Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Court Throws Out Suit Seeking Disclosure Of Buhari’s Medical Bill

Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Tuesday, throw out a suit seeking the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to disclose the cost of President Muhammadu Buhari’s medical bill in London. 

Plaintiff in the suit was the Incorporated Trustees of Advocacy for Societal Rights Advancement and Development Initiative (ASRADI) led by Adeolu Oyinlola, its executive director.

Respondents were the CBN, its governor, and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).

Specifically, the plaintiff had instituted the suit seeking an order to compel the CBN and Godwin Emefiele, its governor, to provide information on the amount released for Buhari’s medical treatment in London.

Moreso, by the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1142/2017, the plaintiff prayed the court to declare that the refusal of the respondents to provide the information requested in a letter dated October 19, 2017, “amounted to a wrongful denial of information and is a flagrant violation of the provisions of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2011.”

Delivering judgement on the suit, Justice Tsoho held that the application for judicial review as against the action of the 1st respondent (CBN) and the 2nd respondent (CBN Governor) was “misconceived and misguided”.

The court observed from affidavit evidence and submissions by counsel in the matter that the crux of the case undoubtedly centred on cost of President Muhammad Buhari’s medical treatment abroad.

Justice Tsoho noted that sections 12, 14 and 15 of FOI Act provide exemptions to the request for information.

The court held that section 14(1b) of the FOI Act provides that subject to subsection 2, a public institution must deny application on information that contains personal information, personal files etc of appointees, political office holders etc.

It was the contention of the court that by virtue of Section 14(2) of the FOI Act, disclosure of information pertaining to political office holders must be with the consent of the person.

In this case, the judge held that Buhari is a political office holder and, therefore, information concerning his health must not be disclosed except with his consent.

In addition, the court observed that following the request by the applicant for information on Buhari’s health, the request, from deposition in the counter-affidavit of the 1st and 2nd respondents showed that the letter of request was forwarded to office of the Chief of Staff to President Buhari.

The transfer of the request letter was made in accordance with section 5(1) of the FOI Act.

Consequently, in line with Section 5(2) of the Act, the court stated that the forwarding of the request for information was deemed to have been properly made.

In view of this, the court held that the applicant’s request would have been channelled to office of the Chief of Staff to President Buhari.

The suit also sought an order directing the CBN to disclose the amount paid on behalf of the Nigerian government as fees for the parking of presidential aircraft and crew in the UK while the president’s treatment lasted.

While adopting his written address on April 17, Babafemi Durojaiye, counsel to the 1st and 2nd respondents, denied filing his processes out of time.

However, the judge found out that the processes were filed out of time by one day, and therefore relied on Order 34 of Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules to accommodate the processes of the respondents.

Durojaiye had told the court that they were served on February 8, 2018 by the plaintiff’s counsel, and that they filed in their response same month.

Durojaiye argued that what the respondents reacted to in their counter-affidavit was the plaintiff’s process dated October 19, 2017 and not that of August 29, 2017 as claimed by the applicant.

He insisted that there was no difference between the applicant’s letters of August 29 and October 19.

In view of the above issues on dates, the court said “the dates were immaterial”.

In addition, it was Durojaiye’s contention that the applicant had breached the provision of Section 136 of the Evidence Act.

He posited that though President Buhari was out of the country for 103 days, the applicant did not show any evidence that the president’s aircraft was parked at the airport in the United Kingdom while President Buhari’s medical treatment lasted.

Claiming that there might have been some mistake somewhere, he insisted that what was sent to the Chief of Staff to the President was the letter of October 19, 2017.

Therefore, he urged the court to grant the applications of the 1st and 2nd respondents, seeking to vacate the order of the court made on December 13, 2017 and strike out the matter in its entirety.

In the same vein, L. A. Amegor, representing the Attorney General of the Federation, in his preliminary objection, urged the court to dismiss the applicant’s suit on the grounds that the suit was status-barred.

Amegor argued that the suit was initiated without due regard to the provisions of law.

He submitted that the applicant failed to disclose any cause of action against the 3rd respondent, and therefore urged the court to dismiss the suit or strike out the name of the AGF.

Chukwuwinke Okafor, ASRADI lawyer, had earlier urged the court to dismiss the notice of preliminary objection filed by the 3rd defendant (AGF).

His application was granted as the objection was dismissed, with the court stating that the suit was properly filed before it.

Reacting to the submission of the 1st and 2nd respondents that his letter had been forwarded to the office of the Chief of Staff to President Buhari for necessary action, the applicant told the court that the letter forwarded to the presidency was one dated August 29, 2017 and not the one before the court dated October 19.

Further, he stated that the processes filed by the 1st and 2nd respondents were filed out of time and since they did not seek the leave of the court to regularise the processes, they are incompetent and should be disregarded.

He therefore urged the court to strike out the processes of the 1st and 2nd respondents and grant the reliefs sought in the motion on notice.

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