Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, by a Federal High Court in Abuja has been ordered to grant the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) access to the details of the statutory transfers in the 2013 federal budget. This is by the judgement of Justice Abdu Kafarati of the Federal High Court, Abuja on February 25, 2014 in the Matter of Centre for Social Justice V Minister of Finance (Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/301/2013) .
In a letter sent to Honourable Minister of Finance on April 5 2013, CSJ sought the details of the statutory transfers in the 2013 budget. However, this request was denied by the Minister.CSJ argued in the letter that there is no law authorizing lump sum statement of allocations. Stating statutory transfers as lump sums is not acceptable in a constitutional democracy founded on the rule of law and the sovereignty of the people. Indeed, no agency of government, under any guise, is allowed to spend public resources in a way and manner and for purposes not known to citizens explained CSJ.
CSJ approached the Court under the Freedom of Information Act and the Fiscal Responsibility Act to compel the Office of the Minister of Finance to grant its application.
The Court held:
“The Applicant herein has satisfied the Court that they applied for the information from the Respondent which information was refused. It is not in dispute that the information is in the custody or possession of the Respondent in his capacity as a public official. It is therefore my opinion that the applicant has satisfied the requirement for the grant of this application. Accordingly the Applicant’s Originating Motion dated 5th June, 2013 is granted as prayed as regards prayers A – D”.
The Court specifically granted the following reliefs:
A. That a declaration is hereby granted that denying the Applicant access to the details of the statutory transfer in the 2013 Appropriation Act by the Respondent without explanation constitutes an infringement of the Applicant’s right guaranteed and protected by section 1(1) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
B. That a declaration is hereby granted that the continued refusal of the Respondent to grant to the Applicant access to the details of statutory transfer in the 2013 Appropriation Act despite Applicant’s demand violates Section 4 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
C. That a declaration is hereby granted that the continued refusal of the Respondent to grant access to the Applicant of the details of the statutory transfer in the 2013 Appropriation Act without explanation constitutes an infringement of the Applicant’s right guaranteed and protected by section 48 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007.
D. That an Order of Mandamus is granted compelling the Respondent to grant to the Applicant access to the details of the statutory transfer in the 2013 Appropriation Act specifically the details of the transfer to the National Judicial Council, Niger-Delta Development Commission, Universal BasicEducation, National Assembly, Independent National Electoral Commission and National Human Rights Commission.
According to CSJ, “This judgement is a reaffirmation of the right of Nigerians to be governed in an open and transparent manner and through the rule of law – encompassing fiscal responsibility and best practices in fiscal governance.”