Posted by Eric Ikhilae, Abuja | 6 June 2018 | 3,445 times
A Federal High Court in Abuja has held that information regarding the cost of President Muhammadu Buhari’s London treatment was his personal affairs, which could only be disclosed with his consent.
Justice John Tsoho, in a judgment on Tuesday, said the information fall within the items exempted from disclosure under Section 14(1(b) of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.
The judgment was on a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1142/2017 filed by the Incorporated Trustees of Advocacy for Societal Rights Advancement and Development Initiative (ASRADI), led by Adeolu Oyinlola.
ASRADI had, in the suit, with the Central Bank governor, Godwin Emefiele, the CBN and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) as defendants, accused the CBN and its governor of refusing to honour its FoI request contained in a letter of October 19, 2017 for information on the amount released for Buhari’s medical treatment in London and the amount paid on behalf of the Nigerian government as parking fees for keeping the presidential aircraft and crew in the UK while the President’s treatment lasted.
The group had urged the court to declare that the respondents’ refusal to provide it with the information “amounts to a wrongful denial of information and is a flagrant violation of the provisions of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2011.”
The applicant also sought an order compelling the respondents to furnish it with the information and a further order, mandating the CBN and its governor to pay the plaintiff N10million in damages “for the willful refusal of the 1st and 2nd respondents to release information in respect of the applicant’s letter dated 19th October 2017.”
The plaintiff argued that it was within the responsibilities of the CBN and its governor to provide the requested information because they “are responsible for all foreign currency transactions of the Nigerian government or transactions involving the Federal Government of Nigeria and foreign institutions as it concerns the transfer of money outside the shores of Nigeria.”
However, Justice Tsoho did not make any pronouncement on whether or not the plaintiff’s request for information on the cost of keeping the presidential aircraft in a London airport for over 100 days was also exempted under the FoI Act.
The judge was of the view that issues about the cost of President Buhari’s treatment were personal to him and could not be disclosed to the public without his consent as provided under Section 14(1(b) of the FoI Act.
Section 14(1) reads: “Subject to subsection (2), a public institution must deny an application for information that contains personal information and information exempted under this subsection includes: (b): personnel files and personal information maintained with respect to employees, appointees or elected officials of any public institution or applicants for such positions.
Sub-section 2 of Section 14 reads: “A public institution shall disclose any information that contains personal information if: (a) the individual to whom it relates consents to the disclosure; or (b) the information is publicly available”
Justice Tsoho also said the CBN and its governor could not be said to have refused the request made by the plaintiff under the FoI Act, as claimed by ASRADI, because the 1st and 2nd defendant (CBN and its governor) transferred the plaintiff’s letter of request to the office of the Chief of Staff to the President, in accordance with the provision of Section 5(1) of the FoI Act.
The judge said the 1st and 2nd defendants could not then be blamed for the plaintiff’s failure to follow up on their request when the CBN and its governor said the letter had been forwarded to the office of the President’s Chief of Staff.
He refused to grant the plaintiff’s prayer for N10 damages; on the grounds that it did not prove that it incurred damages.
The judge said the suit was without merit and struck it out.
Earlier, while ruling on the objection raised by the AGF, the judge held that the office of the AGF was not a necessary party to the suit because no cause of action was raised against it.
Reacting to the judgment, Oyinlola said: “We intend to go on appeal to determine how our demand for accountability regarding public resources spent, constitutes a personal affair of the President. We did not ask for his medical records. It is a preposterous judgment.(The Nation)
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