Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and its partner organization, Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos last month asking the court to compel the Attorney-General of the Federation to initiate criminal proceedings against the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for the offence of “wrongful denial of access to information” under Section 7(5) of the Freedom of Information Act.
In the suit filed on their behalf by their lawyer, Mr. Ayodeji Acquah, MRA and PPDC are also asking the court to compel the NCAA to release to them the procurement records for the controversial purchase of two bullet proof cars for Aviation Minister, Mrs. Stella Oduah, which reportedly cost N255 million.
The suit arose from two joint letters written by MRA and PPDC to NCAA Director General, Mr. Folayele Akinkuotu, on October 21, 2013, asking for detailed information on the procurement records for the purchase by the NCAA of two BMW 760 LiHSS vehicles with chassis numbers WBAHP41050DW68032 and WBAHP41010DW68044.
The two organizations asked for copies of the procurement and contract records for the purchase of the cars, including: evidence of budgetary allocation for the procurement process; the procurement plan for the purchase; evidence of advertisements of the planned purchase in various newspapers, the NCAA website, the Procurement Journal, international publications, etc., inviting prospective bidders to submit bids for the procurement; and a list of all bids tendered for the procurement from when it was advertised till the close of the bid; among other documents.
But in a four-page reply dated November 11, 2013 and signed on behalf of the Director-General by NCAA’s Legal Adviser, Mr. E.D. Chukwuma, the Authority declined to disclose the records, claiming that it was withholding the information based on the exemptions in Sections 12 and 26 of the FOI Act.
In their suit filed on December 6, MRA and PPDC are asking the court to grant them leave to apply for a judicial review of the NCAA decision under the FOI Act and to seek the following reliefs:
A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by the NCAA to disclose or make available to them the information they requested by their letters to the NCAA dated October 21, 2013 amounts to a violation of their rights of access to information, established and guaranteed by Sections 1(1) and 4(a) of the FOI Act;
A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by the NCAA to disclose or make available to them the information they requested amounts to wrongful denial of access to information under Section 7(5) of the FOI Act;
A declaration that the disclosure of the information they requested will not interfere with pending or actual and reasonably contemplated law enforcement proceedings conducted by any law enforcement or correctional agency;
A declaration that the disclosure of the information they requested will not interfere with pending administrative enforcement proceedings conducted by any public institution;
A declaration that the disclosure of the information they requested from the NCAA would not in anyway obstruct any ongoing criminal investigation;
A declaration that the budgetary allocation for the procured vehicles is neither contained in the approved 2013 Budget of the NCAA nor published as part of the 2013 Budget of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and as such cannot be the basis for the refusal to provide the information requested by the organizations; and
A declaration that the public interest in disclosing the requested information outweighs whatever injury the disclosure of the information to the organizations may cause under Section12 (2) of the FOI Act.
The two organizations are also seeking:
An order of mandamus compelling the NCAA to disclose or make available to them all the information they requested in their letters dated October 21, 2013 which were duly delivered to the NCAA; and
An order compelling the Attorney-General of the Federation, who is named as the Second Respondent in the suit, to initiate criminal proceedings against the NCAA for the offence of wrongful denial of access to information under Section 7(5) of the FOI Act.