A Federal High Court in Lagos on Tuesday ordered First Bank Plc to disclose details of the loan facility it granted the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority for the purchase of the two controversial bulletproof BMW cars for the former Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, in 2013.
Public outcry had followed the purchase when the information leaked that the vehicles had cost N255m.
Justice Mohammed Yunusa in his judgment in a suit instituted against the bank by a civil society group, Enough is Enough Nigeria, held that the bank was bound by the provisions of Sections 2(7) and 31 of the Freedom of Information Act to release the details.
The judge held that the bank could not hide under the cover of being a private company to deprive the plaintiff of the information.
EiE Nigeria had on October 30, 2013, filed the suit under the provisions of the FoI Act, following the bank’s refusal to disclose the information to the group as earlier requested from the bank.
First Bank was said to have denied the group’s request without disclosing any reason.
Justice Yunusa had on April 28 delivered a similar judgment against Coscharis Motors Limited which supplied the vehicles to the NCAA. The NCAA stated that it had appealed the judgment.
The judge in dismissing First Bank’s defence anchored on being a private company noted that the bank did not deny EIE’s claim that it collected levies and taxes on behalf of the government.
It ruled that Sections 1(3) and 20 of the FOI Act gave EIE the right to apply to the court to compel the First Bank to disclose the information that it applied for.
The court held that the objective of the FOI Act, as stated in its preamble, was to make public records and information more freely available.
Justice Yunusa granted the reliefs prayed for by EIE.
The court, however, refused to issue an order directing the Attorney-General of the Federation to initiate criminal proceedings against First Bank.
But the court asked EIE to write formally to the Attorney-General.
The suit was filed on behalf of EIE last January 9 by Mr. Ayodeji Acquah of Media Rights Agenda Network.
EIE asked for the original documents including pro-forma invoice(s) from the supplier, request letter from the NCAA and insurance certificate for the assets (the BMW vehicles); rationale for approval including the credit application (or an acceptable alternative) originating the request and details of the approving authority; and offer letter to the NCAA stating the terms and conditions of the loan facility.