By INNOCENT ANABA
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, Friday, ordered Attorney General of the Federation and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to within 72 hours, furnish President of Progressive Shareholders Association of Nigeria, PSAN, Mr Boniface Okezie, with details of property seized from former Managing Director of defunct Oceanic Bank Plc, Mrs Cecilia Ibru.
It will be recalled that Ibru was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment by former Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Dan Abutu, after she (Ibru) pleaded guilty to a three-count charge of recklessly granting credit facilities.
Ibru had admitted granting an illegal credit facility of $20 million to WAVES Project Nigeria Limited and N2 billion unlawful credit to Petosan Farms. She also agreed that she failed to ensure that the 2009 balance sheet of Oceanic Bank was a true view of the state of affairs of the bank.
Friday, order was made by Justice Mohammed Idris in a judgment in a suit by Okezie,under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
Okezie had prayed the court to compel EFCC, to disclose the total cash and value of property recovered from Cecilia Ibru.
He had sought to know the whereabouts of the recovered assets, and the portion of the asset returned to Oceanic Bank and its shareholders.
He had also sought to know the source and amounts paid to EFCC, for the prosecution of former bank Chiefs in Nigeria, the list of criminal prosecution carried out by EFCC through private lawyers, and the reason for not utilising the commission’s counsel.
He had also asked the court to compel the AGF, to disclose the list of criminal prosecution carried out by the Ministry of Justice through private lawyers, and why the Ministry of Justice had resorted to the use of private lawyers for prosecution, instead of lawyers in the Ministry of Justice.
In his judgment, the court held that by the provisions of sections 2 and 3 of the FOI Act, the plaintiff was conferred with the requisite “locus standi” (right) to institute the suit.
”By the provision of the FOI act, where an information is sought, public institutions are required to deliver same within seven days.
”Where however it declines, it must elicit valid grounds for its refusal in writing to the applicant within seven days. In the instant suit, it appears that the AGF has not declined to provide the required information, but had sought for adequate time within which to collate the required information and serve same on the applicant, whereas, the EFCC had bluntly refused to comply.
” I am of the view that on receipt of the plaintiff’s request, EFCC had a duty to respond, but in this case, they simply kept mute. Let me say, that non of the defendants has such powers under the law.
”The EFCC had failed to file any counter affidavit stating the reasons for its failure to avail the plaintiff with the required information.
In my view, the defendant did not show that by its non disclosure, it was protecting the certainty, deliberative or policy making process within the agency.
”EFCC has not shown that it is protecting the disclosure of an information that will constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of the privacy of individuals in the agency, or that would contaminate its court proceedings.
I am of the view in this case, that non of the information required by the plaintiff threatens the national security.
”The FOI act is meant to promote democracy, transparency, justice and development. It is designed to change how government works, because we all like Nigerians, have resolved that it should no longer be business as usual.
”Therefore, every public institution “Must” prepare itself for a full implementation of the FOI act, and the judiciary has no choice but to comply with the enforcement of the act. Obedience to the rule of law especially by those who take oath of office in public institutions, is a “desideratum” to good governance.
”Judgment is hereby given in favour of the plaintiff, and the defendants are directed to provide the said information within 72-hours of this judgment.
The law is the last resort of human wisdom and the court will never sanction what is injurious to the public. this is the judgment of this court,” the court ruled.