Federal High Court Orders CBN to Disclose Foreign Exchange Subsidy Information in Response to Request from HEDA
The Federal High Court in Abuja has ruled in favor of the Incorporated Trustees of Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Centre) in a case against the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The court’s decision, based on suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1622/2020, comes after the CBN denied HEDA Resource Centre’s Freedom of Information (FoI) request.
The leading Anti-corruption Organization, HEDA, had initially submitted a comprehensive FoI request to the CBN on November 14, 2020, seeking detailed information about the CBN’s schemes designed to sell the dollar at subsidized rates.
The request included specific details such as the disbursed amounts under each scheme, sector-wise breakdowns, and beneficiary information related to the forex intervention scheme. Unfortunately, the CBN did not respond to the FoI request, prompting HEDA Resource Centre to pursue legal action to challenge the CBN’s denial.
In response, the CBN filed a Notice of Preliminary Objection on November 3, 2021, but the court ultimately dismissed it. The CBN later submitted a counter-affidavit on February 2, 2022, denying possession of the requested information.
HEDA, through its lawyer Seidu Mohammed, countered with a further affidavit and a Reply Address on February 18, 2022, supported by 11 exhibits. These exhibits, obtained from the CBN’s website, included circulars illustrating the provision of concessional exchange rates for pilgrims’ Personal Travel Allowance (PTA).
Upon examination, the court deemed these exhibits as substantial evidence supporting HEDA Resource Centre’s claim that the CBN had indeed been providing foreign exchange subsidies. As a result, the court held the CBN responsible for producing reports regarding the extent of its involvement in these schemes, including information from banks regarding the beneficiaries.
In its judgment, the court emphasized the vital role of public access to information and records in ensuring accountability, transparency, citizen participation, and good governance within a democracy.
The Freedom of Information (FoI) Act was established precisely to promote transparency and combat corruption. The court unequivocally asserted that all institutions and government agencies must comply with the provisions of the Act in the interest of justice, transparency, and national development.
Consequently, the court has issued a compelling order to the CBN, a public institution, to disclose the information requested by HEDA in their FoI request. The court deemed the CBN’s failure to provide the information as unlawful, resulting in an order of Mandamus to release the requested information outlined in HEDA’s FoI request dated October 14, 2020.
The judgment represents a significant milestone in enforcing transparency and accountability within public institutions, underscoring the imperative of complying with the Freedom of Information Act to foster good governance and combat corruption.