Justice Mohammed Idris of a Federal High Court in Lagos has given a 72-hour ultimatum to the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, to make available the total cash and value of properties recovered from the former Managing Director of the defunct Oceanic Bank Plc, now (Eco Bank Plc) Mrs Cecilia Ibru.
Sanusi was also mandated to make public, the whereabouts of the money and properties recovered as well as what part of them has been returned to Oceanic Bank and/or its shareholders.
The judge gave the directive while giving his judgment in a suit filed by the president of Progressive Shareholders Association of Nigeria (PSAN), Boniface Okezie, against the CBN where he sought to compel the apex bank to publicise how it managed about N191 billion worth of assets realised from Mrs Ibru.
Justice Idris, in his judgement, said: “The Central Bank of Nigeria is hereby ordered to declare the whereabouts of the money recovered from Cecilia Ibru and what part of this cash and properties has been returned to Oceanic Bank and/or its shareholders. “What is done officially must be done according to the law,” he added.
Justice Idris, however, turned down a request by Okezie to compel the CBN to disclose the total sum paid to the firms of Olaniwun Ajayi and Kola Awodein in respect of the prosecution of Cecilia Ibru and how much of this sum was in the form of commission on the properties recovered from her.
It will be recalled that the assets forfeited by Ibru included 94 landed properties scattered in Nigeria, Dubai and the United States of America, as well as shares in about 100 firms both listed and unlisted in the Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE).
In the written affidavit, which was in response to the counter-affidavit filed by the CBN to the suit, Okezie said he had heard the rumour that Sanusi and his associates within and outside of government had allegedly embezzled the recovered funds, a development he said necessitated the reason the CBN must be made to account for the funds at its disposal under Sanusi.
Specifically, Okezie wanted an order of the court to compel the CBN to avail him information on the total cash and value of the properties recovered from Ibru, as well as the whereabouts of the money and properties recovered.
Okezie, in the suit, is also seeking to know the part of the recovered cash and properties that have so far been returned to Oceanic Bank or the shareholders of the bank.
Apart from seeking an order to compel CBN to publicise the total cost of the reforms in the banking sector championed by Sanusi, Okezie also wants to know in particular, the amount of legal fees paid to the law firms of Olaniwun Ajayi and Kola Awodein and company
The applicant (Okezie) specifically seeks to know how much was paid in form of commission on Ibru’s assets to Olaniwun Ajayi. However, in a 12-paragraph counter-affidavit, the apex bank urged the court to reject the requests by the applicant.
In the counter-affidavit deposed to by one Chiaka Mogaha, the CBN urged the court to reject the applicant’s request because the information sought relates to the contractual relationship and negotiation between it, the legal practitioners and other professionals engaged by the apex bank.
CBN noted that the disclosure of the information would interfere with the contracts and negotiations between it and the professionals engaged, adding that there is already a momentous condition of service that the details of remuneration “shall never be disclosed to any third party.”
Responding, Okezie stressed that the apex bank had only laboured in vain to avoid the clear duty imposed on it under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to disclose payments it has made to consultants and professionals.
While citing Sections 2 (3) (d) (v) and 2 (4) of the FOI Act, the applicant stated that those sections even require the CBN, as a public institution, to publish and disseminate widely “information relating to the receipt or expenditure of public or other funds of the institution,” without prompting.