The court ruled that the application for information by PPDC is meritorious.
Over two months after a court directed the Abuja administration to make available to a civic group details of its controversial parking policy in the city centre, the administration has failed to obey the order.
The Federal High Court, Abuja. on January 30, ordered the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, and its Transportation Secretariat to release details of all revenues generated from operating parking services in the Abuja metropolis.
The suit, instituted by Public and Private Development Centre, PPDC, in April 2013, followed the refusal of the FCTA and the transportation secretariat to provide records of the parking services they operate through some private sector organizations.
The parking services have been criticised by many residents who accuse its officials of extortion and fraud.
Prior to the suit, the PPDC had made a Freedom Of Information request to the FCTA for details of the number of companies engaged for the purpose of controlling parking and collection of parking tolls or fees; the names of the companies and their addresses; the terms of the engagement of each of these companies; the amount remitted by each of these companies since their engagement; and a copy of the contract of engagement between the FCTA and each of the companies.
The PPDC also requested statements of account showing remittances made by each of the companies from inception of their engagements to date.
The Abuja administration argued in court that they were willing to provide some of the information requested; but that the PPDC failed to fulfill a condition precedent, which is payment of the requisite fees before the documents could be handed over to it.
However, Justice O.A. Adeniyi held that although the Abuja administration is permitted by Section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act to charge fees for documents sought from them, there was no material before the court to show that the administration informed PPDC of such a requirement; therefore the excuse to pay fees, as contended by FCTA, is nothing but an afterthought.
The court further held that the Abuja administration failed to formally communicate to the civic group on the denial of its request or the reasons for the denial; nor had any notice of an extension been given as required by Section 6 of the FOI Act.
The Abuja administration had also argued that the information required is exempted by virtue of Section 15(1) of the FOI Act.
The section exempts certain information such as trade secrets and commercial or financial information that is proprietary, privileged or confidential from being the FOI rule, implying relevant authorities do not have to provide such information when requested.
However, the judge agreed with counsel to PPDC, Godwin Chigbu, that in order to establish that the information requested are exempted from disclosure, FCTA must show that the information contained trade secrets or commercial and financial information which must be proprietary, privileged or confidential; that the information is in the possession of a third party; and that the disclosure of such information may cause harm to the interest of the third party.
The court therefore ruled that the FCTA failed to discharge this burden.
The court also ruled that the application for information by PPDC is meritorious and declared that the failure of the Abuja administration to grant the applicant access to information and/or documents sought amounted to wrongful and unlawful denial of information under the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
Justice Adeniyi therefore ordered the Abuja administration and the FCT Transport Secretariat, to, within 21 days, grant the PPDC access to all documents sought and specified in the FOI application by the organisation.
Over two months later, neither the FCTA, nor its Transport Secretariat, has provided such access.
“They have not complied yet,” Seember Nyager, the Chief Executive Officer of the PPDC, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Ms. Nyager said her organisation petitioned the Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, on March 28, to inform it of the FCTA’s disobedience of a court order.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the spokespersons of the FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed, none of them was willing to comment on the disobedience to the court order.
Muhammad Sule, the Chief Press Secretary to FCT Minister and Nosike Ogbuenyi, the Special Adviser, Media, to the minister, did not return calls or respond to text messages seeking comments.
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