High Court Orders UPTH to Grant Journalist Information Requested Within 7 Days

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arr Kingdom Chukwuezie, Member of FOI Legal Response Network
arr Kingdom Chukwuezie, Member of FOI Legal Response Network

Justice KolawoleOmotosho of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt has ordered the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH) to furnish Mr. Mark Lenu, a journalist, with the information he applied for under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act within seven days

Mark, a journalist with Wish 99.5 FM, Port Harcourt had, by a letter dated April 5, 2019, written to UPTH requesting for details of the money received by the Hospital from the federal government for salaries and allowances of staff of the institution for 2017 and 2018. The Hospital failed to respond to his request and he went to court to seek remedy suing the institution and its medical director.

The suit also joined as a defendant the Attorney General of the Federation and was filed on April 30, 2019, over the hospital failure to grant his request for information made pursuant to the Freedom of information Act 2011 via a letter dated April 5, 2019.

Expatiating on the matter, legal counsel to the journalist, Barr Kingdom Chukwuezie said the matter is essentially within the confines of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.

He stated that: “Pursuant to that Act and the rights therein, the plaintiff had applied for some information especially in respect to the allocations received by the UPTH from the federal government regarding staff salaries and allowances in 2017 and 2018 respectively.”

“My client requested further for the unspent amount remitted to the federal government from the allocations it received during the said years.

“Finally, he requested for the list of names of all the consultants and medical doctors working with the UPTH.”

The journalist’s legal counsel further disclosed that the journalists told the hospital in his application that he was willing to pay the prescribed standard charge for the production of the aforementioned information, adding “By the Act, the hospital is by law required to make such information available to him within seven days.”

In the suit, Mark sought for the following reliefs:
a. A Declaration that he is entitled as of right to receive the information applied from the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital and its Chief Medical Director having made a written application which they received the on April 5, 2019.
b. A Declaration that the failure and/or refusal of the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital and its Chief Medical Director to make available to him the information he applied for in his letter to them is wrongful, unlawful and amounts to a gross violation of his right of access to Information established and guaranteed by Sections 1(1), and 4 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
c. A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital and its Chief Medical Director to make available to him the information applied for in his letter to them amounts to wrongful denial of access to information under Section 7(5) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
d. A Declaration that the failure and/or refusal of the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital and its Chief Medical Director to give written notice to him stating the reason for the denial of the information sought and requested is wrong, unlawful and constitutes a gross violation of Section 4 (b) of the Freedom of Information Act 2011.
e. An Order of the Court on the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital and its Chief Medical Director to make available to him a hard copy of the information requested within seven days of the judgment of the Court.
f. An Order of the Court on the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital and its Chief Medical Director to make available to him the information he applied for through his email: marklenu15@gmail.com within seven days of the judgment of the Court.
g. An Order directing the Attorney General of the Federation to initiate criminal proceedings against the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital and its Chief Medical Director for the offence of wrongful denial of access to information under Section 7(5) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
h. The Sum of N1,000.000.00 (One Million Naira) only, as exemplary and aggravated damages for the unlawful violation of his right of access to information established and guaranteed by Sections 1(1) and 4 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 and for wrongful denial of access to information under Section 7 (4) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
i. And for such orders or further orders as the Court may deem fit to make in the circumstance.

Mr. Chukwiezie filed the suit through an Originating Summons asking the Court to determine the following:

1. Whether he is entitled to the information he applied for from the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital and its Chief Medical Director pursuant to Section 1(1) of Freedom of Information Act, 2011, his application having been received by them on April 5, 2019.
2. Whether the failure or refusal of the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital and its Chief Medical Director to make available to him the information he requested within seven days of their receiving the application is not a violation of his right as guaranteed by Section 4 (a) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011
3. Whether the failure or refusal of the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital and its Chief Medical Director to make available to him the information he applied for within seven days of their receiving the application does not amount to wrongful denial of access to information under Section 7(5) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011
4. Whether their failure to give written notice to Mark stating the reason for the denial of the information applied for by him is not a violation of his right, guaranteed by Section 4 (b) of the Freedom of Information Act 2011.

In spite of acknowledging receipt of the application, the Hospital refused to grant him the information he requested. Thereafter, he filed the suit against the hospital and its Medical Director on April 30, 2019, at the Port Harcourt Division of the Federal High Court, joining the Attorney General of the Federation as party in the suit.

Mr.Chukwuezie is a member of the FOI Legal Response Network, a project sponsored by Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).