CSNAC had sued NNPC over N15 billion disbursed for guarding oil pipelines in the Niger Delta.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, has said that it must be given a 30-day notice of a suit before the suit is filed before a court.
In a notice of preliminary objection to a suit filed by the Civil Society Network against Corruption, CSNAC, at the Federal High Court, Abuja, the corporation stated that the one month notice was stipulated in the NNPC Act.
CSNAC had dragged the agency to court seeking an order to compel the corporation to release information on the beneficiaries of the N15 billion disbursed for guarding oil pipelines in the Niger Delta.
The counsel to the NNPC, Augustine Alegeh, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, also said, in the notice filed on June 14, that CSNAC lacked the locus standi to file the court action.
CSNAC had, in September 2013, sent a Freedom of Information, FOI, letter to the NNPC requesting information on the beneficiaries of N15 billion approved and disbursed by it for securing oil pipelines in the Niger Delta.
In the FOI request, CSNAC had stressed that the information was required for its planned monitoring of the initiative to avoid a repeat of past failed efforts by government.
Having failed to provide the requested information, CSNAC through its counsel, Chino Obiagwu, filed an originating summons in court for an order under Section 20 of the FOI Act compelling NNPC to release the requested information.
Under the FOI Act, no further notice of action is required to be given to a public institution before an applicant whose request for information was refused or ignored could go to court to seek court order for the requested information.
“By filing a preliminary objection to the suit on such flimsy technical excuses, NNPC has demonstrated that it is an unrepentant corrupt institution that is not willing to open itself up to civil society scrutiny,” said Lanre Suraj, the Chairman of CSNAC, and co-plaintiff in the suit. “It chose to hire and pay huge legal fees to a senior advocate of Nigeria to delay the suit or frustrate it, rather than provide the simple information requested from it. This is really very unfortunate.”
Mr. Suraj said that Section 1 of the FOI Act, 2011, empowered CSNAC to have access to the information requested.
“As a body created to serve the public’s interest, the NNPC is obligated to provide CSNAC with the requested information within seven days of receipt of the request failure of which the organisation can sue in court within 30 days for order to release the information sought,” Mr. Suraj said.
NNPC has been recently marred with several allegations of corruption and poor accountability, including a missing $20 billion allegation by the former Central Bank of Nigeria governor, Lamido Sanusi.
A counsel to the plaintiff in the suit, Melissa Omene, said that the NNPC’s “blatant disregard” for the right to information as guaranteed by the Freedom of Information Act raised serious concern of deep corruption in the corporation.
“What does the NNPC have to hide in respect of the requested information? Civil society must continue to engage NNPC and similar corrupt institutions as a way to fight corruption and abuse of office in public institutions in Nigeria,” said Ms. Omene, legal officer with the Legal Defence and Assistance Project, LEDAP.
The court fixed the hearing of the preliminary objection on July 7.