A Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Dr. Betta Edu, to release details of how N535.8 million was expended on feeding of school children during COVID-19 lockdown.
In a judgment, Justice Nkeonye Maha directed the minister and the ministry to furnish a civil society group with parts of the information sought, in line with Section 25(1) of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 2011.
Justice Maha held that the minister’s failure to respond to the group’s letter, dated August 6, 2020, or even give reason for the refusal to respond to the request, as prescribed under the FOI Act, contravened the provisions of Section 4(a) and (b) of the Act.
“In view of all the matters before me and flowing from the objectives of the FOI Act 2011, the court hereby orders the first and second defendants, in line with Section 25(1) of the FOI Act, to furnish the plaintiff with the information sought in Reliefs 3(a), (b), (c), (d),” she said.
The judge also ordered the minister to comply with the orders of the court within 21 days upon receipt of the orders.
Justice Maha refused to grant “Reliefs 3(e), (f) and (g) of the plaintiff”.
Recall that the Incorporated Trustees of Kingdom Human Rights Foundation International had filed the suit, following alleged refusal of erstwhile Minister Sadiya Umar-Farouq and her ministry to respond to the information sought.
Umar-Farouq was the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development under the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
The group alleged that independent investigation and information available to it “revealed that the so-called modified and implemented school feeding programme during lockdown against coronavirus pandemic was a scam, cover-up and well-articulated fiction to embezzle public funds”.
It said the development was contrary to Umar-Farouq’s statement during the task force’s briefing on COVID-19 on August 3, 2020.
In the originating summons, the group sued the minister, the ministry and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 as the first, second and third defendants.
Also joined in the suit were the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Independent Corrupt Practice and other related offences Commission (ICPC) as the fourth and fifth defendants.
The group sought an order of mandamus compelling the first defendant (minister) to immediately release and make available to it all the information and documents requested in its application letter to wit:
“a. Details, accompanied with documentary evidence of how the N523,273,800 million was spent on school feeding programme during the COVID-19 Lockdown in three states following presidential directive as disclosed to Nigerians by the 1st defendant during the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 briefing of Monday, 3rd August, 2020 in Abuja,” among others.