Legal/Judiciary

Wrongful denial of access to information: Court convicts Lagos government

By Francis Iwuchukwu

The governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu has been directed to immediately provide, furnish and make information on the breakdown of expenses and expenditures on the N10 billion, released to it by the Federal Government of Nigeria, FGN, as COVID-19 intervention Funds.

The order was given by Justice Tijjani Ringim of a Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos State, Nigeria.

Besides, the judge equally made an order of mandamus compelling Governor Sanwo-Olu and the Lagos State government, to perform their official and statutory duty, by providing information and publication of the breakdown of expenses and expenditures on the N10 billion COVID-19 Intervention Funds released to them by the FGN pursuant to the request of a human rights lawyer, Ogungbeje’s application dated July 17, 2020, and acknowledged by them on July 21, 2020.

The judge further declared that the refusal of the governor and the Lagos State government, to furnish the applicant with the information on the breakdown of expenses and expenditures on the N10 billion COVID-19 Intervention Funds released to them by the FGN and other sundry donations without written notice to the applicant, is a flagrant violation of the provisions of the Freedom of information Act 2011.

Justice Ringim also convicted Governor Sanwo-Olu and the state government as defaulting officers to pay the fine of N10 million, for wrongful denial of access to information to the lawyer forthwith.

The judge decided while ruling on an Exparte motion with a verifying Affidavit in Support, deposed to by Olukoya Ogungbeje, an Executive Director of Coalition for Good Governance in Nigeria but argued by and moved by Michael Ogunjobi.

Justice Ringim however ordered the applicant, Olukoya Ogungbeje to file a written undertaking as to cost if it turns out that the orders granted above ought not to have been granted.

It would be recalled that Ogungbeje had asked for the above-granted orders in a suit marked FHC/CS/L/1082/2020, which he told the court are according to Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 7(4)(5) and 20 of the Freedom of Information Act 2011; Order 34 Rules 1, 2, 3, 4 of Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules and under the Inherent jurisdiction of the court, as imbued by Section 6 (6)(B) of the Constitution.

Ogungbeje who also described himself as Executive Director of Coalition for Good Governance in Nigeria, in a verifying affidavit in support of the application, stated that sometimes between December 2019 and February 2020, Coronavirus otherwise known as COVID-19 engulfed and plagued several countries including Nigeria, and that concerted and commendable efforts were made by Governments of countries including the Federal Government of Nigeria to stem the tide of the COVID-19 killer virus.

He stated that on account of the above, sometimes in March 2020, the Federal Government of Nigeria released the huge sum of N10 billion Naira to the first and second respondents in a bid to provide palliatives and to fight the Coronavirus pandemic in Lagos State, and that Sundry donations were made by Corporate Organizations and well-meaning individuals to the first and second respondents in a bid to provide palliative for residents of Lagos State as part of the measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the State.

Ogungbeje stated that on July 13, 2020, Doctors in Lagos State under the auspices of Medical Guild embarked on a warning strike action based on issues ranging from non-payment of allowances, welfare packages and other sundry issues in connection with services rendered in relation to the COVID-19 incidence. He said during the strike action embarked upon by the Doctors in Lagos State, a number of Nigerian citizens resident in Lagos including himself found it difficult to access the Government-owned Hospitals in Lagos State.

He also stated that palliatives distributed by the first and second respondents to residents of Lagos State were grossly insufficient and inadequate to justify the huge intervention funds released to the first and second respondents by the Federal Government of Nigeria and Corporate Organizations.

The lawyer further argued that as a result of the above, he wrote a request application dated July 17, 2020 to the first and second respondents, requesting for Information on the breakdown on the spending of the N10 billion COVID-19 Intervention funds released by the Federal Government of Nigeria and other Sundry Donations received.

The human rights lawyer stated further that the respondents bluntly refused and failed to furnish him with information on the breakdown of expenses and expenditures on the COVID-19 intervention funds released to them by the Federal Government of Nigeria and corporate Organizations.

He averred that since the July 27, 2020 till date the respondents have failed to comply with our demand application WITHIN SEVEN (7) days as provided in the Freedom of Information Act, and they have wilfully breached and flouted the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, adding that “they have also refused and neglected to carry out their official and statutory responsibilities in the spirit of accountability and transparency on the matter despite our request application to this effect.

The applicant stated that all efforts to have the respondents cause a prompt information, publication and release of the breakdown of expenses and expenditures on the N10 billion COVID-19 Intervention funds and other Sundry donations proved futile despite “our request application to the Respondents.”

He stated that the respondents being public officials in position of public trust are under an obligation under the law to oblige him with the Information as requested and give a written reason for denial if any.

He also revealed that he filed the application to seek legal redress on account of the respondents refusal and failure to oblige and provide Information on the expenses, expenditures and or spending on the COVID-19 intervention funds received by the first and second respondents from the Federal Government of Nigeria and Corporate Organizations.

The lawyer stated that he approached the Court to seek redress on the wrongful act and illegal action of the respondents in the spirit of accountability, transparency and good governance and that it will serve the interest of justice to grant this application.

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