Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has launched a new publication, which is a compilation of decisions of various courts in Freedom of Information (FOI) cases in Nigeria over the last seven years, saying the resource was intended to enhance the effectiveness of lawyers litigating on behalf of persons who are wrongfully denied access to information under the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
Titled “A Mixed Bags of Fortunes: Compilation of Rulings and Judgments in FOI Cases in Nigeria (2012 – 2018)”, the publication is a compilation of rulings and judgments rendered by State High Courts, various divisions of the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal in FOI cases across the country cases since the Act came into force in 2011.
According to MRA’s Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, the objective of the publication, which described as the first in a series of such compilations, is to make courts decisions and the thinking of the judges in FOI cases more readily available to legal practitioners litigating or interested in litigating similar cases in order to improve their effectiveness in such undertaking.
Mr Ojo noted in the preface to the compilation, which was published with funding support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), that “While some courts and judges within the Nigerian Judiciary have resolutely vindicated the rights of citizens to access information under the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, some have delivered verdicts of questionable validity and which have tended to set back the right.”
He said although in many of the cases that have been litigated, many courts have unequivocally upheld the right of members of the public to access information under the FOI Act and have accordingly ordered the concerned public institutions to disclose the information requested, “over the years, there have also emerged from some courts a number of rulings and judgments whose reasoning defies logic and are difficult to reconcile with the clear provisions of the FOI Act.”
Observing that some of such decisions have had the effect of eroding the right of access to the information expressly granted under the FOI Act, Mr. Ojo stressed that “decisions which give judicial cover to unjustifiable non-compliance with the provisions of the FOI Act only serve to encourage public institutions to willfully violate the provisions of the Act, based on a belief that even if they are clearly wrong, they nonetheless have a chance of persuading a court to decide in their favour.”
He argued that such a situation will ultimately result in a lot of litigation which would otherwise not have been necessary, adding that “Such an attitude is costly for citizens and costly for the public institutions themselves.”
Remarking that such practice amounts to a waste of public funds, which should be discouraged, Mr. Ojo said: “In addition, it will encourage impunity in the form of brazen disregard for the Law by institutions supported and maintained with public funds.”
He stated that the publication would expose lawyers to existing and emerging jurisprudence in FOI matters to equip them with the knowledge to better navigate FOI-related issues and develop a progressive attitude in the interpretation of the Act.
According to him, “the availability of such decisions would also facilitate academic research and legal analysis, which will contribute significantly to the development of the jurisprudence in this important but nonetheless novel area of the Law in Nigeria.”