Access to Public Information, Defamation / Reputation
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The Federal High Court of Nigeria held that the salaries of high-level officials at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) do not constitute personal information and should be disclosed under the Freedom of Act (FOIA). The Applicant, Uzoegwu, asked the CBN to provide information about the monthly salaries of the Governor, Deputy Governor and Directors of the Bank. The Bank failed to respond. The Court reasoned that the salaries of officers of public institutions were such an “intrinsic part of their public employment or appointment that if the legislature intended to exempt them as personal information” in the personal information exceptions to disclosure, it “would have stated so clearly” in the FOIA. The Court further held that the legislation indicated that “where the interest of the public is in clash with the individual interest . . . the collective interest must be held paramount”.
This case analysis was contributed by Right2Info.org.
In November 2011 Uzoegwu requested information from the CBN regarding “the amount payable to the Governor, Deputy Governor and Directors of the CBN as monthly salary”. The CBN did not reply, although the Director of Finance at the CBN had acknowledged receipt of the request.
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. 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”.
Firstly, 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 provides for the training of officials. 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)”.
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.
The CBN argued that the word “includes” indicated a non-exhaustive list, but the Court was not convinced, “for the simple reason that the salaries and allowances of officers are such [an] 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 said that 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”.
Moreover, the Court found 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”. The Court relied specifically on Sections 14(2) and 14(3), which provide certain situations in which even information that is protected as personal information under Section 14(1) may be disclosed. The Court said that the wording of Section 14(3) of the Act is such that the “legislature clearly intended that the public interest [be] placed above all else, including the personal interest of the individuals”. Accordingly, the Court ordered disclosure of information about the salaries of CBN officials.
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