A Federal High Court in Abuja on Wednesday fixed June 3 for ruling on an application brought by a group, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), seeking an order of court to commit Finance Minister, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to prison over alleged contempt of court.
Counsel to the group, Mr Kingsley Nnajika, who moved the motion for order of committal(Form 49), urged the court to commit Okonjo-Iweala to prison for allegedly failing to obey a February 25, 2014 judgment.
The trial judge, Justice Abdul Kafarati, had in the said judgment, ordered the minister to provide details of statutory disbursement to six federal agencies in line with the Freedom of Information (FOI) law.
The agencies are the National Judicial Council (NJC), Niger-Delta Development Commission (NNDC), Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), National Assembly (NASS), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
CSJ had sued the minister following 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 the said agencies.
Justice Kafarati had in his judgment in the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/301/2013, upheld CSJ’s claim and ordered the Finance Minister to among others, supply the group with the requested information.
In spite of being served with the court’s judgment and enrolled orders made pursuant to the judgment, Okonjo-Iweala, the applicant’s counsel said, refused to obey the court order.
The minister’s action compelled the applicant to issue Form 48 (notice of consequence of disobedience of court orders) and Form 49 (motion for order of committal).
Moving the Form 49 Motion on Wednesday, Nnajika argued that the orders of the court were unambiguous vis-a-vis the directive for the minister to supply it with the said information.
According to Nnajika, the minister’s argument in her affidavit of compliance that she had written to the six agencies directing them to do the needful was tantamount to clear disobedience of the court order.
He said: “The order did not say the minister should give us acknowledgment copies of letters written to the agencies. This 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 her to prison until she complies with the order of the court.”
Mr Abdulhameed Ibrahim, counsel to Okonjo-Iweala, in his response, urged the court not to accede to CSJ’s request, arguing that the minister did not deliberately disobey the court’s order.
According to him, the information requested by the applicant was not within the direct reach of the minister, which was the reason for the letters she wrote to the affected agencies.
He, in the affidavit of compliance filed before the court, 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,” Ibrahim argued.
Justice Kafarati fixed June 3, 2015, for ruling on the minister’s fate.