HURIWA Battles Fiscal Commission Over FOIA Request

A human rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria, HURIWA, has threatened to write a Freedom of Information Act, FIOA, request to the attorney general of the federation to force the disclosure of the identity of a politician who has illegally received millions of dollars from public funds.

Writing the FOIA request is one of the options being considered by the group after a similar request to the Fiscal Responsibility Commission failed to yield results.

The other option open to the group, according to its national coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, is to head to the courts to force the commission to disclose the identity of the politician.

HURIWA had on August 12 written a FOIA request to the Fiscal Responsibility commission demanding that it name the politician which its chairman, Aliyu Jibril Yelwa, accused of receiving money illegally from government coffers.

Yelwa had in an interview with Daily Trust published in its August 6 edition alleged that a top politician had been receiving money in foreign currency from a federal government agency without doing any work.

Although he did not name the politician, Yelwa told the newspaper that the funds illegally taken by the politician were from non-remitted operational surplus of the agency and that the pilfering had gone on for a while.

Yelwa said that the managing director of the agency who was also not named told him that the politician collects the money in dollars and that “the person will collect it and even ask “is this all that you have gathered?”

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In its request to the commission signed by Onwubiko, HURIWA stated that “this allegation is a serious issue which should not be swept under the carpet” and demanded that “the alleged agency and its managing director, together with the said private person be disclosed to all Nigerians by writing as the direct response to this freedom of information request to your good self and offices”.

“We write this in good faith, hoping that you will grant our request, and failure to disclose this information within 7days, we shall have no option than to seek the necessary  legal means to compel compliance to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act as provided in Section 1(3) and Section 4,” HURIWA concluded in its request.

However, in an eight page response to the group’s demand signed by its FOI officer Charles Abana , the commission refused to disclose the name of the said politician, claiming that under the Act setting it, it was not obliged to disclose the identity of persons under investigation.

“I can confirm to you that the Fiscal Responsibility Commission will withhold the information you have requested because we consider that the exemptions under the following Sections of the F.O.I Act, 2011 apply to your requests. They are Sections 14(1)(e) and Section 12(1)(a),(i),(ii),(iii)(iv)(vi);(4),”  the commission asserted.

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Section 14(1) of the FOI Act of 2011 states that: “Subject to subsection (2), a public institution MUST deny an application for information that contains personal information and information exempted under this subsection includes…” and “information revealing the identity of persons who file complaints with or provide information to administrative, investigative, law enforcement or penal agencies on the commission of any crime.”

“Section 2(1) of the Fiscal Responsibility Commission Act states: “the Commission shall have power to: compel any person or government institution to disclose information relating to public revenues and expenditure; and; cause an investigation into whether any person has violated any provisions of this Act”.

In essence, the commission claiming that it was investigating the politician accused of corrupt practices and, using the law, exempting itself from disclosing his identity.

“Pursuant to the above stated power/responsibility of the Commission, it embarked on an on-going investigation of some of the Scheduled Corporations under its purview. The said on-going investigation is aimed at establishing if any person has committed a punishable offence (which is criminal in nature). At the conclusion of the said investigation, the law requires the Commission to forward a report of the investigation to the Attorney-General of the Federation for prosecution-which cannot be directly undertaken by the Commission”, the commission said.

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It explained further: “If the Commission is satisfied that such a person has committed any punishable offence under this Act violated any provisions of this Act, the Commission shall forward a report of the investigation to the Attorney-General of the Federation for possible prosecution.

However, Onwubiko has reacted angrily to the commission’s position, accusing it of protecting the politician and covering up massive corruption in the public space, the same malaise it was set up to fight.

“We are still in a state of shock that this commission can so recklessly promote corruption by refusing to name and shame the corrupt government official,” Onwubiko said.

“We then wonder how the fiscal Responsibility Commission in total breach of the constitution is masquerading as a respecter of nebulous provisions of the FISCAL Responsibility Act to conceal the identity of a corrupt government official,” he stated further.

Onwubiko said that the group was still studying the commission’s response to its request and was considering writing a new petition to the office of the attorney general to enable it get the information it demanded of head for the court.

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