Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has inducted another Judge of the Ikeja High Court in Lagos and three public institutions into its Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame for undermining the effectiveness of the FOI Act, 2011 through their actions, inactions, utterances and decision
Inducted were the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, July 17, 2017; Justice Iyabo Akinkugbe, an Ikeja High Court judge, July 24, 2017; the Federal Ministry of Education, July 31, 2017 and the National Assembly, August 7, 2017.
MRA inducted the Ministry of Information and Culture into the FOI Hall of Shame for its flagrant violation of the several provisions of the FOI Act, including failing to designate an appropriate official of the Ministry to receive requests for information from members of the public; failing to publish the title and contact details of such an official as required by the FOI Act and the Implementation Guidelines issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation; and refusing to accept requests for information from members of the public on the excuse that it does not have an official designated for that purpose, contrary to Section 2(3)(f) of the FOI Act.
The organization also accused the Ministry of refusing to meet its proactive disclosure obligations under Section 2(3), (4) and (5) of the FOI Act; failing to provide appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information held by the Ministry and the effective implementation of the Act as required by Section 13 of the Act; unjustifiably refusing to disclose information to members of the public seeking information from it under the FOI Act; and persistently failing to submit its annual report on its implementation of the Act to the Attorney-General of the Federation as required by Section 29 of the Act and the Attorney-General’s FOI Implementation Guidelines.
According to MRA, over the last six years since the FOI Act came into force, the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture has submitted only one annual report to the Attorney-General of the Federation, which was the report it submitted in 2012 for the fiscal year, 2011, but has subsequently disregarded its statutory duty to turn in its reports by February 1 of each year over the last five years.
The induction of Justice Akinkugbe brings to two, the number of judges of the Ikeja High Courts that have been inducted since the launch of the FOI Hall of Shame on July 2017.
Justice Akinkugbe was inducted into the FOI Hall of Shame, according to MRA, “for her recent decision which has the effect of barring requesters who have been ignored by public institutions to which they applied for information under the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, from approaching the court for a judicial review as provided by the Act.”
On July 13, 2017, Justice Akinkugbe, in her ruling, not only denied MRA’s application for leave, she also expressly refused the substantive application for an order of mandamus to compel the Lagos State Primary Health Care Board to disclose or make available to MRA the information requested, when the application for an order of mandamus had not yet been argued as she had not granted leave.
Justice Akinkugbe’s ruling arose from a November 4, 2016 freedom of information request made by MRA to the Lagos State Primary Health Care Board in which the organization sought, among other things, details and copies of plans put in place to provide Araromi Zion Estate located in the Akiode Area of Ojodu LCDA in Ikeja with healthcare services; details of any assessment carried out on the health needs of the Estate and copies of relevant research or assessment reports; the timeframe for the implementation of any proposed plans and details of the budget for the implementation of the plan.
Following the failure of the Health Care Board to respond to the request after the timeframe provided in the FOI Act had lapsed, on December 6, 2016, MRA filed an application at the Ikeja Judicial Division of the Lagos State High Court seeking leave of the court to compel the Board to comply with the provisions of the FOI Act and provide MRA with the information requested.
Justice Akinkugbe ruled that having “carefully considered the facts before the court”, she was of the view that MRA’s application was “premature” because the Lagos State Primary Health Care Board had not issued the organization with a written notice stating that it would not grant access to the record or information applied for, had not stated the grounds for the refusal or the specific provision of the FOI Act that it relied upon, and that MRA has a right to challenge the decision refusing access and to have it reviewed by a court.
She held that: “There has to be a written notice stating grounds for refusal as this is a precondition that must be complied with.” This is in clear violation of Section 7(4) of the FOI Act which says that a public institution is deemed to have refused access where it fails to give access to information the requested within the time limit set in the Act.
The Ministry of Education was inducted into the FOI Hall of Shame for its failure to designate an appropriate officer to whom FOI requests should be directed, in breach of Section 2(3)(f) of the FOI Act and the Implementation Guidelines issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation; refused to train its personnel on the public’s right of access to information and for the effective implementation of the Act as stipulated in Section 13 of the Act; consistently failed to submit its annual FOI implementation report to the Attorney-General of the Federation as required by Section 29 of the Act; and has neglected to proactively publish and disseminate the categories of information specified by the Act in Section 2(3), (4) and (5) of the Act.
The National Assembly, a this vital arm of government, failed to abide by any provision and it ‘actively’ refuses to comply with any of its various obligations in a law its members enacted six years ago. For this and other reasons, MRA inducted the National Assembly into the FOI Hall of Shame.
Explaining the choice of the National Assembly, Mr. Ojo said since the enactment of the FOI Act, the National Assembly has not granted a single request made to it for information by virtue of the FOI Act. He said further that the National Assembly not only refused to grant access to all the requests for information made to it, it has actively frustrated this right by wasting the nation’s resources on frivolous litigations to appeal all the High Court judgments which ruled that the National Assembly release information to the requesters.
In addition to all of these, the National Assembly has also undermined the FOI Act in a number of ways: it has not submitted a single implementation result to the Attorney General of the Federation as required by Section 29(1) and (2) of the FOI Act and in accordance with the Attorney General’s implementation guidelines; it has not designated an officer to whom freedom of information requests should be sent much less publish the title and address of the appropriate officer in accordance with Section 2(3)(f) of the FOI Act; aside some bills being made available online on its website, it has also failed to proactively publish virtually all the categories of information that the FOI Act requires public institutions to publish.
In addition to the Attorney General of the Federation who has oversight responsibility of seeing to the effective implementation f the FOI Act, the National Assembly also has oversight authority of it. The House of Representatives’ Committee on Reform of Government Institutions, which was also called the FOI Committee is charged with the responsibility of overseeing compliance by public institutions with the FOI Act. However, the Committee is not exerting any positive influence on seeing to the effective implementation of the Act in accordance with its mandate.
The Attorney General of the Federation has also repeatedly pointed out that no institution under the National Assembly has complied with its obligations under the FOI Act.
Every week, MRA inducts into the FOI Hall of Shame a public institution or public official who, by its, his or her action or inaction, decision, utterance or in any other way is undermining or has undermined the effective implementation of the FOI Act and provides ample justification for its choice regarding such an institution or official.
The induction into the FOI Hall of Shame was launched on July 3, 2017 and so far, has inducted two Judges of the Ikeja High Court and four public institutions into the Hall of Shame.