FOI Act ap­plies to states, says ap­peal court

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - LAW STORIES - From Oluwaseun Ak­ing­boye, Akure

Ap­peal Court, Akure Divi­sion, has held that the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion (FOI) Act ap­plies to states, when it comes to is­sues of ac­count­abil­ity and pub­lic in­ter­est.

For­mer Pres­i­dent, Dr Good­luck Jonathan had in 2011 signed the bill into la w, em­pow­er­ing Nige­ri­ans to de­mand for pub­lic doc­u­ments from gov­ern­ments and its paras­tatals.

In a 34-page judg­ment, de­liv­ered on March 27, 2018 in an ap­peal filed against Ondo state gov­ern­ment, the pre­sid­ing Jus­tice of a 3-mem­ber panel, Jus­tice Uzo Nduk­weAnyanwu, said no state has the right to shun de­mands made under FOI Act.

A jour­nal­ist and Project Co­or­di­na­tor of an NGO , Upline Re­sources, Mr. Martins Alo had re­quested for Ondo state gov­ern­ment ex­pen­di­tures from 2012 to 2014 but was de­nied ac­cess.

Alo sought re­dress at Ondo State High Court, hav­ing the Speaker, Ondo State House of Assem­bly and the state Au­di­tor-gen­eral as re­spon­dents in the lit­i­ga­tion.

But Jus­tice Williams Ak­in­ro­toye, de­clined ju­ris­dic­tion, ruled that the ap­pel­lant had no lo­cus standi to make such de­mands and stated that the FOI Act is lim­ited to the Fed­eral level.

The judge also awarded N10, 000 cost against the plain­tiff for “wast­ing time and re­sources of the state.”

Dis­sat­is­fied, the plain­tiff through his coun­sel, Femi Emodamori ap­proached the apex court on four counts, ask­ing it to up­turn the de­ci­sion.

Panel of ap­peal court jus­tices, unan­i­mously as­serted that states too are an­swer­able to the act as long as what­ever de­mands made are in pub­lic in­ter­est, adding that they have a right to be in­formed on pub­lic funds gen­er­ated through their taxes.

“In a demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion, such as Nige­ria’s, the cit­i­zens have been pro­claimed the own­ers of sovereignty and man­dates that place lead­ers in the sad­dle.

"In any event, the cost awarded by the trial court was based on er­ro­neous le­gal premise on is­sue of lack of ju­ris­dic­tion to en­ter­tain the ap­pel­lant’s claim and that the claim was un­grantable. In this cir­cum­stance, the or­der as to cost is set aside for be­ing er­ro­neously awarded in favour of the re­spon­dent.

"On the whole, hav­ing re­solved the four is­sues in favour of the ap­pel­lant and against re­spon­dents, this ap­peal suc­ceeds and there­fore al­lowed. The judg­ment of the lower court in Suit No: AK/5M/2016 de­liv­ered by Hon. Jus­tice W.A. Ak­in­ro­toye on the 18th day of July 2016 is hereby set aside," judg­ment reads in part.

Man­ag­ing Part­ner, Prince Joel and As­so­ciates, Prince Wil­liam-joel (left); Ig­bokwe Bless­ing, Im­mi­gra­tion Clinic Ad­min­is­tra­tor; Michael Dami­ari, Im­mi­gra­tion At­tor­ney and Head of Cham­bers, Prince Joel & As­so­ciates; Oluse­gun Ade­dokun, So­cial Me­dia and...

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