MRA has commenced legal proceedings against the Inspector General of Police (IGP), the Nigerian Police and the Federal Ministry of Defence, in separate suits, over their refusal to honour the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
In separate requests made pursuant to the FOI Act, MRA had requested information regarding the internal policies, practice directives and standing orders that guide the classification and declassification of information on the grounds of national security, which are in the custody of the Police and the Military.
The Federal Ministry of Defence, being the bureaucracy that oversees the affairs of the Nigerian Military which comprises of the Naval, Air and Armed Forces, received the letter on behalf of the Nigerian Military.
The requests also sought clarification on the following
(a) What categories of classification there are and the steps that must be followed towards categorizing information as either confidential, top secret or otherwise;
(b) Who authorizes the classification and what levels of classification there are
(c) The duration for which each classified piece of record or information must remain classified
(d) The requirement in any Law, Rule or Regulation for the classifier of the information to state reasons for the classification and/or his/her identity before a piece of information is classified or declassified
(e) Who or what institutions exercise oversight functions over the classification of information
(f) Who has custody of information after it is classified and what happens to the information when it is subsequently declassified
(g) Whether there are mechanisms for bulk, sampling and systematic classification and declassification of information
(h) Who has the authority to destroy Classified records/information in the custody of the Military and the Police and from where does that person derive his/her authority.
The request also sought information on whether records/information can be removed from the public before being destroyed; the laid-down procedure that Courts and prosecutors have to follow to have access to state records in the custody of the Police and the Military.
MRA’s request was founded on the recent open government campaigns and the sustained push to reinforce the applicability of the FOI Act to matters of National Security in line with the Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information (Tshwane Principles) signed in 2013.
Commenting on the cases, Mr. Churchill Kalu, a Legal Officer at MRA posited that “the decision to sue these security outfits was borne out of their wanton disregard to obey the laws of the land.” adding that “The FOI Act, 2011 is unequivocally clear on what every public institution should do upon receipt of an FOI request, which is to respond to such request either acceding to the request or denying access to information on the grounds permitted by law. These institutions did not even pay any attention to the requests that MRA sent to them. That is unacceptable under our law.”
The cases are presently before the Federal High Court, Abuja and are being advocated by Mr Godwin Chigbu of the A&E Law Partnership, Abuja. A substantive hearing date is yet to be fixed.