A Lagos High Court has fixed ruling for November 16, 2017 in a preliminary objection raised by the Lagos State Ministry of Health to a suit filed against it by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) over its failure to disclose records and information requested by the organization under the Freedom of Information Act, 2011
Justice Beatrice Oke-Lawal adjourned the suit until to an unspecified date when she will deliver her ruling after lawyers to the Lagos State Ministry of Health and MRA adopted their written arguments and the processes filed before the Court on the objection.
The suit arose from a freedom of information request made by MRA in November 2016 to the Ministry of Health asking for:
• Details and copies of plans put in place to provide the Araromi Zion Estate located in Akiode Area of Ojodu LCDA with health care services;
• Details and copies of plans put in place to provide the Araromi Zion Estate with health care services taking into consideration their peculiar needs and circumstances;
• Details of any research or assessment carried out on the needs of the Estate and its residents as well as copies of relevant research or assessments report or reports;
• An outline of the timeframe for the implementation of the plans, if there are plans to provide the Estate with primary health care facilities, and
• Details of the budgets and costs estimates for the implementation of the plans, if any.
Following the failure of the Ministry to respond to MRA’s request despite a reminder issued to it, the organization filed a suit against the Ministry and the Attorney-General of Lagos State asking the Court to declare the Ministry’s refusal to provide it with the requested information wrongful and to compel the disclosure of the records and information in accordance with the FOI Act.
In its notice of preliminary objection, the Ministry argued that the court had no jurisdiction to determine the suit and asked that the suit should be struck out on the grounds that:
• The substance of MRA’s case is not constitutionally contained in the Exclusive Legislative List under the Second Schedule to the 1999 Constitution to confer exclusive power on the Federal Government to make the FOI Act for the Federation;
• MRA’s grievance is against the Lagos State Government which is not an agency of the Federal Government;
• Even if the FOI Act is applicable to Lagos State, MRA’s application for judicial review was filed out of the time stipulated under Section 20 of the Act; and
• The Ministry sued by MRA is not a juristic person who can be sued.
Responding, MRA’s lawyer, Mrs. Mosunmola Olanrewaju, argued that the issue of domestication of the FOI Act by the Lagos State House of Assembly does not arise in the case and that even where Lagos State enacts its own FOI Law, such a Law cannot be inconsistent with the FOI Act in the light of Section 4(5) of the Constitution.
She contended that there is no section of the 1999 Constitution which provides that a law enacted by the National Assembly has to be adopted by the State House of Assembly to make the Law applicable to the State and urged the court to hold that it is an anomaly to canvass that a law such as the FOI Act has to be domesticated by the States of the Federation for it to be applicable in such States.
On the ground that the suit was not filed within time, Mrs. Olanrewaju cited the provisions of Section 20 of the FOI Act, which provides that “Any applicant who has been denied access to information, or a apart thereof, may apply to the Court for a review of the matter within 30 days after the public institution denies or is deemed to have denied the application, or within such further time as the Court may either before or after the expiration of the 30 days fix or allow.”
She noted that MRA made its FOI request to the Ministry on November 4, 2016 and that after the Ministry willfully refused to make the information available to it, MRA commenced the judicial review process on December 9, 2016 and submitted that the suit was filed within the time stipulated by the FOI Act.
On the claim that the Lagos State Ministry of Health is not a person in Law, Mrs. Olanrewaju argued that by virtue of the State (Creation and Transitional Provisions) Decree No. 14 of 1967, Lagos State was created on May 27, 1967 and that the Ministry was one of the agencies that took off with the State.
She contended that the creation of Lagos State automatically conferred legal status on the Ministry and that to hold that the Ministry is not a person in Law would result in injustice against MRA, adding that to deny the Ministry capacity to exist as a legal personality would be a grave misconception.
Following the adoption of their written arguments by the lawyers to both parties, the Court adjourned the ruling on the preliminary objection to November 16, 2017.