An appeal court sitting in Lagos has affirmed the verdict of a Federal high court in Lagos as it directed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to disclose the total cash and value of properties recovered from the former Managing Director of Oceanic bank, Cecilia Ibru.
Also, the CBN is expected to disclose the whereabouts of the money and property recovered and what part of this cash and properties has been returned to Oceanic bank and its shareholders.
The affirmation of the judgement of the Federal high court was as a result of suit filed by a Lagos lawyer Mr Chuks Nwachkwu on behalf of a shareholder of Oceanic bank Mr. Boniface Okezie before a Federal high court in Lagos urging the court to compel CBN to make disclosure of the following:
1 (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,
- Olanihun Ajayi LP of Adunola, Plot 12,401Close Banana Island Ikoyi, Lagos.
Kola Awodein & CO. of 6th Floor UBA House, 57,marina, Lagos.
(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.
In an affidavit sworn to by a legal practitioner Kingsley Ishicheli and filed and argued by Barrister Chuks Nwachukwu before a federal high court in Lagos, it was averred that Mr. Okezie, in a letter titled request for the information under the freedom of information Act 2011, addressed to the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria to release to him the aforementioned information, in view of the fact that CBN is a public body, an agency of the institution of the Federal Government of Nigeria created by law and bound under the freedom of information Act 2011 to make available to him the information requested for by him , but CBN in breach of its duty neglected, refused and failed to make available to him despite acknowledging the receipt of his letter.
It was also the case of Mr. Okezie that the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria had been involved in free and non-transparent spending of public funds to even to the chagrin of the National assembly and he also heard the rumors that the Governor of Central Bank and his associates have either embezzled, misappropriated or otherwise dissipated the funds running into hundreds of billions of Naira recovered from Cecilia Ibru and cannot render account for them.
However, in its response, the CBN contended that ,though it received the letter of request from Mr. Okezie, the information requested for relates primarily to the professional fees paid to two law firm of lawyers handling various matters for CBN and for which 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 and 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.
On the 2nd of October, 2012,the presiding Judge Mohammed Idris, in his judgement refused to grant reliefs 1(a),(b) (c) and (d) whilst reliefs (e),(f) and (g) were granted and directing the information relating to the reliefs granted to Mr. Okezie within 72hours of the delivery of the said Judgement, as Justice Abubakar said 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, Haven been dissatisfied with order of the court ordering it to disclose (e) The total cash and value of properties recovered from Cecilia Unit, (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. CBN filed an appeal urging the court to up- turn the judgement of the Federal high court.
In a similar manner, Mr. Okezie in its appeal urged the appellate court to grant the order reliefs that the Federal high court in Lagos refused to grant.
The appellate court, having appraised the entirety of the affidavit and counter affidavit and reply to counter affidavit evidence of the parties as in the record of appeal.
In a lead judgment delivered by Justice Biobele Abraham Georgegwill, the Judge said “In line with the applicable principle of law, it follows therefore that this appeal (CBN) lacks merit and is thus liable to be dismissed. I hereby so dismiss it. In the result, part of the judgement of the Federal high court, Lagos division, Coram: M.B. Idris Just, 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.”
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