29th April, 2015
A Federal High Court in Lagos has ordered Coscharis Motors Limited to disclose to Enough is Enough (EIE) Nigeria, a non-governmental organization, the information requested by the organization on the 2013 purchase of two bullet-proof cars for then Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah.
Justice Mohammed N. Yunusa issued the order on April 28, 2015, while delivering judgment in the suit filed on behalf of EIE by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against Coscharis Motors, seeking:
A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by Coscharis Motors to disclose or make available to EIE the information requested in the organization’s letter to the company dated October 28, 2013 is a violation of EIE’s right of access to information guaranteed by Section 1(1) and Section 4(a) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by Coscharis Motors to give EIE a written notice that access to all or part of the information requested would not be granted and stating reasons for the denial and the section of the FOI Act upon which the company relied to deny EIE access to the information it requested amounts to a flagrant violation of Act and is therefore wrongful.
An order of mandamus compelling Coscharis Motors to disclose the information requested in EIE’s letter dated October 28, 2013 namely the invoice(s) and landing documents for the two BMW vehicles acquired by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) with chassis numbers WBAHP41050DW68032 and WBAHP41010DW68044; and details of the payment for the vehicles, including whether they were paid for in full or hire purchased as reported by the media; and
An order compelling the Attorney-General of the Federation to initiate criminal proceedings against Coscharis Motors for wrongful denial of access to information to EIE under Section 7(5) of the FOI Act.
In opposing the suit, Coscharis Motors said through its Company Secretary and Legal Adviser, Mr. Ndubuisi Chito, that it is a fully indigenous private limited liability company with no government investment in its equity and that it is not funded by tax payer’s money or any other type of government subvention, adding that it was not engaged in any type of public service. The company therefore contended that the FOI Act was not applicable to it and that it was therefore not obliged to disclose to EIE the information requested by the organization.
However, EIE’s lawyer, Mr. Ayodeji Acquah, argued that irrespective of the status of Coscharis Motors as a private company, having benefited from the import duty waiver and thus utilized public funds in the procurement of the vehicles, the company clearly falls within the purview of Sections 2(7) and 31 of the FOI Act as only government entities are entitled to import duty waivers
In his judgment, Justice Yunusa upheld Mr. Acquah’s argument and held that the FOI Act is applicable to Coscharis Motors.
The judge also dismissed the contention of Coscharis Motors that the court had no jurisdiction in the matter as the suit was filed by EIE more than 30 days after it was deemed to have been denied access and that the period was not extended by the court as provided under the FOI Act. Justice Yunusa said he saw no merit in the argument as EIE applied through a Motion Exparte dated January 9, 2014 for leave of court and extension of time within which to file the process, which the court granted as prayed on February 27, 2014.
He therefore granted EIE’s prayers but did not issue any order for the Attorney-General of the Federation to initiate criminal proceedings against Coscharis Motors for wrongful denial of access to information.