Court Orders Okonjo-Iweala,FG To Account For Missing N30tr
The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos in a landmark judgment has ordered former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government to “provide information on the spending of the alleged missing N30 trillion which represents some accruable income to the Federal Government during the last four years of the Administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The judgment was delivered last week by Hon Justice Ibrahim Buba following a Freedom of Information suit number FHC/L/CS/196/2015 brought by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
SERAP’s suit followed revelations by the former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), 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.
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.”
The Court agreed with the arguments by SERAP Deputy Director Olukayode Majekodunmi that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government “should have either supplied the information requested by SERAP or communicate her denial within 7 days of receipt of the letter from SERAP if she considers that the request should be denied.”
The judgment by Justice Buba reads in part, “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 this proceeding by way of Originating Summons dated February 23, 2015 and filed 25 February 2015.
Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government filed a Memorandum of Conditional Appearance, a Notice of Preliminary Objection and written address, all undated but filed on 29 September 2015.
The preliminary objection is 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 Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government in Abuja and outside jurisdiction of this Court.
The only issue for determination is whether Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government should be heard on their preliminary objection considering the totality of the circumstances of this case.
According to SERAP, “He who wants equity must do equity. This suit was filed on 25 February 2015 and from the record of the court was served on Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government on 3rd July, 2015. It took about 3 months for them to come up with technical response to the simple request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2011.”
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.
SERAP added that if Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government want to raise issues about service, the law does not permit of demurer, adding that the proper route for them should have been to join issues with the originating summons and also file their objections.
In the present case by SERAP, the Notice of Preliminary Objection by Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government is incurably defective for not conforming to order 29 of the Rules of this Court.
The process adopted by Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government in this suit is to come by way of demurer. This process has long been abolished by the Rules of this Court and by Order 16 Rule 1 of the Rules of this Court, no demurer shall be allowed and rule 2 provides that a party shall be entitled to pursue by his pleadings any point of law and any point of law so raised shall be disposed by the judge who tries the cause at or after trial.
The implication of this clear provision of the rule of court is that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government must join issues with SERAP on the originating summons no matter how flimsy, instead of looking for a technical way out. This technical way out has failed.