JULIUS Berger (JB) has refused to release copies of contract detail on the Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria road construction project awarded by the federal government.
Julius Berger, one of the leading construction companies in Nigeria, was incorporated by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) in 1970, thus transforming it into a Nigerian entity. The construction company has executed various complex projects nationwide.
The ICIR, on December 07, 2020, through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), requested the details of the ongoing Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria project and specifically asked for the record(s) of contract agreement and specification details of the project. Information demanded by The ICIR include full details of the total payment received for the project, exact state, quality and level of completion of the project and expected time of completion.
Almost two months after, Julius Berger is yet to respond to the request and has also failed to give a reason for the refusal, as stipulated by the FOI Act.
The ICIR on January 25 also sent another letter reminding Julius Berger of the initial letter sent in December. It is over seven days and Julius Berger is yet to respond.
Section 2(7) of the FOIA classifies Julius Berger as a public institution, which the law is binding upon. According to the section of the Act, “Public institutions are all authorities whether executive, legislative or judicial agencies, ministries, and extraministerial departments of the government, together with all corporations established by law and all companies in which government has a controlling interest, and private companies utilizing public funds, providing public services or performing public functions.”
By enacting the FOIA, 2011, the Seventh National Assembly gave effect to the constitutionally guaranteed right of the public to access public documents held by public institutions and relevant private entities in Nigeria, including Julius Berger.
Recall that in a case between the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) and Julius Berger in 2014, Justice M.M Kolo of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) granted a leave against Julius Berger, compelling it to furnish PPDC with copies of documents and information to the bidding and award of the contract for the reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
This is an indication that Julius Berger, the contractor who handled the construction of the National Assembly complex and also the developer of the FCT, may have a reputation for violating FOI requests.
Section 7 of the FOIA explains what should happen when a public institution denies access to public information. The section states:
(1) Where the government or public institution refuses to give access to a record or information applied for under this Act, or a part thereof, the institution shall state in the notice given to the applicant the grounds for the refusal, the specific provision of this Act that it relates to and that the applicant has a right to challenge the decision refusing access and have it reviewed by a Court.
(2) A notification of denial of any application for information or records shall state the names, designation and signature, of each person responsible for the denial of such application.
(3) The government or public institution shall be required to indicate under subsection (1) of this Section whether the information or record exists.
(4) Where the government or public institution fails to give access to information or record applied for under this Act or part thereof within the time limit set out in this Act, the institution shall, for the purposes of this Act, be deemed to have refused to give access.
(5) Where a case of wrongful denial of access is established, the defaulting officer or institution commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N500,000.