A Federal High Court in Abuja has ruled and ordered that the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development pay an Abuja-based journalist, Ms Godsgift Onyedinefu the sum of N2 Million for Wrongful Denial of Information
This was as a result of the two ministries denying Ms Godsgift Onyedinefu the information she requested in 2019 on the cost of Nigeria’s participation in the 2018 World Cup amounted to an unlawful violation of her right of access to information.
Delivering judgment in two separate suits filed by the journalist against the ministries, Justice Donatus Uwaezuoke Okorowo directed them to make available to Ms Onyedinefu all the information she applied for by her letter dated June 3, 2019, not later than seven days from the court’s judgment and pay her N1 million each as exemplary and aggravated damages for the unlawful violation of her right of access to information through the wrongful denial of the information to her in breach of Section 7 (4) of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 2011.
In the first suit filed on her behalf on July 26, 2019, by Lagos-based lawyer and member of Media Rights Agenda’s Network of FOI Lawyers, Mr. Charles Musa, the journalist named as defendants the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, the Minister of Youth and Sports Development and the Attorney-General of the Federation while in the second suit, filed on the same day, she named as defendants the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Minister of Finance and the Attorney-General of the Federation.
Ms Onyedinefu is asking the court to direct the ministries and their ministers to make available to her within seven days of the court’s judgment, the information she requested from them pursuant to the FOI Act, among other things, on the total cost of Nigeria’s participation in the 2018 World Cup and whether the budgetary allocation was approved for it in the 2018 Appropriation Act of the Federal Government.
In his judgment, Justice Okorowo upheld the objection raised by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), to his inclusion in the suit as a defendant saying his power to initiate criminal proceedings by virtue of Section 174 of the Constitution is not questionable or subject to any control.
Observing that the courts do not question the exercise of the powers of the Attorney-General, he ruled that both constitutionally and under common law, the court cannot grant Ms Onyedinefu’s request to compel the Attorney-General to initiate criminal proceedings against any party before it as the court cannot control his constitutional powers. He, therefore, declined the request and struck out the name of the Attorney-General of the Federation from the suit.
The judge however held that Ms Onyedinefu was entitled to the information she requested from the ministries by virtue of the provisions of the FOI Act, saying “I agree with the plaintiff submitted that the fulcrum of democratic government is accountability and the basic postulate of accountability is that people should have information so as to be in a position to fulfill the role which democracy assigns to them and make democracy a really effective participatory democracy and FOIA is a protocol for achieving this basic principle of democracy by providing citizens right to know the facts, the true facts, about the administration of the country.”
He upheld her claim that the ministries were in clear breach of the provision of the FOI Act by their failure to provide her with the information she requested, saying their denial of her request for the information was wrongful.
Justice Okorowo, therefore, granted all the prayers sought by Ms Onyedinefu, except the request to compel the Attorney-General of the Federation to initiate criminal proceedings against the ministries and their ministers.