By Akinwale Akintunde
The Freedom of Information (FoI) Act recorded its first victory as an Oyo State High Court sitting in Ibadan Judicial division has held that the application of the Act is for the entire federation, therefore, it does not need to be domesticated by any state before taking effect in all the states across the federation, Thisday reports.
The presiding judge of the court, Justice S.A Akinteye said the National Assembly has the legislative competence to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of Nigeria that is applicable to all states of Nigeria without infringing on the autonomy of the states if such a legislation is designed to correct a malaise plaguing the country.
Justice Akinteye’s judgment was sequel to an application brought before the court by an Ibadan-based human right activist and lawyer, Mr. Yomi Ogunlola, seeking the court to determine whether the Act needs to be domesticated by Oyo State before it becomes operational in the state.
Ogunlola had written a letter to the clerk of the Oyo State House of Assembly, requesting information pursuant to section 2 of the FoI Act.
The lawyer in his letter dated July 23, 2012, sought to know the source of the funding of the legislators’ wives trip to London, having regard to the fact that the women were neither public servants, nor civil servants.
The Clerk, while replying the letter dated July 25, 2012 stated: “You may however be informed that the FoI Act, 2011, under which you are requesting for information contained in your letter is not presently applicable in Oyo State because it has not been domesticated by the state.”
Based on this reply, Ogunlola approached the court, seeking the court to determine the following issues:
Whether any Act of the National Assembly made in furtherance of its powers under sections 4(2) and 4 (4)(b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the federation or any part thereof requires states’ domestication to be applicable in the respective states of the federation;
Whether the FoI Act 2011 intended to ease access inter alia to the public records and information should be construed restrictively as applicable only to federal government institutions.
However, the Oyo State House of Assembly in opposing, also formulated two issues for the court to determine. They are: Whether an Act of the National Assembly enacted on a subject matter which is not on the exclusive legislative list of the second schedule of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, automatically becomes applicable in Oyo State of Nigeria.
Arguing the brief, the Director of Civil Litigation and Advisory Services, Oyo State Ministry of Justice, Mrs. F.B Segun-Olakojo said it could be deduced that the National Assembly can only enact laws on matters within the exclusive and concurrent lists to the extent prescribed by the constitution.
She referred to sections 4 (4,7) of the constitution that vested Houses of Assembly with powers to make laws for the states in accordance with the provisions of the constitution.
Segun-Olakojo argues therefore that it is not true that once the National Assembly makes laws, such laws becomes an automatic application throughout the component states of the federation.
She said such laws must first pass through the state Houses of Assembly for domestication.
However, Justice Adekeye in his judgment, said a similar issue of whether the National Assembly can make laws for the peace, order, and good government of Nigeria came up for consideration at the Supreme Court in the case of Attorney General of Ondo State versus Attorney General of the Federation and others (2002)NWLR (Prt 772) Pg 222.
The judge said the Supreme Court judgment had made it clear that the National Assembly has the legislative competence to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of Nigeria that is applicable to all states of Nigeria without infringing on the autonomy of the states, if such a legislation is designed to correct a malaise plaguing the country.
“It is not true as canvassed by the learned counsel to the defendant that such a legislation has to be adopted by the states of the federation to be applicable in their states… Information is not within the exclusive or concurrent lists of the 1999 Constitution. “Nevertheless, the Act is of general application to both the federal and state governments as defined by ‘Public Institution’ which refers to any legislative, executive, judicial, administrative or advisory body of the government including boards, bureau, committees, or commissions of the state and any subsidiary bodies. It is my further view that the National Assembly has enacted the FoI Act to be operational throughout the country in the interest of the common good and national interest,” Justice Akinteye concluded.