Appeal Court, Akure Division, has held that the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act applies to states, when it comes to issues of accountability and public interest.
Former President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan had in 2011 signed the bill into law, empowering Nigerians to demand for public documents from governments and its parastatals.
In a 34-page judgment, delivered on March 27, 2018 in an appeal filed against Ondo state government, the presiding Justice of a 3-member panel, Justice Uzo Ndukwe-Anyanwu, said no state has the right to shun demands made under FOI Act.
A journalist and Project Coordinator of an NGO, Upline Resources, Mr. Martins Alo had requested for Ondo state government expenditures from 2012 to 2014 but was denied access.Alo sought redress at Ondo State High Court, having the Speaker, Ondo State House of Assembly and the state Auditor-General as respondents in the litigation.
But Justice Williams Akinrotoye, declined jurisdiction, ruled that the appellant had no locus standi to make such demands and stated that the FOI Act is limited to the Federal level.
The judge also awarded N10, 000 cost against the plaintiff for “wasting time and resources of the state.”Dissatisfied, the plaintiff through his counsel, Femi Emodamori approached the apex court on four counts, asking it to upturn the decision.Panel of appeal court justices, unanimously asserted that states too are answerable to the act as long as whatever demands made are in public interest, adding that they have a right to be informed on public funds generated through their taxes.
“In a democratic dispensation, such as Nigeria’s, the citizens have been proclaimed the owners of sovereignty and mandates that place leaders in the saddle.”In any event, the cost awarded by the trial court was based on erroneous legal premise on issue of lack of jurisdiction to entertain the appellant’s claim and that the claim was ungrantable. In this circumstance, the order as to cost is set aside for being erroneously awarded in favour of the respondent.
“On the whole, having resolved the four issues in favour of the appellant and against respondents, this appeal succeeds and therefore allowed. The judgment of the lower court in Suit No: AK/5M/2016 delivered by Hon. Justice W.A. Akinrotoye on the 18th day of July 2016 is hereby set aside,” judgment reads in part.