Right to Information under the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 is Not Absolute

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FACTS OF THE CASE:

This appeal is against the Ruling of the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, and presided over by Justice B.M. Nyako.

The respondent sought the following sets of information from the appellants:

1. A certified copy of the signed contract document between the Federal Government of Nigeria or Central Bank of Nigeria and Systemspec Nigeria limited in respect of the use of company’s Remita (funds) e-payment/e-collection solution platform as part of the medium for the implementation of the Federal Government TSA policy.

2. What is the company’s fee/remuneration or commission for the services rendered/to be rendered to the government under the contract?

3. What is the duration of the contract; and

4. How much has accrued to the company from the inception of its engagement for the implementation of the TSA policy till date (i.e. up to 12th November, 2015); and

1. Certified true copies of procurement plans and information, including needs assessment and evaluation, and identification of services required.

2. Certified true copy of advertisement of invitation for bids published in at least two national dailies apart from the federal tender’s journal and a relevant internationally recognized publications. Also evidence of the advertisement on your website and notice board.

3. Copies of the standard bidding documents that were issued to all bidders in the course of the procurement.

4. A Certified True Copy of the list of all bids tendered in respect of this procurement from when advertised till the closure of bid advertisement.

5. Certified True Copy of bid submission registers and duplicate copies of receipts issued to bidders on submission of bids.

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6. Certified True Copy of minutes of public bid opening meeting.

7. Certified True Copy of minutes of bid evaluation meeting and records of bids evaluation report containing the recommendation of the bid evaluation committee.

8. Certified True Copy of minutes of the tender’s board awarding the contract to the successful bidder.

9. Certificate of No Objection issued in respect of the procurement (if any)

10. Letter of notification of award of contract.

Appellants refused to oblige the respondent because, the information sought was the subject of an ongoing administrative enforcement proceedings by the National Assembly, the Federal Ministry of Finance and the EFCC, and the information, if released, will interfere with all the pending administrative enforcement proceedings, thus bringing the information squarely within the exemptions provided in Section 12 (1) (a) of Freedom of Information Act, 2011.

The Respondent sought for a declaration of the trial Court that the failure of the Appellants to release various information it sought and requested from them pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act 2011 was wrongful in the circumstance. Consequent upon that, the Respondent further prayed for an order of the trial Court compelling the Appellants to within 7 days of the judgment of the Court to furnish the Respondents with the information sought. Pleadings were filed and exchanged by parties and in a considered judgment the trial found that the information and documents sought by the Respondent did not fall within the exceptions under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 and proceeded to make an Order mandating the Appellants to release the said information and documents requested by the Respondent.

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Dissatisfied, appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal.

ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION:

The issues for determination, as nominated by the appellant, are:

“1. Whether the decision of the Court below was right in law, justifiable and sustainable in view of the provisions of Sections 12(1A), 14(1c) & 15(1A, B, C) of the Freedom of Information Act, Cap F43 LFN 20113.

2. Whether the Learned Trial Court’s findings and Judgment was not against the weight of evidence placed before the Court and therefore perverse.”

DECISION/HELD:

In conclusion, the appeal was allowed.

RATIO DECIDENDI

  • LEGISLATION – FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT, 2011 – Right of the public to information under the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 and its exceptions
  • EVIDENCE – EVALUATION OF EVIDENCE – Duty of trial judge to evaluate evidence and nature of the duty of an appellate court in reviewing such evaluation on appeal

CASE TITLE: CENTRAL BANK OF NIGERIA & ANOR v. PUBLIC & PRIVATE DEVELOPMENT CENTRE LTD/GTE CBN & ANOR V. PPDC LTD/GTE(2018) LPELR-45856(CA)

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