Monday, November 28, 2022

Freedom of Information Act should be domesticated in states – CODE

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Ibrahim Ramalan
Ibrahim Ramalan
Ibrahim Ramalan is a graduate of Mass Communications from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria. With nearly a decade-long, active journalism practice, Mr Ramalan has been able to rise from a cub reporter to the exalted position of an editor; first as Arts Editor with the Blueprint Newspapers before resigning in 2019; second and presently as an Associate Editor of the Daily Nigerian online newspaper. He can be reached via [email protected], or www.facebook.com/ibrahim.ramalana, or @McRamalan on Twitter.
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A Civil Society Organisation, Connected Development, CODE, has called for the domestication of the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, in states to enhance development.

The call was made by Kingsley Agu, Programmes Manager, CODE, at a two-day training for government officials, CSOs and other stakeholders in Calabar.

The training which was for officials from Imo, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, and Delta holds on Monday and Tuesday.

”We are concentrating on the FOIA in order to expand the civic space by ensuring that  people had access to information to engender development.

”The FOIA was one of the greatest instrument necessary to access information and supersedes any other law that hinders access to information.

“To have active citizens, people need to know what government is all about, areas they should participate for development, this cannot be achieved if they can’t access information from government.

“One of the major challenges we have faced using the FOIA despite its passage into law nationally in 2011 is that of domestication in states.

“There is also the issue of lack of awareness among government officials, as many don’t know what the FOIA entails and the power it has given to the citizens to access information from government,” he noted.

While commending Delta for domesticating the law in 2017, Mr Agu called on other states to follow suite adding that whether it was domesticated in a state or not everyone ought to respond to FOIA request.

Similarly, one of the participants of the training, Tanko Ashang, Attorney General of Cross River, said after the training, he was going back to strategize on how to facilitate the domestication of the FOIA.

Represented by Kanu Ubio, Director, Planning Research and Statistics, Ministry of Justice, Mr Ashang said immediately the law was passed in the state they would ensure that it was properly implemented and enforced.

Also speaking, Aniefiok Dennis, Chairman of the Akwa Ibom House Committee on Information said the bill to domesticate the FOIA has been submitted to the house but would undergo necessary correction peculiar to the state.

Rex Anighoro Senior Special Adviser, SSA, to the governor of Delta on Civic Engagement and Civil Society said more awareness was needed to enable all Nigerians to understand the FOIA.

“Government exists for the people and if the office of the citizens must be supreme, the process of engagement between both parties needs to be deepened and synergies created,” he maintained.

NAN reports that on Nov. 1, 2014, Federal High Court in Lagos, presided over by Justice Okon Abang, ruled that the Act was not binding on the 36 states of the federation.

Justice Abang’s ruling on the Act sharply contradicted the judgment of an Ibadan High Court sitting headed by Justice S.A. Akinteye.

The Ibadan High Court ruled in 2013, held that the application of the FoI Act was for the entire federation, therefore, “does not need to be domesticated by any state before taking effect in all states across the federation.”

While judging a suit filed by Legal Defence and Assistance Project Limited/GTE against some states of the federation over their refusal to provide some information requested under the FoI Act, Justice Abang ruled that the 36 states of the federation could not be made to provide any information based on the Act.

He asserted that the FoI Act, being an enactment of the National Assembly, was only binding on the federal government and its agencies.

Upholding that the FoI Act was neither a residual law, nor was it on the concurrent list of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the judge ruled that if it was the intention that the FoI Act should be binding on states, the houses of assembly of each of the 36 states of the federation should have been carried along in the process of the enactment of the law.

Justice Abang maintained that the houses of assembly of the states of the federation were empowered by the Constitution to make laws for their respective states, and not the other way round.

The Attorney General and Commissioners for Finance of Lagos, Imo, Rivers, Abia, Akwa Ibom and Delta States were sued by the applicant over their refusal to provide information requested under the FOI Act.

The applicant had written the states requesting for information on the bonds they raised in the Capital Market.

The request letter was dated Dec. 12, 2011.

The applicant specifically requested for details of the amount raised and received by the respective states from the Capital Market through public offer or private placement between 2007 and 2011.

The applicant further called for details of stockholders including individual or company or public entity that bought or acquired interest in the states’ bond or stock at the Capital Market of the respective states.

Aside the above requests, the applicant also demanded details of how the amounts received in the said Capital Market bond or stock were disbursed and utilised including date of disbursement and their beneficiaries.

However, all the states refused to provide the requested information, a development which compelled the applicant to approach the court.

The applicant had specifically sought leave of court to bring an application for an order of mandamus to compel the defendants to provide the requested information pursuant to Section 2 of the FOI Act, 2011.

The Decision of Justice Abang is contrary to that of Justice S.A. Akinteye.

While ruling last year on an application brought before the court by an Ibadan-based human right activist, seeking the court to determine whether the Act needs to be domesticated by Oyo State before it becomes operational in the state, Justice Akinteye said the FoI Act being an Act of the National Assembly “does not need to be domesticated by the 36 state Houses of Assembly before it becomes law in the state.”

NAN

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