Tuesday, March 31, 2015: A Federal High Court in Abuja has granted two non-governmental organizations leave to challenge the refusal of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to provide them with the procurement records and details of the contract between the Commission and MasterCard for the payment solution contained in the new multipurpose national identity card.
Justice Evoh Chukwu issued an order granting leave to the two organizations, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) and Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), following a motion exparte brought on their behalf by Mr. Terence Vembe, a member of the Network of Freedom of Information Lawyers.
In the suit, which they filed against the NIMC; its Director-General, Mr. Chris Onyemenam; and the Attorney-General of the Federation, PIN and PPDC are seeking:
- A declaration that the failure and/or refusal of the NIMC and its Director-General to disclose or make available to them the information they requested by their letters dated September 4 and November 25, 2014 constitutes a violation of their right of access to information established and guaranteed by Sections 1(1) and 4 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011;
- A declaration that the failure and/or refusal of the NIMC and its Director-General to disclose or make the information they requested available to them amounts to wrongful denial of access to information under Section 7(4) and (5) of the FOI Act;
- An order of mandamus compelling the NIMC and its Director-General to disclose or make available to them the procurement and Contract/Agreement records for the provision of payment solutions by MasterCard for the General Multipurpose Card, particularly all the information listed and requested by them in their letters of September 4 and November 25, 2014; and
- An order of mandamus compelling the Attorney-General of the Federation to initiate and diligently prosecute criminal proceedings against the NIMC and its Director-General for the offence of wrongful denial of access to information pursuant to Section 7(5) of the FOI Act.
In the alternative, the organizations are asking for an order of mandamus compelling the Attorney-General of the Federation to grant them or any lawyer of their choice a fiat to initiate and prosecute criminal proceedings against the NIMC for the offence of wrongful denial of access to information.
They are also claiming the sum of N1 million as exemplary and aggravated damages for the unlawful violation of their right of access to information.
PIN and PPDC alleged in their suit that the NIMC and the Federal Government have formed a partnership with MasterCard under which they would impose a new identity card on every Nigerian and compel all Nigerians to participate in the financial services sector under the control of MasterCard, a foreign multinational financial services corporation headquartered in New York in the United States.
According to them, under the first phase of the programme, all Nigerians who are 16 years and older and all residents in Nigeria for more than two years will have imposed on them, the new multipurpose identity card which has 13 applications, including MasterCard’s prepaid payment technology that will impose electronic payments solutions on the card holders while the card is also expected to serve as voting card in Nigeria as early as the 2019 general elections.
PIN and PPDC are alleging that with the card, the Federal Government can terminate citizens’ and other card holders electronic financial lifelines if anything were to happen within the country, for example in the form of protests, economic downturns, insurrection, a war or if a financial institution such as MasterCard were to go bankrupt.
They also expressed the fear that there are many other reasons why the Federal Government or MasterCard can decide to turn off the electronic chip (RFID) of the card, which would render card holders stranded, especially with the existence of a powerful financial institution issuing payments electronically with a government that is supported and controlled by the United States, which would make unlimited control of the populace inevitable.
After listening to the submissions of Mr. Vembe, lawyer to PIN and PPDC, at the hearing of the motion exparte on Monday, March 30, Justice Chukwu granted the organizations’ prayers for an extension the time within which they could sue the NIMC and also granted them leave to apply for a judicial review of the NIMC’s refusal to provide them with the information they requested.
Justice Chukwu thereafter adjourned the proceedings to April 21, 2015 for hearing of the substantive suit.