A Federal High Court in Asaba has ordered of the Oshimili North Local Government Council in Delta State to disclose to a Lagos-based non-governmental organization, Human Development Initiatives (HDI), the council’s budgets from 2012 to 2014 and the projects duly approved for implementation in 2013.
The court’s decision comes in the heels of a similar order issued by the same court on February 18, 2015 against two other councils in the State – Oshimili South and Ika South Local Government Areas – following a suit filed against them by HDI over their refusal to grant its request for the information made under the Freedom of Information Act on February 24, 2014.
Following three separate suits filed on May 15, 2014 by a Lagos lawyer, Mr. Andy Isioma Ogbolu, on behalf of HDI against Oshimili South, Ika South and Oshimili North Local Government Councils, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun-Isola granted HDI leave on May 21, 2014 to apply for:
- A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by the Councils to disclose and make available to HDI the information sought in its letters of request dated February 24, 2014 amounts to a violation of HDI’s right of access to information as guaranteed by sections 1(1) and 4(a) of the Freedom of information Act, 2011.
- A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by the Councils to give HDI a written notice that access to all or part of the information requested would not be granted and stating reasons for the denial and the section of the FOI Act upon which the Councils relied to deny HDI access to the information requested in its letters amounts to a flagrant violation of sections 4(b), 7(1), (2) and (3) of Act and is therefore wrongful.
- An order of mandamus compelling the Councils to disclose and make available to HDI as requested in its letters of February 24, 2014 the Councils’ budgets for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014; documents detailing all projects duly approved for implementation in 2013; the locations of the projects; and the actual cost of each of the projects approved and/or implemented by the Councils in 2013.
Ruling on the suits on February 18, 2015, Hon. Justice Mojisola Olatoregun-Isola granted all the prayers sought against Oshimili South and Ika South Local Government Councils.
She however adjourned the suit against Oshimili North Local Government to February 26 as the Council’s lawyer, Mr. B.O. Okoji, had raised a preliminary objection on the grounds the Council was not given a pre-action notice as required by Section 7 of the Delta State Local Government Law 2004, as amended, and that the Council and its former chairman, Hon. Innocent Esenwaeze, also named as a respondent, were not served with the originating court processes.
At the conclusion of arguments by both parties on the preliminary objection, Justice Olatoregun-Isola delivered a ruling on April 2 in which she dismissed the objection relating to non-issuance of pre-action notice to the Council. The judge held that “an application of this nature which is meant to be dealt with summarily does not require a pre-action notice,” adding that “such pre-action notice will merely hinder the summary nature of the action.”
She stressed that “the idea behind Section 20 of the Freedom of Information Act is to deal with judicial review of matters pertaining to denial of access to information speedily and summarily,” adding that an action under the FOI Act is akin to “an enforcement of fundamental rights proceedings, which is meant to be heard and determined expeditiously.”
Justice Olatoregun-Isola also upheld the argument of Mr. Ogbolu that service of the court processes on the Council through its Clerk “is good service”.
But she held that there was no evidence before the court that the former Chairman of the council or the most senior officer of the Council was served with the processes. She said as a result, the jurisdiction of the court could not be invoked against the former chairman and directed that he should be personally served with the originating processes within seven days.
Following the ruling, Mr. Ogbolu applied to the court to strike out the name of the former chairman of the council from the suit since he was no longer in office, which the court granted.
Mr. Ogbolu therefore moved the motion to compel the council to disclose the information requested by HDI.
In a brief ruling on May 12, Justice Olatoregun-Isola granted the prayers sought by HDI and ordered the Council to make available to HDI as requested in its letters of February 24, 2014 the Councils’ budgets for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014; documents detailing all projects duly approved for implementation in 2013; the locations of the projects; and the actual cost of each of the projects approved and/or implemented by the Councils in 2013.