A group, Centre for Social Justice, on Wednesday urged a Federal High Court in Abuja to send the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to jail for contempt of court.
CSJ, through its counsel, Kingsley Nnajika, urged the presiding judge, Justice Abdulkadir Abdu-Kafarati to jail the minister for disobeying the court’s judgment delivered on February 25, 2014, directing her to provide details of statutory disbursement to some federal agencies.
Nnajika was arguing its application for committal (Form 49) which he filed against Okonjo-Iweala following the alleged disobedience of the order of court.
Justice Abdulkafarati fixed ruling on the CSJ’s prayer for June 3.
Nnajika urged Justice Abdu-Kafarati to commit Okonjo-Iweala as the orders of the court were unambiguous in relation to the directive for the minister to supply it with its requested information.
He faulted the claim by the minister, who he said had in her affidavit of compliance that she had written to the named agencies.
The lawyer said, “The order did not say the respondent (the minister) should give us acknowledgment copies of letters written to the agencies. The case lasted about one and half years.
“The respondent never said she had no access to the information we requested. Having failed to comply with the order, the court is left with no option than to make an order, based on our Form 49 already filed, committing the respondent (Finance Minister) to prison until she complies with the order of the court.”
But the minister’s lawyer, Abdulhameed Ibrahim, urged the court to reject CSJ’s prayer.
He argued that the minister did not disobey the court order because the information requested by the applicant was not within the direct reach of the minister.
Ibrahim, in the affidavit of compliance, urged the court to give mandatory orders, mandating three of the recalcitrant agencies to comply with the request.
“Three bodies, namely NNDC, NJC and the National Assembly have refused to accept and acknowledge the request. Only a court order mandating the other three cooperative bodies will compel them to furnish the applicant with the necessary information,” the lawyer said.
CSJ had sued the minister upon her refusal to honour its request, made under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, for the release of details of statutory transfers in the 2013 budget to six Federal Government’s agencies.
The agencies include the National Judicial Council, Niger-Delta Development Commission, Universal Basic Education Commission, National Assembly, Independent National Electoral Commission and the National Human Rights Commission.
Justice Abdu-Kafarati had in his judgement in the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/301/2013 upheld CSJ’s claim and ordered the minister to among others, supply the information requested by the applicant.
The applicant insisted that despite being served with the court’s judgment and enrolled orders of the judgment, Okonjo-Iweala declined to obey the judgement, forcing the applicant to issue Form 48 (notice of consequence of disobedience of court orders) and Form 49 (motion for order of committal).