The Court of Appeal sitting in Akure, Ondo State, has given a landmark judgement saying that the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 is constitutional and binding on all states of the Federation in Nigeria. Consequently, states have no powers to reject requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) saying requests for information, especially
The Court of Appeal sitting in Akure, Ondo State, has given a landmark judgement saying that the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 is constitutional and binding on all states of the Federation in Nigeria.
Consequently, states have no powers to reject requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) saying requests for information, especially around public expenditure, under the Act are made in public interest and should be honoured by all states.
The Court premised its decision on the age-long “doctrine of covering field” thereby putting to rest the controversy of whether the Act must first be domesticated in every state before becoming applicable in such states.
The decision came in an appeal filed by Mr. Martins Alo, a journalist, against the Speaker of Ondo State House of Assembly and Auditor-General of Ondo State. He had demanded the audited report of Ondo State Government between 2012 and 2014 to properly access how public funds are utilised in the state. But the request was rejected, prompting him to seek judicial redress.
An Ondo State High Court, Akure division had ruled in 2016 that Mr Alo had no right to demand how the state was spending money, saying the FoIA was not applicable to states and the request was not in public interest to begin with.
The judge, Williams Akintoroye, also said Mr Alo should pay a damage of N10,000 for wasting time and resources of the state.
But Mr Alo’s lawyer, Femi Emodamori, appealed the ruling on behalf of his client, arguing that Justice Akintoroye erred in his judgment and that his client was acting in public interest.
A three-member panel of the Court of Appeal, comprising Uzo Ndukwe-Anyanwu, Obande Ogbuinya and Ridwan Abdullahi, rejected the High Court ruling by Justice Akintoroye ruling and instead agreed with the appellant that the FoIA was applicable to states and it was in public interest for the state government to release its audited report.
Justice Ndukwe-Anyanwu wrote the lead opinion, saying Mr Alo has a right to act on behalf of the public to obtain the information from state authorities. He also quashed the N10,000 fine imposed by the lower court.This is a major development that would help the fight against corruption in the country by making public servants to be more transparent and accountable says a member of the Civil Society Coalition that fought for the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill into an Act of the National Assembly.
The Media Rights Agenda led the coalition that ensured through persistent advocacy that the Freedom of Information Bill was eventually passed by the National Assembly and assented to by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011.