Justice Kolawole Omotosho of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, on June 19, 2019, adjourned hearing in a Freedom of Information (FOI) suit filed by a journalist, Mr. Mark Lenu, against the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital to June 27, 2019 following a request by his lawyer, Mr. Kingdom Chukwuezie,, who disclosed that Teaching Hospital had just served him a counter affidavit and a written address which he was still studying and therefore needed more time to enable him respond.
Chukwuezie further told the court that the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) also served him a counter affidavit and a notice of Preliminary Objection on June 14, 2019 submitting that he is not a proper party to the action brought under the suit as no claim was made against him. He said the AGF further noted that he is not a necessary party as his presence was not essential in order for the court to adjudicate the right of Mark or for the proceeding to be completed. In addition, he said the AGF submitted that Mark did not disclose a reasonable cause of action and that he lacks locus to institute the suit.
Chukwueze disclosed that he just replied to the process of the AGF and in the circumstance, he applied for a short adjournment to enable him turn in his response to the counter affidavit of the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital. Justice Omotosho accordingly adjourned the case to the June 27, 2019 for hearing.
Counsel to the University Teaching Hospital in his written address submitted that there was no reasonable cause of action, arguing that Mark Lenu had no locus standi to file the Freedom of Information (FOI) suit. He also argued that the information relating to the allocations received by the University from the Federal Government for salaries and allowances for the staff of the institution for 2017 and 2018 were not in the custody of the Teaching Hospital but in the domain of the Accountant General of the Federation. He added that details of salaries paid to the staff of the institution for 2017 and 2018 are personal information exempted under the FOI Act.
For the unspent amounts remitted to the Federal Government from the allocations received by the Hospital, the Hospital Counsel argued that the Teaching Hospital remits its unspent revenue or budget to the Treasury Single Account introduced by the Federal government and that that the government gives instructions as to what to retire.
It would be recalled that Mark Lenu, through Dace –Law Attorney & Partner, had applied to the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital for information pertaining to the allocations received from the Federal Government for salaries and allowances of its staff for 2017 and 2018. The institution denied all other information except the list of the names of all the consultants and resident doctors working in the institution.
The suit is being litigated under Media Rights Agenda’s Project funded by Open Society Initiatives for West Africa (OSIWA).