Minister has 48 hours to comply with order or risk being committed for contempt of court.
The Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is facing contempt of court for disobeying an order.
The notice of consequences of disobedience to order of court, otherwise known as Form 48, issued by Justice A. Abdu-Kafarati, was served on the Minister on Tuesday April 29, 2014 in her Abuja office.
Justice Abdul-Kafarati of the Federal High Court, Abuja, had ruled that details of all statutory transfers in the 2013 Appropriation Act (Budget) be released to the public, and particularly o a group that sought for it.
The order was in respect of Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/301/2013 filed by Kingsley Nnajiaka, an Abuja-based legal practitioner, on behalf of the Centre for Social Justice, CSJ.
Mr. Nnajiaka had asked the court for an order of mandamus compelling Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala in her capacity as the Minister of Finance to grant him access to the details of the statutory transfers in the 2013 budget.
Specifically, the lawyer demanded the details of the money released by the Federal Government to the National Judicial Council, NJC; Niger-Delta Development Commission, NDDC; Universal Basic Education, UBE; the National Assembly, NASS; the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC; and the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC.
In making the request, Mr. Nnajiaka had also asked the court to declare that denying him access to the details of the statutory transfers in the 2013 budget, without explanation, constituted an infringement of his rights guaranteed and protected by Section 1 (1) of the Freedom of Information, FOI, Act 2011.
In his judgment on February 25, 2014, Justice Abdul-Kafarati granted the applicant all his reliefs, including that the continuous refusal of the minister to grant the applicant access to the details of statutory transfer in the 2013 budget despite repeated demands violated Section 4 of the Freedom of Information Act 2011 and Section 48 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007.
In the contempt charge, the judge noted that since the order was made, the minister had refused to comply with the order, despite several letters to her on the need to comply.
The Lead Director of CSJ, Eze Onyekpere, told PREMIUM TIMES that since the judgment, his organization has held series of meetings with officials in the minister’s office without success.
Mr. Onyekpere said with the notice of contempt charge, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala has 48 hours to comply with the order or risk being committed for contempt of court.
Under the 1999 Nigerian constitution (as amended), the affected government agencies are considered statutory bodies that are entitled to draw their funding directly from the Federation Account.
But, since 2011, the Federal Government has refused to make public, the budget details of these agencies, ostensibly to guarantee their autonomy and independence.
However, Mr. Onyekpere said such practice has often been subjected to corruption and sundry abuses by officials, necessitating the demand for openness and transparency in the disbursements.
He said the application was made in good faith in a bid to help curb observed acts of impunity and fiscal lawlessness by government through the expenditure of several billions of Naira in the budget without appropriation, and with fraud and illegal allocation of revenues under various questionable sub-heads, including service wide votes.
Shortly after the February ruling of the court, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala assured that her ministry would ensure immediate compliance, saying she had directed the relevant departments responsible to compile the relevant information and data.
Calls to the Senior Special Assistant to the Minister, Paul Nwabuikwu, did not go through when our reporter made efforts to seek his comment on the issue. He also did not respond to a text message and email sent to him.
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