The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) said in November that it would not release the procurement records for the purchase of two controversial bullet proof cars in response to a Freedom of Information request for them because releasing them would undermine ongoing administrative and criminal investigations into the matter.
The NCAA took the position in response to joint request for the documents made by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 2011.
MRA and PPDC wrote to the NCAA Director General, Folayele Akinkuotu, on October 21, 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 groups 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 confirmed that “some of the information you have requested exist” but added that it was withholding the information on the grounds that the exemptions in Sections 12 and 26 of the FOI Act are applicable to the request.
The NCAA argued that “there was, as at the date of your request, and ongoing, various legislative and administrative enforcement proceedings and criminal investigations into the same matter of purchase of BMW 760 LiHSS vehicles by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) being conducted by the Aviation Committee of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly, the Committee of the Whole House of the Senate of the National Assembly, the Presidential Panel to Examine Alleged Purchase of Two (2) BMW Armored Vehicles for the Use of the Honourable Minister of Aviation as well as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).”
It claimed that “Not only have the information you seek been handed over to these various bodies for the conduct of the legislative and administrative enforcement proceedings and criminal investigation referred to above, but giving same to you may compromise and/or obstruct the proceedings and investigation.”
On the request for evidence of budgetary allocation made for the purchase of the cars, the NCAA also refused to provide the information, arguing that its budget is already published as part of the 2013 budget of the Federal Government and as such, the FOI Act does not apply to it.
Commenting on the NCAA’s response, MRA’s Deputy Executive Director, Jennifer Onyejekwe, said it was clear that the agency was being dishonest and merely looking for excuses not to release the records given that a few days before MRA and PPDC made their request to it, NCAA’s Director General, Folayele Akinkuotu, had called a press conference on the controversial procurement during which he claimed that the agency followed due process in the procurement of the bullet-proof vehicles and announced that the records were available for anyone who was interested to inspect.
Onyejekwe said: “It is apparent to us that they never intended to disclose the records and are just trying to take the Nigerian people for a ride. If they followed due process in the procurement of the cars, then what are they afraid of? Why are they hiding the information? How can the release of information which would clearly show that they followed due process and did nothing wrong be detrimental to their interest?”
Besides, she noted, the NCAA deliberately misrepresented and misquoted the provisions of the FOI Act in its response, by omitting words and whole phrases in citing the provisions of the Act in order to try and give the impression that its position was supported by the Law.
Ms Onyejekwe pledged that MRA and its partner organization, the PPDC, would not give up on the issue, adding that their lawyers were in the process of filing an action in court to challenge the NCAA’s refusal to disclose the procurement records and to compel it to do so.