The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has ordered former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the Goodluck Jonathan led administration to account for N30 trillion said to have been missing or unaccounted for while they were in government. Justice Ibrahim Buba had given the order in a Freedom of Information suit number FHC/L/CS/196/2015 filed by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
SERAP’s filed the suit following 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.” SERAP had approached the court to order the former Minister and the Federal government to provide it with information on the said N30 trillion.
Delivering judgement in the suit last week, 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 judgment by 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 23 February 2015 and filed 25 February 2015. Mrs 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 Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government in Abuja and outside jurisdiction of this Court.
"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.
"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 Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government on 3 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.
"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.
"If Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the federal government want to raise issues about service, the law does not permit of demurer. 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."