In a major legal triumph for Media Rights Agenda (MRA), a Federal High Court in Abuja,
Nigeria’s capital city, ruled on June 14, 2023 that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) must
provide the organization with the information it requested in a letter dated May 22, 2020.
The court also ordered the CBN to pay MRA NGN1 million (about USD1,300) in damages for
wrongfully denying it access to the requested information.
Justice Donatus Uwaezuoke Okorowo delivered the judgment, marking another victory for MRA
in its pursuit of transparency and accountability. Just a month prior, another judge of the Federal
High Court in Abuja had ruled in favor of MRA by granting its request for an order restraining
the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) from imposing fines on radio and television
stations in Nigeria. This victory came as part of MRA’s legal challenge against the regulatory
authority’s power to fine broadcasters.
MRA’s recent success stems from a lawsuit filed on June 15, 2020, by the organization's lawyer, Mr. Darlington Onyekwere. The suit contested the CBN’s refusal to disclose the information requested by MRA in its May 22, 2020 letter. The letter, signed by Mr. Ayode Longe, MRA’s
Director of Programmes, sought various details related to the bank’s data protection policies and
MRA requested copies of all CBN data protection policies issued in compliance with the Nigeria
Data Protection Regulation (NDPR) of 2019. They also asked for the name and contact details of
the CBN’s Data Protection Officer, information on capacity building activities for personnel
involved in data processing, the number of individuals whose personal data the CBN processes
annually, and a report on the bank’s privacy and data protection practices audit in accordance
with the NDPR.
In response to MRA’s suit, the CBN and its Governor argued that the requested information
pertained to the implementation of the NDPR by the bank. They claimed to take data security
and privacy seriously and asserted that the collection and utilization of personal data adhered to
legal requirements. The CBN further contended that it had published a Privacy Notice on its
website, which allegedly contained the information sought by MRA. Consequently, the bank
argued that the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act did not apply to published materials, urging
the court to dismiss MRA’s requests.
Justice Okorowo in his judgment, affirmed that the CBN had indeed violated the FOI Act. The
judge disagreed with the bank’s claim that the information was published, highlighting its failure
to prove that the privacy notice was available on its website or accessible to the public when
MRA made its request. The judge noted that MRA had provided evidence of delivering the
request letter to the CBN through the courier service, DHL, and demonstrated that the bank did
not respond within the seven-day timeframe specified by the FOI Act.
Justice Okorowo concluded that the CBN’s refusal to disclose the requested information
amounted to a violation of MRA’s right of access to information as guaranteed by the FOI Act.
He emphasized that the bank’s failure to provide a written notice explaining the denial, as
required by the Act, further infringed on MRA’s rights. As a result, he ordered the CBN and its
Governor to pay MRA N1 million as exemplary and aggravated damages for their unlawful
violation of MRA’s right of access to information.