Monday, May 15, 2017 2:50 pm
A Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos on Monday affirmed the 2012 verdict of a Federal high directing the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to disclose the total cash and value of properties recovered from the former Managing Director of the defunct Oceanic Bank of Nigeria, Mrs Cecilia Ibru.
The Court lower court had in the judgement also ordered that apex bank to disclose the whereabouts of the money and property recovered from Ibru as well as disclose what part of the cash properties has been returned to Oceanic bank and its shareholders.
The ruling of the Federal High Court followed a suit filed before it by Mr Chuks Nwachkwu, a Lagos based lawyer on behalf of Mr Boniface Okezie, a shareholder of the defunct bank urging it to compel the CBN to make disclosure of the following:
(a) The cost of Central Bank of Nigeria and the Government of the people of Nigeria so far of the banking reforms instituted by the Central Bank and particularly,
(b) The amount of Legal fees paid and to be paid to professionals and professional bodies,
(c) How much or the amount in (a) above represents fees paid and to be paid to the firms of,
(d) What is the total sum paid to the firm of Olaniwun Ajayi in respect of prosecution of Cecilia Ibru, former Managing Director of Oceanic bank Plc, and how much of this sum was in the form of commission on the property recovered from her.
(e) The total cash and value of properties recovered from Cecilia Ibru.
(f) The whereabouts of the money and properties recovered.
(g) What part of this cash and properties has been returned to Oceanic bank and/or its shareholders.
The lawyer had in an affidavit filed before the court averred that Mr Okezie had in a letter titled: Request For the Information Under The Freedom of Information Act 2011, addressed to the Governor of CBN asked the apex bank to make the information available to him.
But he noted that the CBN refused despite acknowledging the receipt of his letter.
In demanding for the information, Mr Okezie also argued that the then Governor of CBN had been involved in free and non-transparent spending of public funds, even to the chagrin of the National Assembly.
He also claimed that he heard the rumours that the then CGovernor andand his associates have either embezzled, misappropriated or otherwise dissipated the funds running into hundreds of billions of Naira recovered from Cecilia Ibru and cannot account for them.
However, in its response, the CBN, contended that though it received the letter of request of Mr. Okezie, the information requested for relates primarily to the professional fees paid to two law firms handling various matters for it.
The apex bank said it was advised by its legal Department against releasing the requested information as it would amount to a violation of the legal Practitioner -Client privilege.
It further argued that the information sought in the said application relate to the contractual relationship and negotiation between the CBN and legal practitioners and professionals engaged by CBN for their services to the Bank, and if disclosed, would adversely interfere with the contract and the negotiations for services between the bank and those professionals as it is a momentous condition of the service by those professionals to the Bank that their remuneration shall never be disclosed to any third party
In a ruling delivered on 2, October, 2012, Justice Mohammed Idris, refused to grant requests related to the disclosure of fees being paid by the CBN to its lawyers, but ordered that information related to management of funds recovered from the former managing director of the defunct Oceanic Bank should be provided to Mr. Okezie within 72hours by the apex bank.
Specifically, the Judge ordered the CBN to provide information on the total cash and value of properties recovered from Ibru, the whereabouts of the money and properties recovered and what part of the cash and properties has been returned to Oceanic bank and/or its Shareholders.
The Judge noted that under the FOI Act, if any information is refused, the organization must provide the applicant with a notice which clearly states the reason why it is withholding the information that has been requested.
The two parties appealed the judgment.
The CBN was dissatisfied with order of the court ordering it to disclose information on the management of the funds it recovered from Ibru and consequently filed an appeal to upturn the judgment of the Federal high court.
Mr. Okezie, in his appeal, urged the appellate court to grant the other reliefs the Federal High Court refused to grant.
But while affirming the lower court judgment, the Court of Appeal, in a lead judgment delivered by Justice Biobele Abraham George on Monday dismissed both appeals as lacking in merit.
“In the result, part of the judgment of the Federal high court, Lagos division, Coram: M.B. Idris Justice, in suit number FHC/L/CS/494/2012, Mr.Boniface Okezie Versus The Central Bank of Nigeria delivered on 2/10/2012 wherein reliefs 1(e),(f) and (g) sought by Mr. Okezie were granted is hereby affirmed. Wherein reliefs 1(a),(b),(c) and (d) sought by Mr Boniface Okezie were refused and dismissed.
“Thus, in Law on the facts and circumstances of this appeal, it is clear and I so find that the professionals and consultant, including the two firms of Kola Awodein and Olaniwun Ajayi whose fees are sought to be disclosed by Mr. Okezie are third parties under the meaning of the provision of section 15(1)(a) and (d) of the Freedom of Information Act, and they are persons who, being in a contractual relationship with the CBN would suffer collateral damage if such disclosures are made by the CBN,” the appelate court judge said in the lead judgment.