THE International Centre for Investigation, ICIR, has instituted two separate suits against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, for denying information about payments made by visa applicants in the United States.
The Centre had written twice to the ministry, NIS and the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC, with all three on both occasions refusing to provide the information requested.
In the first suit filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja, against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the minister of foreign Affairs and the Attorney General of the Federation, the Centre is asking the court to declare that the ministry’s refusal to provide the information requested is a violation of its right and amounts to wrongful denial under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2011.
In its prayers to the court, the Centre is seeking orders compelling the respondents to provide all information requested and for the Attorney General “to initiate criminal proceedings against the 1st respondent for the offence of wrongful denial to access to information under Section 7(5) of the Freedom of information Act, 2011.”
The ICIR is also seeking an order compelling the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the minister to pay damages of N15 million for the unlawful denial of access to information.
In the case against the NIS, the Comptroller General of Immigration and the Attorney General, the Centre is seeking similar prayers and orders of the court. No case was instituted against the Embassy in the US because of jurisdiction issues.
The information sought by the ICIR relates to visa application and issuance at the Nigerian Embassy in the United States.
Specifically, the Centre asked for details of the number of visa applications, number of visas granted and “costs of procuring the Nigerian visa in the US, including the different types of visas applied for by various applicants, the different types of visas issued to various applicants, the cost of each type of visa, the number of each type of visa applied for, the number of each type of visa approved and issued.”
The Centre also requested for “details of the various method(s) of payment for the visas procured, whether in cash, online, through a bank or any collecting agent or through any other means, and how much is expected to be paid through each method.”
The requests were all made to the three institutions on November 18, 2019, and were all ignored. While the second round of requests was made to the ministry and NIS on January 9, the Centre sent a fresh request to the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC on January 16. The latter was hand-delivered at the Washington DC offices of the Nigerian Embassy but had to be mailed when no staff agreed to collect it.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is notorious for brazenly denying access to information to Nigerians. It has consistently performed woefully in the yearly ranking of the Public and Private Development Centre, PPDC, which is respected for its annual assessment of FOIA responses by Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs, including security agencies.
For the last three years, the ministry has recorded zero in all indices, including overall ranking, proactive disclosure, responsiveness to requests and level of disclosure.
In 2017, the ministry came last at 75th position, earning red on all indices of assessment and sharing the position with scores of other MDAs. In 2018, it performed equally dismal, coming in last at 82, along with scores of other institutions. The Foreign Affairs Ministry’s rating improved slightly last year when it was ranked 73rd and earned 15 points.
As for the Immigration Service, it has also not had a good record responding to FOIA requests. In 2016, the NIS was ranked fourth but earned a red mark in proactive disclosure and level of disclosure, although it earned a fair mark in responsiveness to requests. The service got similar ranking 2017 but has fared worse in the last two years, earning red marks on all indices.