Court Fixes Judgment for November 16 in FOI Suit Against National Insurance Commission

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Mr. Uchenna Amulu

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has reserved judgment until November 16, 2023 in a suit filed by an Abuja-based journalist, Ms. Godsgift Onyedinefu, against the National Insurance Commission (NIC) for refusing to disclose information she requested under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

Abuja-based freedom of expression and access to information lawyer, Mr. Uchenna Amulu, initiated the legal action on behalf of Ms Onyedinefu through an Originating Summons, which he filed on November 4, 2020. The lawsuit initially encountered multiple adjournments, and judgment subsequently reserved until July 12, 2023. However, on that date, the court directed the parties to address it on certain issues concerning failure to file pre-action notice, the mode of commencement, and of parties misjoinder. The suit was subsequently adjourned to September 26, 2023, for the adoption of written addresses

In his response, Uchenna filed a written address on issues of law in support of Ms. Godsgift’s case, arguing that the NIC’s claim that the non-service of a 30-day pre-action notice could invalidate the proceedings is without merit. He cited Section 1(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2011 to assert that Freedom of Information actions are unique, much like fundamental rights actions.

Uchenna further contested NIC’s stance that Section 26 of the NIC Act should take precedence. He emphasized Section 20 of the Freedom of Information Act, which stipulates that a Plaintiff must initiate an action challenging the denial of information within 30 days of such denial.

Addressing the issue of misjoinder and the inclusion of the Chief Executive Officer of NIC, Uchenna contended that the Chief Executive Officer, being the alter ego of the NIC, is an indispensable party to the proceedings. He provided legal precedents to substantiate his claim, underlining that the NIC is a federal institution overseen by the Chief Executive Officer, who, by law, should have adhered to Ms. Godsgift’s information request or presented reasons for denial.

On the mode of commencement, Uchenna stressed that the suit was correctly instituted through originating summons, which is the most suitable procedure for the case. He cited various legal provisions, including Sections 2(6), 20, 21, 27(1), and 30(2)(3) of the FOI Act, and Order 3 Rule 6 and Order 3 Rule 7 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2019, to bolster his argument. He also emphasized that the NIC’s Notice of Preliminary Objection contained arguments irrelevant to the issues at hand.

In conclusion, Uchenna urged the Court to resolve the issues in favour of Ms. Onyedinefu. The Chief Executive Officer had previously been excluded from the list of parties involved in the legal proceedings.

NIC was represented by Farua Bello, Esq, who, although did not file a written address, presented oral arguments in line with the court’s directives.

The suit was subsequently adjourned and scheduled for judgment on November 16, 2023.