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Uzoegwu F.O.C. Esq v. Central Bank of Nigeria & Attorney-General of the Federation

Case number:
FHC/ABJ./CS/1016/2011
Country:
Nigeria
Date of decision:
5 July 2012
Court / Arbiter:
Federal High Court of Nigeria; reviewable by Federal Court of Appeals ( First instance )


Decision:

The salaries of high-level officials at the Central Bank of Nigeria are not personal information and should be disclosed under the FOI Act.


Keywords:
Financial institutions (including banks)
Income and assets
Mute refusal (including tacit refusal, failure to respond)
Personal information (including personnel files, other records concerning or held by public servants)
RTI law

Case details:

Facts

In November 2011 Uzoegwu requested from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) information regarding “the amount payable to the Governor, Deputy Governor and Directors of the CBN as monthly salary” (p. 2-3). The CBN did not reply, although the Director of Finance at the CBN had acknowledged receipt of the request (p. 3). One month later, Uzoegwu filed an Originating Summons in the High Court, to which the CBN and the Attorney-General of the Federation responded by arguing that the requested information was “personal information which was communicated to [the officers] upon their appointments” at the CBN” (p. 3). The CBN also argued that “the information is protected by trade and commercial secrets (section 15(1)) read together with section 13(3) (training of officials) of the Act” (p. 4-5).

Decision

First, the Court examined the Central Bank’s claim that the information was “protected by Section 15(1) read together with Section 13(3)” of the Act and found the argument to be muddled. For one thing, Section 13 of the Act does not have any subsections and is in no sense related to trade and commercial secrets (p. 8-9). As for Section 15(1), the Court concluded that “the salaries of the Governor of the CBN and Deputy Governors and Directors of the Bank cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be trade secrets contemplated by . . . Section 15(1)” (p. 10).

However, the central question before the Court was whether the requested information regarding the salaries of high-level officials of the CBN qualified as “personal information” under Section 14(1) of the Act. Section 14(1) provides that a public institution “must deny” a request for information “that contains personal information,” which “includes” several types of personal information listed, none of which pertain to salaries of public officials (p. 13). While the CBN argued that the word “include” indicated a non-exhaustive list, the Court was not convinced, “for the simple reason that the salaries and allowances of officers are such intrinsic part of their public employment or appointment that if the legislature intended to exempt them as personal information[…], they will have stated so clearly” (p. 14). In fact, the Court claimed it would “not [be] logical to say that the payments of public officers from the public funds for their services to the public is personal information” (p. 15). Moreover, the Court claimed that the remaining subsections of Section 14 indicate that “where the interest of the public is in clash with the individual interest . . . the collective interest must be held paramount” (p. 16). Namely, the Court relied on Sections 14(2) and 14(3), which provide certain situations where even information that is protected as personal information under Section 14(1) may be disclosed (p. 15-16). By the wording of Section 14(3) of the Act, the “legislature clearly intended that the public interest [be] placed above all else, including the personal interest of the individuals” (p. 17). As such, the Court ordered disclosure of the information about the salaries of CBN officials.

Resources:

Judgment of the Court.