H’Court want ex-finance minister, its Fed Govt to account for missing fund

A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has ordered former Minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government to provide information on how N30 trillion was spent. The cash represents some accruable income to the Federal Government during the last four years of the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Justice Ibrahim Buba gave the order while delivering judgment in a Freedom of Information suit brought by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) against the defendants.

SERAP’s suit followed revelations by a former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Prof. Charles Soludo, that at least N30 trillion “has either been stolen or unaccounted for, or grossly mismanaged over the last few years under the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s watch”.

A statement issued yesterday by SERAP’s Deputy Director, Olukayode Majekodunmi, stated that while delivering judgment in the matter, Justice Buba said: “Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government have no legally justifiable reason for refusing to provide SERAP with the information requested for.

“The court has gone through the application and agrees that SERAP’s application has merits and the argument is not opposed. SERAP’s application is granted as prayed.”

He agreed with the arguments by the SERAP deputy director that Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government “should have either supplied the information requested by SERAP or communicate her denial within seven days of receipt of the letter from SERAP if she considers that the request should be denied”.

The judgment by Justice Buba added that “preliminary objection by Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government is misconceived; the court upholds the arguments by SERAP for the reasons stated herein”.

SERAP commenced the proceeding by way of an originating summons dated February 23, 2015 and filed February 25, 2015.

The respondents filed a Memorandum of Conditional Appearance, a Notice of Preliminary Objection and written address – all undated but filed on September 29, 2015.

The preliminary objection was filed on the following grounds that SERAP did not obtain the mandatory leave of the Federal High Court to issue and serve the originating summons and other processes outside Lagos State; that there is no mandatory endorsement on the originating summons that it is to be served on Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government in Abuja and outside jurisdiction of this court.

The judge said: “The only issue for determination is whether Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government should be heard on their preliminary objection considering the totality of the circumstances of this case.

“The suit filed on February 25, 2015 was served on Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government on July 3, 2015 and took about three months for the respondents to come up with technical response to the simple request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2011.”

Justice Buba further noted: “Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government have therefore been caught by Order 29 of the Rules of this court, which requires that an application shall be made within 21 days after service on the defendants of the originating summons.”

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