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National Biosafety Management Agency petitions AGF over ICIR’s report, calls for clamp down on FOIA

THREE weeks after The ICIR’s investigation that exposed how the National Biosafety Management Agency’s fund for capital projects was mismanaged via inflated project prices, the agency has petitioned Abubakar Malami, the Attorney general of the Federation (AGF) and the Minister of Justice. 

The agency in the petition written to the AGF and signed by Dr. Rufus Egbeba, its Director-General, alleged that The ICIR misused the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the course of the investigation.

The ICIR had in the investigation exposed how the agency spent over N365 million on vehicles, computers, and equipment, all between 2016 and 2019, but were all inflated beyond the market price.

Documents obtained from NBMA through FOIA request by this newspaper show how the agency has executed no fewer than 30 capital projects but  at inflated prices.

For example, the investigation shows that the agency has spent over N170 million on only five operational vehicles between 2016 and 2019.

Reacting to the report, the agency had on July 27 written to The ICIR, demanding that the story be pulled down within 48 hours insisting that the report was a misrepresentation of what was contained in the procurement documents.

After then, the agency petitioned the AGF alleging that this newspaper, “maliciously abused use of information obtained from the National Biosafety Management Agency under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.”

It further alleged that the investigation was calculated to tarnish its image and thereby called on the AGF to investigate and prosecute The ICIR.

Meanwhile, The ICIR in a letter dated July 30  had invited the agency to share invoices and other documents that show the correct value of the purchases within the period in question in order to further ascertain its claims, but NBMA had not responded as at the time of filing this report.

Instead, the agency which ranked 56th position in the 2018 FOIranking opted to petition the AGF to call for a clampdown on FOIA instead of providing clarification. The lowest ranking position in that year was 82nd.

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The Freedom of Information Act was passed into law on May 28, 2011, but despite the passage, many government agencies still consider public records in their custody as private information which can only be disclosed only according to the whims and caprices of the public officers.

It is noteworthy that Nigeria still ranks a woeful 132 out of 162 countries in the FOI compliance, according to the 2018 Human Forum Index.

Similarly, Transparency International in 2019 ranked Nigeria 146 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s corruption perception index.

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