FOI: Court Orders Lagos, Sanwo-Olu to Account for N10bn COVID-19 Funds

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A Federal High Court, in Lagos has granted an order of mandamus compelling Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the Lagos State government to immediately provide information on breakdown of expenses and expenditures on the N10 billion COVID-19 Intervention Funds released to the State by the Federal government.

Justice Tijjani Ringim made the order while delivering ruling on an ex parte application with a verifying affidavit in support deposed to by the Executive Director of Coalition for Good Governance in Nigeria, Olukoya Ogungbeje and argued by Michael Ogunjobi.

The court further declared that the refusal of the governor and the Lagos State government to furnish the applicant with necessary information on the breakdown of expenses and expenditures on the N10 billion COVID-19 Intervention Funds released to them by the federal government of Nigeria and other sundry donations without a written notice to the applicant was a flagrant violation of the provisions of the Freedom of information Act.

The judge also ordered Sanwo-Olu and the state government, as defaulting officers to pay the fine of N10 million, for wrongful denial of access to information to the lawyer.

The court however ordered the applicant, Olukoya Ogungbeje to file a written undertaking as to cost in the event that it turns out that the orders granted above ought not to have been granted.

The applicant had made the request in a suit marked FHC/CS/L/1082/2020, brought pursuant to Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 7(4)(5) and 20 of the Freedom of Information Act 2011; Order 34 Rules 1, 2, 3, 4 of Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules and under the Inherent jurisdiction of the court.

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In a verifying affidavit in support of the application, he stated that sometimes between December 2019 and February 2020, the COVID-19 engulfed and plagued several countries including Nigeria, and that concerted and commendable efforts were made by governments of many countries including the Federal Government of Nigeria to stem the tide of COVID-19 killer virus.

The applicant stated that on account of the above, sometimes in March 2020, the federal government of Nigeria released the sum of N10 billion to the first and second respondents in a bid to provide palliatives and to fight the Corona virus pandemic in Lagos State.

He stated that other sundry donations were also made by corporate organisations and well-meaning individuals to the first and second respondents in a bid to provide palliative for residents of Lagos State as part of the measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the State.

Ogungbeje stated that on July 13, 2020, Doctors in Lagos State under the auspices of Medical Guild embarked on a warning strike based on issues ranging from non-payment of allowances, welfare packages and other sundry issues in connection with services rendered in relation to the COVID-19 incidence.

He added that during the strike embarked upon by doctors in Lagos State, a number of Nigerian Citizens resident in Lagos including himself found it difficult to access government-owned hospitals in Lagos State.

The applicant further stated that palliatives distributed by the first and second respondents to residents of Lagos State were grossly insufficient and inadequate to justify the huge intervention funds released to them by the federal government of Nigeria and corporate organisations.

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He further stated that as a result of the above, he wrote a request application dated July 17, 2020 to the first and second respondents, demanding for information and breakdown on how the N10 billion COVID-19 Intervention funds was spent.

The applicant stated that the respondents bluntly refused and failed to furnish him with information he required.

He averred that since July 27, 2020 till date the respondents have failed to comply with his demand application as provided in the Freedom of Information Act, and submitted that they have wilfully breached and flouted the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

He stated that the respondents also refused and neglected to carry out their official and statutory responsibilities in the spirit of accountability and transparency on the matter despite his request application to that effect.

He stated that the respondents being public officials in position of public trust were under obligation under the law to oblige him with the information as requested and give a written reason for denial if any.

He also stated that he filed the application to seek legal redress on account of the respondents’ refusal to oblige and provide information on the expenses, expenditures and or spending on the COVID-19 intervention funds received by them.

The lawyer stated that he approached the court to seek redress on the wrongful act and illegal action of the respondents in the spirit of accountability, transparency and good governance and that it would serve the interest of justice to grant his application.

Thisday

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