By Brave Dickson
A federal high court presided over by Justice James Kolawole Omotosho in Port Harcourt has adjourned till July 4, 2019, to entertain two suits filed by Mr Mark Lenu against the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) over alleged refusal by the public institutions to furnish him with certain information he requested for through the Freedom of Information Act 2011.
The plaintiff, Mr Lenu had formally written to the NDDC to make available to him information bordering on: “The budget approved by NDDC for scholarship grants for foreign students of Niger Delta extraction for their post tertiary academic training for the period of 2017 and 2018.
“And the sum spent on each of the beneficiaries and the total sum spent on the programme between 2017 and 2018,” among others.
The plaintiff also requested HYPREP to make available to him, information of its: “Approved budget for the contract or contracts awarded in 2017 and 2018 for Ogoni clean up.
“And the approved budget of the agency for 2017 and 2018,” among others.
Failure on the parts of the defendants to either furnish him with the information requested for or notify him with reasons why the said request can not be granted as stipulated by Section Seven of the FoI Act 2011, the Plaintiff proceeded to court in pursuit of his legal right to access information from public institutions.
The Plaintiff is now praying the court to make the following orders in his favour against the defendants:
“A declaration that the plaintiff is entitled to receive the information he applied for from the defendants (public institutions).
“A declaration that the failure and or refusal of the defendants to give written notice to the plaintiff stating the reason for the denial of the information sought and requested by Exhibit ‘A’ is wrongful, unlawful and constitute a gross violation of section 4 (b) of the FoI Act 2011.
“An order of this Honourable court on the defendants to make available to the plaintiff a hard copy of the information requested per Exhibit ‘A’ within seven days of the judgment of the court.
“And the sum of one million naira only as exemplary and aggravated damages for the unlawful violation of the plaintiff’s right of access to information established and guaranteed by section 1 (1) and 4 of the FoI Act 2011,” among others.
Speaking with our correspondent shortly after the suits were adjourned, Lawyer to the Plaintiff, Barr Kingdom Chukwuezie said late service of processes on him by HYPREP necessitated his prayer for short adjournment to enable him respond accordingly.
Barr Chukwuezi said, “I am the counsel to Mr Mark Lenu who had filed a suit under the Freedom of information Act 2011. In particular, the suit is against the Niger Delta Development Commission and its Managing Director while the third defendant is the Attorney General of the Federation.
“The second sister suit is against Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project and its Coordinator. While the third defendant is the Attorney General of the Federation. The two suits came up before a federal high court, Port Harcourt.
“HYPREP just few minutes ago in open court served us processes and gave us some of the information we had sought from them. We prayed the court that it was too sudden and that we will need some time to look at them to enable us respond appropriately.
“For the third defendant ( Attorney General of the Federation) who has challenged the suits by filing counter affidavits, we have duly replied them.
“We also informed the court that the NDDC and its Managing Director have only filed their responses last Friday (21st June) and upon the service of their processes on us, we have actually prepared our reply to file and serve them. For this reasons, the court should indulge us short adjournment to enable us serve them in order for the court to hear the suits on merit.”
It might interest you to know that the FoI Act 2011 has placed a duty on public institutions to make available any information Nigerians wanted provided the information did not come under those ones the law exempted especially those that border on security reasons.
Wherein they (the public institutions) can not make the information available, the law requires them to write the applicant, stating the reason why the information is not available or face legal action by the applicant if the applicant deemed it okay to pursue enforcement in court.