Former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Charles Soludo, had sometime back alleged that N30trillion went missing under the watch of former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Following this allegation, a group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, had demanded an explanation from Okonjo-Iweala under the Freedom of Information Act and later filed a suit before Justice Ibrahim Buba of a Federal High Court in Lagos after the ex-minister did not oblige its request. The Federal Government was joined as a respondent in the suit.
In a statement on Sunday by its Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, SERAP quoted Justice Ibrahim Buba as saying, “The court has gone through the application and agrees that SERAP’s application has merit and the argument is not opposed. SERAP’s application is granted as prayed.” Justice Buba held, “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 February 25, 2015 and from the record of the court was served on Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government on July 3, 2015. It took about three months for them to come up with a 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 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 with order 29 of the rules of this court.The implication of this clear provision of the rule of court is that Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and the Federal Government must take issues with SERAP on the originating summons no matter how flimsy, instead of looking for a technical way out. This technical way out has failed.”