against the bank.