By Efio-Ita Nyok|25 August 2017
A Nigerian lawyer has slammed the Speaker of the 8th Cross River State House of Assembly (CRSHA), Rt. Hon. John Gaul Lebo, over the recent comments credited to the latter bordering on the Freedom of Information Act. Firsts Baba Isa Esq has observed that Speaker Lebo didn’t say the truth concerning the FOI Act when he held that because the Official Secret Act wasn’t repealed the FOI Act was inconsequential.
Lawyer Isa popularly called FBI contended that, if Speaker Lebo was of the opinion that FOI Act amounted to nothing legally inferring, then he was wrong especially in the light of recent legal developments/precedents. FBI argued in response to Speaker Lebo on the 22nd of August via a social media thread tagged, APPLICABILITY OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT: MY ANSWER TO THE SPEAKER OF THE CROSS RIVER HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY.
CRW, an online news platform had reported a statement credited to Lebo which went thus: “They created the Freedom of Information Act, I was one of those persons who said that they had done nothing. Legally speaking, nothing was done…
“They created the Freedom of Information Act but they did not repeal the Official Secret Act.”
For FBI citing two cases as precedent, opined that Lebo was arguing in error: His words, ‘Respectfully, this is not true.
‘The Freedom of Information Act is applicable in every state of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Any argument to the contrary is clearly legal hocus-pocus and deft deployment of administrative and judicial obscurantism. Some persons have argued that the Act needs domestication in states of the Federation for it to be effective and that such domestication is being hindered by the Official Secret Act. Such an argument is untenable in the face of recent judicial decisions’.
FBI cited two cases as support for his counter argument against Speaker Lebo thus: ‘In the case of General India Garba vs Commissioner of Finance, Benue State, Suit No. MHC/ 2564/M/2012, (Chief Okoi Obono-Obla appeared as the counsel for the plaintiff in this matter) decided by the High Court of Benue State presided over by Honourable Justice S.O. Itodo on the 25/5/2014 the court held that the Freedom of Information Act 2011 applies to all States of the Federation including Benue State . In the ruling Justice Itodo overruled the objection raised by the Counsel to the Defendant that the Freedom of Information Act 2011 was not applicable to Benue State because the Benue State House of Assembly is yet to enact a Law domesticating the Act in the State.
‘The Court upheld Chief Obono-Obla’s argument that by virtue of Section 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the National Assembly has the constitutional jurisdiction to enact the Freedom of Information Act , 2011 and therefore the provisions of the Act being extant remains binding in all States of the Federation. The Court therefore held that the suit filed by General Garba seeking to compel the Defendant to allow him access to expenditure of revenue allocation from the Federation accounts to Local Government Councils in Benue State was competent and the Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine it.
‘Be that as it may, Section 28 of the FOIA deals squarely with this. It says: “(1) The fact that any information in the custody of a public institution is kept by that institution under security classification or is classified document within the meaning of the Official Secrets Act does not preclude it from being disclosed pursuant to an application for disclosure thereof under the provisions of this Act, but in every case the public institution to which the application is made shall decide whether such information is of a type referred to in Sections 11,12,14,15,16,17,19,20 or 21 of this Act. (2) If the public institution to which the application in subsection (1) is made decides that such information is not a type mentioned in the sections referred to in subsection (1), access to such information shall be given to the applicant. (3) If the public institution, to which the application mentioned in subsection (1) is made, decides that such information is of a type mentioned in sections referred to in subsection (1), it shall give notice to the applicant.”
‘The worst case scenario deducible from section 28 of the FOIA, supra, is that a public institution can write back to an applicant explaining why the said information cannot be released, then the matter will become a question for the courts to decide. But to use the Official Secrets Act as a reason for a blanket denial of citizens request for information under the FOIA is an illegality that is pregnant and still nursing a baby.
‘Another argument being put forward by opponents of the FOIA is that it did not expressly annul the Official Secrets Act. This argument is lame. Section 28 of the FOIA, supra, encapsulates the Official Secrets Act and explains it in capsule. Reading Section 28 of the FOIA and the provisions of the Official Secrets Act together, you will see that both seek to complement each other. None needs the permission of the other to function. Any attempt to use the Official Secrets Act to asphyxiate the operation of the FOIA is a crystal case of blissful ignorance or deliberate mischief’, FBI submitted.
Speaker John Lebo’s 8th CRSHA has been described variously as a rubber-stamped Assembly, the worst thing to happen to Cross River State in recent times, etc. For me, I lack the appropriate adjectives to describe my disappointment with both Speaker Lebo and the 25-member 8th Cross River State House of Assembly. It seems to me that the essence for the institution of the legislature in a democracy has been squarely defeated in Cross River State!
Is a Blogger, the Editor & Publisher of NegroidHaven
• Source: Media Rights Agenda