FOIA violation: Journalist sues University of Lagos for N15m

TOBORE Ovuorie, an investigative journalist and anti-human trafficking advocate, has filed a N15 million suit against the University of Lagos and its Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe for unlawful violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 2011.

The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice is joined as a respondent in the suit. The Minister, by virtue of section 29(6) of the FOIA has oversight responsibility to ensure that all public institutions comply with provisions contained in the Act.

David Nwaze, a Lagos-based lawyer and a member of the Freedom of Information Legal Response Network, established by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) filed the case in Lagos High Court pursuant to Order 34, Rules 1, 3(1) and (2) of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2019 and Sections 1(3), 2(6), and 20 of the FOI Act.

The counsel is asking the court to grant Tobori permission to apply for judicial review under the FOIA and to seek the following reliefs:

“A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by Unilag to proactively publish certain information in its custody as specified in Section 2(3) of the FOI Act and widely disseminate the information as required by Section 2(4) of the Act amounts to a violation of her right of access to information, established and guaranteed by Section 1(1) and 2(4) of the Act;

“A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by Unilag to proactively publish the title and address of its appropriate officer to whom applications for information should be sent as required by Section 2(3)(f) of the FOI Act amounts to a violation of her right of access to information established and guaranteed by Section 1(1) and 2(4) of the Act;

“A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by Unilag to comply with Section 13 of the FOI Act in training of its officials on the public’s right of access to information and records held by it for the effective implementation of the FOI Act amounts to a violation of her right of access to information established and guaranteed by the Act;

“A declaration that the failure of Unilag to widely disseminate and make readily available to members of the public the activities, records and information referred to in Sections 2(1), (2), (3), (4) and (5) of the Act through print, electronic, online media and/or at the Head office of Unilag amounts to a flagrant violation of the provisions of these sections of the Act;

“A declaration that the failure of Unilag to submit to the Attorney-General of the Federation its annual reports on its implementation of the FOI Act amounts to a violation of Section 29(1) and (2) of the Act;

“An order of mandamus compelling Unilag to comply with the provisions of Section 2(1), (2), (3), (4) and (5) of the FOI Act by widely disseminating and making readily available to members of the public by print, electronic, online media and/or at the Head office of Unilag the activities, records and information specified under these provisions of the Act;

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 “An order of mandamus compelling Unilag to train its officials on the public’s right of access to information and records held by the institution for the effective implementation of the Act as required by Section 13 of the Act;

“An order compelling Unilag to submit its annual report for the year 2018, including that of previous years, of the implementation of the FOI Act, as required by Section 29(1) of the Act; and

“The sum of N15 million as exemplary and aggravated damages for the unlawful violation of her right of access to information established and guaranteed by Sections 1(1) and 4 of the Act.”

In a statement in support of the motion, filed pursuant to Order 34, Rule 3 of the Federal High Court Rules,  Nwaze said a letter dated November 12, 2019, was sent to the university requesting it to fulfill its statutory obligations under the FOI Act and to comply with the provisions of Section 2(3), (4) and (5); Section 29(1) and (2); and Section 13 of the Act.

He said although the University received and acknowledged receipt of the letter on November 20, 2019, however, the institution has refused to comply with the requests contained in the letter.

However, no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

To commemorate the International Right to Know Day, The ICIR reported how government agencies deny and frustrate access to public information in their custody despite the passage of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 2011 – eight years ago.

The ICIR had also filed a case against the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) over its refusal to provide details of asset declaration forms of all cabinet members of Muhammadu Buhari including the Secretary to the State Government, Chief of Staff to the President, Head of Civil service and other ministers.

In a reply by the Bureau after 2 months of receiving the FOIA request, CCB stated that it was not in the position to disclose the information making references to the constitution and the freedom of information act.

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