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FoI 'Freedom of Information Act binding on all states', Appeal Court rules

The court ruled in favour of a journalist, Martins Alo, against the Speaker of the Ondo State House of Assembly and Auditor-General of the state.

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Freedom of Information Act binding on all states - Court play

Illustrative photo

(istock)

The Court of Appeal has ruled that Nigerian states have no powers to reject requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI).

The Akure division of the Court of Appeal, in a March 27 ruling, held that requests for information, especially around public expenditure, under the FoI, are made in public interest and should be honoured by all states.

The court ruled in favour of a journalist, Martins Alo, against the Speaker of the Ondo State House of Assembly and Auditor-General of the state.

Alo had requested the audited report of the Ondo State Government between 2012 and 2014 to properly access how public funds are spent in the state but his request was not granted.

This prompted him to take the legal action.

In 2016, the Ondo State High Court, Akure division ruled in favour of the state government, saying Alo had no right to demand how the state was spending money.

The court said the FoI was not applicable to states and that the request was not in public interest to begin with.

Gov. Akeredolu reiterates commitment on housing play Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu (Premium Times)

 

Alo was also asked to pay a damage of N10,000 for wasting time and resources of the state.

But the journalist appealed the ruling, arguing that the decision of the High Court was flawed, adding that he acted  in public interest.

In its judgment, however, the appeal court said Alo has a right to act on behalf of the public to obtain the information from state authorities.

The court also invalidated the N10,000 fine imposed by the lower court.

"In a democratic dispensation, such as the Nigeria’s, the citizens have been proclaimed the owners of sovereignty and mandates that place leaders in the saddle," Obande Ogbuinya,  one of the three-member panel which handled the appeal, said.

"The citizens have a right to know details of “expenditure of public funds generated from their taxes," Ogbuinya added.

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Other states which have been rejecting FoI requests relating to their activities include Lagos, Adamawa, Akwa-Ibom and Ondo.

According to the states, the FoI is a federal law and its provisions are simply not binding on their respective jurisdictions

The bill was signed into law in 2011 by former President Goodluck Jonathan.

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