Ministry violates FOI law, fails to release details of capital, constituency projects

THE Federal Ministry of information and Culture has violated the Freedom of Information (FOI) law by refusing to release the details of its capital projects, as well as constituency projects sponsored by federal lawmakers under the ministry. 

This was despite the ministry acknowledging the receipt of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from The ICIR on June 2, 2023.

The FOIA request, dated May 31, 2023, was titled ‘Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for detailed list of capital projects of the ministry, and projects sponsored by federal lawmakers (Senators and House of Representatives).

Information demanded by The ICIR in the FOIA request include full details of the contracts, the approved threshold, procurement procedures and the duration and completion dates of the projects.

The FOIA request

Three weeks later, the ministry is yet to respond to the request and has also failed to give reasons for the refusal, as stipulated by the FOI Act.

The ICIR can confirm that the ministry’s refusal contradicts the FOI Act, which gave a maximum of seven days to respond to such requests. Going by the FOI Act, the ministry can be prosecuted for failing to comply with the law.

Section 1(1) and 2(4) of the Act highlighted the rights of individuals to access or request information and also stressed that the requested information should be made readily available to members of the public through various means, such as print, electronic and online sources, and at the offices of such public institutions.

Sections 4 and 5 of the FOI Act mandates all public institutions to grant or give reasons for denying a request within seven days.

What the FOI Act says

Section 1(1): “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other Act, law or regulation, the right of any person to access or request information, whether or not contained in any written form, which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution howsoever described, is established.”

Section 2(4): “Public institutions shall ensure that information referred to in this section is widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources, and at the offices of such public institutions.”

Section 4 : “Where information is applied for under this Act, the public institution to which the application is made shall, subject to sections 6, 7, and 8 of this Act, within 7 days after the application is received- (a) make the information available to the applicant (b) Where the public institution considers that the application should be denied, the institution shall give written notice to the applicant that access to all or part of the information will not be granted, stating reasons for the denial, and the section of this Act under which the denial is made.”

Section 5: “(1) Where a public institution receives an application for access to information, and the institution is of the view that another public institution has greater interest in the information, the institution to which the application is made may within 3 days but not later than 7 days after the application is received, transfer the application, and if necessary, the information, to the other public institution, in which case, the institution transferring the application shall give written notice of the transfer to the applicant, which notice shall contain a statement informing the applicant that such decision to transfer the application can be reviewed by the Court.

“(2) Where an application is transferred under subsection (l), the application shall be deemed to have been made to the public institution to which it was transferred on the day the public institution received it.

“(3) For the purpose of subsection (l), a public institution has ‘a greater interest’ in information if – (a) the information was originally produced in or for the institution; or (b) in the case of information not originally produced in or for the public institution, the institution was the first public institution to receive the information.”

Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: [email protected]. He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

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