Media Rights Agenda (MRA) on December 3, 2019, inducted the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) into its “Enhanced Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame”, saying the agency’s attitude towards the FOI Act smacked of arrogance and lawlessness as it has consistently refused to comply with the Act. MRA said it would take legal action against the agency to compel it to comply with its obligations under the Act.
In a statement in Lagos, MRA’s Programme Director, Mr. Ayode Longe, said: “It is really quite surprising that the NDLEA, an agency established by Law and given specific responsibilities and powers by the same Act of Parliament, would deliberately decide to disregard another Law validly made by the National Assembly, without recognizing that in so doing, it is in fact depriving itself of the moral right and authority to enforce its own enabling law.”
The NDLEA is tasked with coordinating all drug laws and enforcement functions conferred on any person or authority, including Ministers in the Government of the Federation; enhancing the effectiveness of law enforcement to suppress illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances; strengthening and enhancing effective legal means for international cooperation in criminal matters for suppressing the international activities of illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances; and strengthening co-operation with the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, the police force, customs agencies, immigration agencies, welfare officials, health officials, and other law enforcement agencies in the eradication of illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
Noting that these are enormous responsibilities placed on the agency by the same type of instrument that is the foundation of the FOI Act, Mr. Longe contended that by treating the Act with disdain and refusing to implement it, the NDLEA was in effect contesting the authority of the Federal Government, including the National Assembly and the President, to make such a Law in total ignorance of the fact that is own existence and legitimacy is dependent on upholding and vindicating the authority of the Government.
He outlined the failings of the agency regarding the implementation of the FOI Act, observing that in total disregard of the mandatory provisions of section 29 of the Act, the agency had neglected to submit to the Attorney-General of the Federation, seven annual reports on its implementation of the Act and make the reports available to the public by different means, as required by the Act.
According to Mr. Longe, between 2011 and 2019, the NDLEA has submitted only one report to the Attorney-General of the Federation for the year 2012, out of the eight reports that it ought to have submitted as at February 1, 2019.
Besides, he said, although Section 13 of the Act requires every public institution to which it applies to ensure the provision of appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information and records held by it for the effective implementation of the Act, the NDLEA has, for all the eight years that the Act has been in existence failed to comply with this provision.
Mr. Longe noted that that there is no information on the NDLEA’s website or anywhere else about whom has designated as its FOI Desk Officer, as required by the FOI Act while the list of FOI Desk Officers and their contact details for various federal public institutions, compiled by the Attorney General of the Federation, also does not include any official from the NDLEA.
He said the NDLEA had failed to designate such an FOI Desk Officer despite repeated requests and reminders from the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation to all public institutions for them to appoint such officials and send their names and contact details to the office.
Mr. Longe explained that there are 16 types of information that Section 2(3)(a-f) and (4) of the FOI Act requires every public institution to publish proactively and disseminate widely even without anyone applying for such information. But he said the NDLEA has only published one of these categories of information on its website, leaving 15 others unpublished.
According to him, the only class of records that the NDLEA has proactively published is the descriptions of the agency and its responsibilities, including details of the programmes and functions of each of its directorates as well as the addresses of its commands in the 36 states of the federation.
Mr. Longe stressed that the NDLEA had failed to publish a list of all classes of records under its control; a list of manuals used by its employees; documents containing its substantive rules; a list of materials containing information relating to any grant or contract made by or between the NDLEA and any other public institution or private organization; documents containing information relating to its receipt or expenditure of funds, which are among the categories of information that the FOI requires all public institutions, including the NDLEA, to proactively publish and disseminate widely.
He recalled that on October 2, 2018, the same NDLEA was inducted into MRA’s FOI Hall of Shame for these acts of non-compliance with the FOI Act, noting that the agency had nonetheless made no effort to correct these lapses or take necessary steps to enable it comply with its obligations under the Law.