As Nigeria marks its 18th Democracy Day anniversary, a Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos on Friday gave Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Paradigm Leadership Support Initiative (PLSI) a victory in Round One of the groups’ attempt to secure the release of Federal Government audited reports for 1999-2015.
Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo gave SERAP and PLSI the permission to apply for judicial review and seek an order of mandamus directing and compelling the Federal Government and the Auditor-General of the Federation to publish the audited reports for 1999-2015.
The order granting leave by the court followed the hearing of an argument in court on exparte motion by SERAP deputy director Timothy Adewale.
The order by Justice Oguntoyinbo has now cleared the way for SERAP and PLSI to advance their case against the government. The motion on notice is set for Wednesday 28 June 2017 for the hearing of argument on why the government should not be directed and compelled to release and publish the audited reports.
The suit number FHC/L/CS/57/2017 filed by SERAP in conjunction with the PLSI followed a Freedom of Information request to the Federal Government and the Auditor General of the Federation dated 21st December, 2016. Mr Adewale argued in court that the Federal Government and Auditor General of the Federation have failed, refused and/or neglected to provide SERAP and PLSI the details of the information requested.
Adewale also argued that, “Refusal to publish the audited reports so that Nigerians can have the opportunity to carefully review the reports goes far beyond the limitations allowed under the FOI Act and international law, and negates the principle of Open Government Partnership (OGP) to which Nigeria is a signatory. The right to receive information without any interference or distortion should be based on the principle of maximum disclosure, and a presumption that all information is accessible subject only to a narrow system of exceptions.”
The suit read in part: “By virtue of Section 1(1) of the FOI Act 2011, SERAP and PLSI are entitled as of right to request for or gain access to information which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution. By the provisions of Section 2(7) and 31 of the FOI Act, the Defendant/Respondent is a public official/institution.”
“Under Section 4 (a) of the FOI Act when a person makes a request for information from a public official, institution or agency, the public official, institution or agency to whom the application is directed is under a binding legal obligation to provide the information requested, except as otherwise provided by the Act, within 7 days after the application is received. The information requested relates to the audited reports of the federation for the following previous years: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 (1999-2015).”
“The information requested does not come within the purview of the types of information exempted from disclosure by the provisions of the FOI Act. The information requested for, apart from not being exempted from disclosure under the FOI Act, bothers on an issue of national interest, public concern, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability. The information is not privileged in any way or manner, and the Defendant/Respondent will not suffer any injury or prejudice if the information is released/published.”
The suit is seeking the following reliefs:
- A DECLARATION that the failure of the Respondent to provide and furnish the Applicants the audited reports of the federation for the following previous years: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 (1999-2015) is illegal and unlawful as it contradicts and in conflict with the duties of the Respondent under the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
- AN ORDER OF MANDAMUS compelling and/or mandating the Respondent to immediately provide and furnish the Applicants the audited reports of the federation for the following previous years: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 (1999-2015), and to publish same widely including on a dedicated website