Court Orders Ex-Minister, Umar-Farouk, To Account For N729bn

Justice Deinde Dipeolu of the Federal High Court in Lagos has ordered a former minister of humanitarian affairs, disasters management and social development, Sadia Umar-Farouk, to make public the details of how N729 billion was paid to 24.3 million poor Nigerians for six months.

Justice Dipeolu gave the order while delivering judgement in a Freedom of Information suit by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) seeking an order to compel the former minister to provide the list and details of the beneficiaries who received the payments, the number of states covered and the payments per state.

The judge issued an order of mandamus directing and compelling the minister to provide SERAP with details of how the beneficiaries have been selected and the mechanisms for the payments to the beneficiaries.

The court further ordered Umar-Farouk to explain the rationale for paying N5,000 to 24.3 million poor Nigerians, which translates to five percent of Nigeria’s budget of N13.6 trillion for 2021.

In the verdict, Justice Dipeolu, who held that the former minister did not give any reason for the refusal to disclose the details sought by SERAP, also dismissed the objections raised by the minister’s counsel and upheld the plaintiff’s arguments.

The judge further held that where a statute clearly provides for a particular act to be done or performed in a particular way, failure to perform the act as provided will not only be interpreted as delinquent conduct but will be interpreted as not complying with the statutory provision.

He stated, “The minister filed a preliminary objection to this suit dated the 4th of October 2022 and a counter-affidavit to SERAP’s motion on notice. I will first deal with the minister’s preliminary objection because it bothers on the jurisdiction of this Court to entertain this suit.

“The grounds upon which the preliminary objection was filed are whether this suit is not incompetent, having not commenced within 30 days after SERAP’s request for information was deemed denied.

“Having not complied with the provision of section 20 of the Freedom of Information, whether this Court can assume jurisdiction to entertain SERAP’s application.

“As arguments on both issues, the minister’s counsel submitted that by the provision of section 4,7(4) and 20 of the Freedom of Information Act, subject to lawful exceptions within the Act, a public institution has seven days to grant a request for information, failure of which would be deemed denial.

“SERAP’s request was deemed denied on 6th July, which is the expiration of 7 days. Therefore, SERAP has 30 days pursuant to section 20 of the Act to apply to this Court.

“SERAP’s 30 days within which to bring this suit expired on 5th of August 2021, whilst the motion on notice was filed on the 9th of November 2021, outside the 30 days stipulated by the Act. Consequently, this suit is statute barred.

“In response, SERAP’s counsel argued that this suit was not commenced via the motion of notice dated 8th November 2021. This suit was initiated by a motion exparte dated 13th July 2021 but filed on the 15th of July 2021, after the expiration of the 7 days period required of the minister to respond to the FOI request by SERAP.

“This is in compliance with section 20 of the Freedom of Information Act and Order 34 Rule 3(1) of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2019.

“The above are the submissions of counsel as regards the preliminary objection by the minister. I agree with SERAP’s counsel that the minister did not properly search the case file before filing the preliminary objection,” the judge held.

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