HEDA Drags CBN To Court Over FOI Request 

Yemisi Izuora

The Central Bank of Nigeria, (CBN), would be facing legal fireworks over failure

to honour requests to supply details of its agreement

with communication giant, MTN, relating to payment of $8billion fine

imposed over claims of corporate misconduct.

The CBN was last given seven days, as provided under the FoI Act, 2011

to produce the details of the deal or face legal actions.

The Human and Environmental Rights Agenda, (HEDA Resource Centre) had in

January this year requested for details of the resolution between the bank and MTN Nigeria on the improper repatriation of fund allegations against MTN.

HEDA had invoked the Freedom of Information Act 2011 demanding for the

release of details of the CBN agreement with MTN amidst wide

speculations that the deal was dotted with questionable clauses.

HEDA in a letter signed by its Chairman, Mr Olanrewaju Suraju in January

this year made the request in line with the Freedom of Information Act

2011 which in Section 4 states that within 7 days of the receipt of a

Freedom of Information request, the desired information requested for be

supplied.

“We are interested in the details of the agreement. It is in the

interest of Nigerians to know. The CBN is owned by the Nigerian people.

MTN performs functions that impact on millions of Nigerians. The

agreement between the CBN and MTN should not be a secret document. It

has to be made public. This is the HEDA position”, Suraju said in the

statement issued at the weekend.

The Nigerian authorities had asked mobile telecommunications firm, MTN,

to pay $8.1billion. The CBN had accused the South African giant of

illegally moving the funds in contravention of foreign exchange

regulations. The CBN asked the company to return the $8.1 billion “to

the coffers of the CBN.” MTN had denied any wrongdoings after which it

went to court challenging the fine. This led to an out of court

settlement with the MTN paying about $53million which the group said had

ended the four month old row.

In its series of follow-up letters, HEDA asked the CBN to come up with

details of the agreement with the communication giant.

In a string of terse acknowledgements, the CBN consistently hinged its

refusal to reply to  a lingering court case at the Abuja Division of the

Federal High Court, (FHC). In its latest letter, the CBN had stated that

‘In line with the provision of paragraph 12.3.1 of the revised

Guidelines on the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2011

refer to suit FHC/CS/1475/2018 at the Abuja Division of the Federal High

Court where MTN had earlier instituted a legal action and the national

dailies at the National Library to obtain the information are the

public” The statement was signed by the Director of Corporate

Secretariat, Mr C.O Olonta.

HEDA fired back in another letter in April rejecting the CBN position.

HEDA stated  “Your correspondence of the 15th January, 2019, only

detailed the acknowledgement of our letter and not the requested

information. The law is clear on its provisions that the information

requested be provided within 7 days and this was not complied with.”

In another letter written by HEDA, the group insisted further

“Consequent upon the above, we are yet to receive the promised

information 2 months down the line. We therefore humbly urge you to

oblige us with the details of our request in our letter dated the 7th

January, 2019 in line with the provisions of Section 4 of the Freedom of

Information Act, 2011”,  the letter was signed by HEDA’s lawyer, Miss

Rebecca David.

HEDA had noted further “First and foremost, the section being referred

to in Paragraph 12.3.1, Section 26 of the Freedom of Information Act,

2011 states that “the Act does not apply to- (a)  published material or

material available for purchase by the public; (b)  library or museum

material made or acquired and preserved solely for public reference or

exhibition purposes; or (c) material placed in the National Library,

National Museum or non- public section of the National Archives of the

Federal Republic of Nigeria on behalf of any person or organization

other than a government or public institution.”

It stated “We most humbly state that Paragraph 12.3.1 does not deal with

the information being requested for, as it relates to the definition of

Section 26 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011”

HEDA noted further “Also, it is worthy of note that Chapter 12,

particularly, Paragraph 12.3 of the Guidelines which states that “There

is only one question to be considered when dealing with Section 26. Is

the material listed under this section? If it is, then the material is

exempt from the Act. If the information is not listed in the section,

then the public institution should deal with the application in

accordance with the Act”.

The group concluded “It is on the above basis that we are making this

request, as we believe that the records and details of the said

resolution made available will aid the investigations of our

Organisation. Thus, this application is brought pursuant to the

provisions of Section 2, 3, and 4 of the Freedom of Information Act,

2011.”

With the outright refusal of the Apex Bank to release the requested

information to the civil society group, an action, in accordance with

the F0I provisions, was filed by the organisation against the bank

before the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court.

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