Court rules on contempt charge against Okonjo-Iweala June3

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Justice Abdul Kafarati‎ of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court has fixed June 3 to deliver ruling on contempt charge against the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The Minister was accused of disobeying a court order that had on February 25, 2014, directed her to release to a civil society group, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), details of statutory transfers in the 2013 budget to six Federal Government’s agencies.

The six agencies that the court directed ‎the Finance Minister to reveal their statutory transfer details in the 2013 budget, were the National Judicial Council NJC, Niger-Delta Development Commission, NNDC, Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, National Assembly, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC.

Following alleged refusal of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala to comply with the court order, the applicants, CSJ, through its lawyer, Mr. Kingsley Nnajika, filed a Form-49, which is a motion for committal of the Finance Minister to prison for contempt.

The group told the court that despite that she was served with a copy of the substantive judgment and the enrolled orders, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala declined to obey the judgment, forcing the applicant to serve her the initial Form-48 (notice of consequence of disobedience of court orders) before subsequently filling a Form-49 (motion for order of committal) against her.

CSJ had sued the minister upon her refusal to honour its request, made under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

In his judgment in the suit on February 25, 2014, Justice Abdulkadir Abdulkafarati upheld CSJ’s claim and ordered the minister to, among others, supply the information requested by the applicant.

However, adducing reasons why the Form-49 should be granted, the applicant’s lawyer, Nnajika, argued that the orders of the court were unambiguous in relation to the directive for the minister to supply it with its requested information.

He said it was disobedience to the court’s directive when the minister argued, in her affidavit of compliance, that she had written to the named agencies and supplied acknowledgment copies of such letters.

“The order did not say the respondent (the minister) should give us acknowledgment copies of letters written to the agencies. The 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 the respondent (Finance Minister) to prison until she comply with the order of the court,” Nnajika said.

Nevertheless, the Minister, through her lawyer, Mr. A. Ibrahim, urged the court not to commit her to prison as it was prayed to do by the group, even as she denied the allegation that she deliberately ignored the judgment of the court.

‎The Minister maintained that the information requested by the applicant were not within her reach, stressing that she even went as far as writing letters to all the affected agencies.

Ibrahim, in the affidavit of compliance, 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,” the Minister’s lawyer added.

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