Court Grants ICIR Leave to Challenge Denial of FOI Request by Foreign Affairs Ministry

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Darlington Onyekwere, Member of Media Rights Agenda’s (MRA) FOI Legal Response Network
Darlington Onyekwere, Member of Media Rights Agenda’s FOI Legal Response Network

A Federal High Court in Abuja has granted the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) leave to apply for a judicial review of the decision by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs denying its request for information under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and thereby violating the organization’s right to information.

The Hon. Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney General of the Federation were named as co-respondents in the suit.

ICIR, in the suit filed by its counsel, Mr. Darlington Onyekwere, sought leave of the Court to enable it to apply for declarations and orders from the court compelling the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to perform its statutory duties under the FOI Act within 30 days of the court’s order and to pay it the sum of N15 million as exemplary and aggravated damages for the violation of its rights of access to information guaranteed by the FOI Act.

He argued, before Hon. Justice Ogunbanjo, that ICIR has a right under Section 1(3) of the FOI Act to institute proceedings in court to compel any public institution, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to comply with the provisions of the Act.

In the case with suit no: FHC/ABJ/CS/187/2020, ICIR is seeking for the following reliefs:

  • A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by the Ministry of Foreign Affairsto disclose or make available to it the information requested by the letter sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dated January 8, 2020 amounts to a violation of the ICIR’s right of access to information established and guaranteed by Sections 1(1), & 4 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
  • A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to disclose or make available the information requested by the ICIR’s letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dated January 8, 2020 amounts to wrongful denial of access to information under section 7(5) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
  • A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to give written notice to ICIR that access to all or part of the information requested will not be granted, stating reasons for denial and the section of the Act under which the denial is made amounts to a violation of section 4(b) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
  • An order compelling the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to release details of the number of visa applications received by the Nigerian Embassy and Consulate in the US in the last 12 months, that is from January to December 2019
  • An order compelling the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to release details of the number of visas granted by the Nigerian Embassy and Consulate in the US in the last 12 months (January to December 2019).
  • An order compelling the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to release details of all costs of procuring the Nigerian visa in the US, including the different types of visas applied for by various applicants, the different types of visas issued to various applicants, the cost of each type of visa, the number of each type of visa applied for, the number of each type of visa approved and issued.
  • An order compelling the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to release full details of the various method(s) of payment for the visas procured, whether in cash, online, through a bank or any collecting agent or through any other means, and how much is expected to be paid through each method.
  • An order compelling the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to release details of how much has accrued to the Nigerian government through the issuance of visas in the US in the last 12 months (January to December 2019).
  • An order compelling the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to release details, if any, of all e-platforms or companies that receive payment for visas issued in the US on behalf of the Nigerian Embassy, Consulate or the government of Nigeria.
  • An order compelling the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to release details of the processes for selecting or appointing any such e-platforms or companies as in item 5 above as well as details of the sharing arrangement of monies collected between the Nigerian Embassy or Consulate and the collecting agent.
  • An Order compelling the Attorney General of the Federation to initiate criminal proceedings against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the offence of wrongful denial of access to information under Section 7(5) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
  • An Order directing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Hon. Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs to pay to the ICIR the Sum of N15, 000.000.00 (Fifteen Million Naira) only on the footing of exemplary and aggravated damages for the flagrant and unlawful violation of the ICIR’s right of access to Information established and guaranteed by Section 1(1) & 4 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 and wrongful denial access to information under Section 7 (4) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.

The ICIR had on January 8, 2020, applied for the information in accordance to Sections 1(1), and 4 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 but the information was denied by the Ministry.