Lagos: The Council of Legal Education (CLE) has emerged as the latest to be inducted in the “Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame” by Media Rights Agenda (MRA), which accused the institution of consistently failing to comply with its duties and obligation under the FOI Act.
In a statement in Lagos, Mr John Gbadamosi, a Programme Officer at MRA, said: “It is one of the ironies of the Nigerian condition that an institution that oversees the training of budding lawyers and issues certificates to those adjudged qualified to be admitted into the legal profession in Nigeria has established itself as a serial law-breaker when it should be a fierce advocate and defender of the Rule of Law.”
According to Mr. Gbadamosi, “It is difficult to imagine how the Council of Legal Education, while it carries a moral burden of disobeying the Law over the years, can have the credibility to instil in young lawyers the concept of the supremacy of the Law. It is also not difficult to see why much of the legal profession is in a mess if the institution that oversees their training and induction into the profession has no regard for the Law.”
The Council of Legal Education was established by the Legal Education Act of 1962, re-enacted by the Legal Education (Consolidation, Etc..) Act, Cap 206 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria. It was established mainly to run the Nigerian Law School, particularly regarding policy matters and with a responsibility for the legal education of persons seeking to become members of the legal profession, the issuance of qualifying certificates to person qualified for the call to the Bar and continuing legal education for legal practitioners. Part of its responsibility is also training budding lawyers and established legal practitioners on how to uphold and defend the rule of law.
Mr. Gbadamosi said since the enactment of the FOI Act in 2011, the Council of Legal Education has only submitted one annual report to the Attorney- General of the Federation on its implementation of the Act, as required by section 29 (1) of the Act. It is therefore in default for six years.
He noted that the Council has also continued to violate other provisions of the Act with impunity. According to him, there is no indication anywhere that the council has designated an appropriate officer to whom applications for information should be sent, which means that the council is also in violation of Section 2(3)(f) of the Act.
He said even the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, the oversight body for the implementation of the FOI Act, which maintains a database of FOI Desk Officers of public institutions, has no record of compliance by the Council with the obligation to designate an appropriate official for this role.
Mr. Gbadamosi remarked that “the Council has not proactively published information and records about its activities, operations and businesses as required by section 2 of the Act,” adding that the Council has failed to publish the list of all classes of records under its control as well as manuals used by its employees in carrying out any of their programmes and activities.
He said the Council has also failed to proactively disclose list of files containing applications for any contract, permit, grant, license or agreement, report, document, study, or publication prepared by independent contractors for the institution; and materials containing information relating to any grant or contract made by or between the institution and another public institution or private organisation, as required by section 2 (3) (e) of the FOI Act.
Mr. Gbadamosi noted that the Council has not proactively disclosed the names, salaries, titles and dates of employment of all employees of the institution, as required by section 2 (3) (d) (vi) of the Act; nor has it similarly disclosed information on documents containing final planning policies, recommendations, and decisions; as well as information relating to the receipt or expenditure of public or other funds of the institution, in violation of section 2 (3) (iii) and (v) of the Act.
He stressed that “there is also no indication whatsoever that the Council has provided the appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right of access to information or records held by the Council or trained them to effectively implement the Act, as it is required to do by section 13 of the FOI Act.”
Launched by MRA in July 2017, the “FOI Hall of Shame” highlights public officials and institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the FOI Act through their actions, inactions, utterances, and decisions.