Various FOI requests made by Nigerian have been turned down making a mockery of the act.
In what is becoming the norm in response to Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, requests, the highest judicial body in the country, the National Judicial Council, NJC, has dismissed a request for information by a law firm; with a brusque “it is not the practice of the National Judicial Council to release such documents to Members of the public.”
On June 4, Abuja-based law firm, Victory and Rose Associates, sent an FOI request to the NJC demanding that it be provided with copies of petitions against a recently retired High Court Judge, Okechukwu Okeke.
On May 27, while making his valedictory speech, Mr. Okeke had alleged that he was almost sacked in the months leading to his retirement because he refused to accede to the demands of a Supreme Court Judge, Clara Ogunbiyi, who was allegedly trying to influence a case between the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria, AMCON, and the disgraced former Managing Director of the defunct Oceanic Bank, Cecilia Ibru.
Mr. Okeke said his problem started after he issued an order empowering AMCON to take possession of some property forfeited to the federal government by Mrs. Ibru.
He said soon after he gave the order, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Ibrahim Auta, told him that Mrs. Ogunbiyi was furious at him for granting the leave of AMCON which has led to the ejection of her daughter and son-in-law from the property (No. 5A, George Street, Ikoyi, Lagos).
He also said the daughter of Mrs. Ogunbiyi, Funke Ogunbiyi, also visited his chambers on March 8, asking him to discharge his order.
The NJC has denied Mr. Okeke’s claim; and said the judge had “numerous petitions against him.”
In a statement of denial, NJC spokesperson, Soji Oyesina, said it has a total of five petitions against the judge.
On June 4, Victory and Rose Associates put in an FOI request to the NJC requesting copies of the five petitions and Mr. Okeke’s responses saying they are interested in “unravelling the truth in this allegation of Justice Okeke.”
“In our view, the allegations by the retired Jurist are weighty, and the NJC owes Nigerians an explanation; as the allegations, if not factually debunked could impugn the integrity of the learned Justice Ogunbiyi and the NJC,” the group said.
The group has up till next month to challenge the decision of the NJC, led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mariam Mukhtar, in court.
A scorn for the FOIA
The NJC will not be the first government organ or agency to reject an FOI application.
Since May 2011 when the FOI was signed into law, government officials and agencies have treated the law with disdain, with many repeatedly turning down requests by citizens for information.
Some of those that have turned down FOI requests are the National Assembly, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Ministry of Justice, and the Lagos State House of Assembly.
However, last February, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) became the first government agency to positively respond to an FOI request.
The CBN provided some of the information sought with an FOI request by a law firm, Bamidele Aturu and Co., requesting details of the bank and its governor.