Justice Mohammed Yunusa of the 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 former Minister of Aviation Princess Stella Oduah.
The judge held that the bank is covered by the provisions of Sections 2(7) and 31 of the Freedom of Information Act even though it is a private company.
Justice Yunusa had on April 28 delivered a similar judgment against Coscharis Motors Limited, which was involved in the transaction. The company has appealed the judgment.
The BMW vehicles were said to have cost N255million.
Yesterday’s verdict was on a suit also filed by a group, Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria, against the bank over its refusal to disclose the information following an application it made under the FOI Act on October 30, 2013.
Although First Bank claimed at the hearing that as a private company, it was not covered by the FOI Act, Justice Yunusa noted that the bank did not deny EIE’s claim that it collects levies and taxes on the government’s behalf and is, therefore, a private company performing public functions within the meaning of 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.
According to him, the bank did not give any reason for its refusal to disclose the information.
Holding 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.
The court, however, refused to issue an order directing the Attorney-General of the Federation to initiate criminal proceedings against First Bank but asked EIE to write formally to the Attorney-General.
The suit was filed on behalf of EIE last January 9 by Mr. Ayodeji Acquah of Media Rights Agenda Network.
The applicant sought a declaration that the bank’s refusal 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.It sought for an an order of mandamus compelling First Bank to grant access to or make available to EIE the information it requested.
It sought to know 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 Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) from Coscharis Motors.
EIE asked for the 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.
It also asked for the loan account statement reflecting the two payments, 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.