Vanguard (Lagos)

2 June 2014

Nigeria: FOIA - Will the Illegality Stop?

editorial

EFFORTS to establish applicability of the Freedom of Information Act nationally indicate ineptitude of the National Assembly in stopping the illegalities State Assemblies are perpetrating. They erode powers of the National Assembly.

Cases across the country prove the unwillingness of States to abide by a federal law that they contested during the legislative process, which was why its passage took more than 10 years. The same treatment has been applied to the 2003 Child Rights Act.

The National Assembly makes laws for the entire federation. According to Section 4 (5), "If any law enacted by the House of Assembly of a State is inconsistent with any law validly made by the National Assembly, the law made by the National Assembly shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void".

States do not have child rights and freedom of information laws. There is no conflict between state and federal laws, which the Constitution still resolves in favour of federal laws. We have States un-making federal laws with abandon, calling it domestication.

Domestication, according to Section 12 (1) of the Constitution, applies to treaties between Nigeria and other countries. The States are desecrating the Constitution, the National Assembly watches askance.

Snippets of the FOIA battles:

- Justice S. O Itodo of Makurdi High Court has ruled that the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 is applicable to all the States of the Federation. His decision was on the objection the Benue State Commissioner of Finance raised that the State had not domesticated the FOIA. Maj-Gen India Garba (rtd) sued after the State refused to provide him information on federal allocations to Vandekiya Local Government Area Council.

-Last February, the Lagos State Attorney-General, Mr. Ade Ipaye, told a Federal High Court the FOIA was a federal law and therefore not binding on the State. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, sued after Lagos State did not give it information on a $90m World Bank facility the State procured for improvement of its schools.

-A Federal High Court in Benin City awarded N20,000 against the National Assembly for unnecessary argument and delay of application in a suit between the National Assembly and Chief Patrick Osagie Eholor, who wanted information on allowances, salaries, emoluments and constituency allowances of two federal legislators from his constituency.

It is ironic that the National Assembly is among parties diminishing the law it made.

Attempts by different States to weaken the FOIA by rejecting aspects they consider unpleasant are unacceptable, illegal and should stop. The National Assembly has a major responsibility to protect the Constitution from fragrant abuses of state legislatures that are assuming the place of the National Assembly.

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