Eminent lawyers and civil society groups Tuesday condemned the Nigeria National Petroleum Commission (NNPC) for exempting itself from the provisions of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
The NNPC, in a letter dated July 17, signed by its Secretary and legal adviser, and addressed to Daily Trust Newspapers stated that the definition of public institutions in the FOI act “does not extend to statutory corporations such as NNPC and thus, we [NNPC] are not bound by the provision of the act.”
The commission stated this while refusing the FOI request of the newspaper.
Lawyers and civil society groups have however condemned the position of the NNPC with a professor of constitutional law, Itse Sagay, describing the NNPC’s position as “ignorant”.
NNPC is a public institution
While reacting to the NNPC’s position, Mr. Sagay stated that “NNPC is an agency of the Federal Government under the Ministry of Petroleum. How can it not be a public institution?”
“That argument is ignorant,” the Senior Advocate of Nigeria stated.
Mr. Sagay debunked the commission’s claim that it is exempted from the definition of a public institution.
“Who are the shareholders? Who are the owners? It is a public institution,” Mr. Sagay insisted.
Human rights Lawyer, Femi Falana, simply described the NNPC’s position as laughable.
“It is a laughable thing,” Mr. Falana said of the NNPC’s statement.
Lagos based attorney, Bamidele Aturu, described the NNPC’s position as “irresponsible”.
“They don’t know what they are saying. They are confused. The comment is irresponsible,” Mr. Aturu said.
Mr. Aturu warned that the NNPC by its position was “setting a dangerous precedent.”
“It [the FOI Act] talks about public institutions. Is NNPC not a public institution? It shows their level of seriousness,” he said.
Another lawyer, Charles Musa, described the NNPC’s statement as “an attempt to abdicate their responsibility to disclosure.”
Mr. Musa said that since the NNPC is a creation of parliament, utilizes public funds, and performs public functions, it cannot claim not to be a public institution.
Civil Society groups condemn NNPC
Some civil society groups joined Lawyers to condemn the position of the NNPC. Yinka Odumakin, the spokesman of the Save Nigeria group described the NNPC’s claim as a continuation of President Goodluck Jonathan’s stance on serious issues.
“The NNPC is taking a cue from the ‘I don’t give a damn’ President,” Mr. Odumakin said.
“NNPC does not give a damn”, he added, linking the NNPC’s reaction to bad leadership.
“Everybody does what he likes because there is no leader to rein them in,” he said.
Chido Onumah, the coordinator of the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy described the NNPC’s position as “ridiculous”.
“If a parastatal under the petroleum ministry, whose board is chaired by the Petroleum minister says it is not a public institution, then I wonder what a public institution is,” Mr. Onumah stated.
“If they don’t have anything to hide, let them release the information to the public,” Mr. Onumah added.
In his reaction, Martin Obono, the coordinator of Youth Alliance against Fuel Subsidy Removal, described the NNPC’s position as totally unacceptable. He advised the FOI applicants to go to court.
“The best thing for Daily Trust to do is to take the case to court. This act of impunity is totally unacceptable,” Mr. Obono said.