THE Federal Government Staff Housing Loan Board under the Ministry of Works and Housing has failed to provide information on capital and constituency projects sponsored by members of the National Assembly in the organisation.
The information was demanded through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).
The ICIR, in the FOI request dated May 31, 2023, asked the Board to specifically provide the contract description, advert date and media, approved threshold, procurement method, bid opening date, contractor, and date of contract award.
The Board refused to acknowledge the letter, stating that it doesn’t respond to FOI requests from Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO).
The Federal Government of Nigeria in 1924 under the colonial administration established the “Africa Staff Housing Loans Scheme”, which was renamed the Federal Government Staff Housing Loans Board (FGSHLB) in 1974 by an enabling law No.6 of 1974 and No. 43 of 1977 as amended, now FGSHLB Act, CAP F. II, Laws of the Federation, 2004, to address the housing need of Federal Government Staff:
“With the legislation, the Board became autonomous and subsequently self-accounting. Following the Alison Ayida-panel recommendations on Public Service Reforms, the supervision of the Board was transferred from the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing to the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation as a Parastatal to perform the same mandate,” a post on the FGSHLB website reads.
The Board, in it’s website, boasts of having the responsibility of providing the Federal Government staff with sustainable housing loans with single-digit interest rate to enable them to purchase, build or renovate their own houses for a peaceful post-retirement life after a successful career in the service.
It also has the mandate of managing revolving housing loan funds for the purpose of granting soft loans to Federal Public Servants to enable them to build residential houses, purchase land of residential houses, and any other housing project of their choice in Nigeria.
The refusal to respond to the request contravened the Freedom of Information Act which mandated all public institutions to ensure information is readily available through various means upon requests.
Section 1, sub-section 1 of the FOIA states that “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other Act, law or regulation, the right of any person to access or request information, whether or not contained in any written form, which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution howsoever described, is established.”
Section 2(4): “Public institutions shall ensure that information referred to in this section is widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources, and at the offices of such public institutions.”
In another section of the act, it was stated that should any institution believe that another public institution has greater interest in the information, the institution is required to transfer the application to the other public institution within three days.
Section 5, subsection 1, “Where a public institution receives an application for access to information, and the institution is of the view that another public institution has greater interest in the information, the institution to which the application is made may within 3 days but not later than 7 days after the application is received, transfer the application, and if necessary, the information, to the other public institution, in which case, the institution transferring the application shall give written notice of the transfer to the applicant, which notice shall contain a statement informing the applicant that such decision to transfer the application can be reviewed by the Court.”
The Media Right Agenda’s programme manager, Ayode Longe while speaking on the Board response to The ICIR said the FOI Act doesn’t not specify who not to provide with information.
“Apparently being under the ministry of works, and receiving annual budget allocation for office work, they are Federal Government Agency and the law says any agency that’s owned totally or in part by the Federal Government must respond to FOI requests. Even if it were a private agency using Federal Government money to provide services, it’s also subjected to the FOI Act.
“In fact the law does not specify who they should not respond to and it applies to both Natural and legal persons, whether they are registered or not registered. They are expected to respond to all of that type of request.”
He further explained that the “reason they are giving for not providing the information is not within the exception that FOI Act listed by which they can deny information. So they are totally wrong.”
He however advised The ICIR and other NGOs who have been denied response to charge them to court to seek help to address the issue.
Also, a human rights lawyer, Festus Ogun, bemoaned the trend, arguing that the explanation is not tenable under Nigeria’s extant laws.
“I think the refusal to provide your organisation with the requested information is a violation of the Freedom of Information Act. The justification for refusal of the information is not tenable under our extant laws. I think the pathway recognized by law is to institute a judicial review at the appropriate court for an order of mandamus compelling the Board to release the information or they face damning legal consequences.
“It is gravely disturbing. It seems that the rule of law has no place in this country. And their recklessness persists because there are no consequences for impunity.”