Court says FOI does not support disclosure of personal information

A Federal High Court in Abuja has said that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does not give backing to requests demanding personal data of officials from public institutions.

This was contained in the ruling delivered in a case between the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) v. Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and two others by the presiding judge, Inyang Ekwo.

Relying on sections 12 and 14 of the FOIA, Ekwo said public institutions could deny access to information in its custody where such requests related to personal details of a public official.

“When it comes to disclosure of personal information, the consent of the individual to whom the information relates must be obtained before disclosure can be sought and obtained especially where such information is requested by a private person or organisation,” he said.

    He also stated that private information could only be shared where it had been proven that public interest outweighed the protection of personal information.

    In 2019, the ICIR had sent an FOI request to the CCB demanding details of assets declared by all cabinet members of the government, including secretary to the government of the federation, chief of staff to the president, head of civil service of the federation, national security adviser and 31 ministers.

    Replying after two months, the bureau turned down the application while making references to provisions of the constitution and FOIA.

    The ICIR had proceeded to file a motion at the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking a declaration that the bureau’s refusal to grant access to the required details was a violation of the right of access to information guaranteed by the Freedom of Information Act.

    Ijeoma Opara is a journalist with The ICIR. Reach her via [email protected] or @ije_le on Twitter.

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