Details of the judgment are contained in the certified true copy sent, Monday, by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP to Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
The 69-page judgment dated 24 March 2016 and signed by Honourable Justice Mohammed Idris reads in part: “Transparency in the decision making process and access to information upon which decisions have been made can enhance accountability.
“Obedience to the rule of law by all citizens but more particularly those who publicly took oath of office to protect and preserve the Constitution is a desideratum to good governance and respect for the rule of law. In a constitutional democracy like ours, this is meant to be the norm.”
“I am of the view that on receipt of SERAP request, the government had the duty to respond to same. If it does hold the information it must supply it within 7 days from receipt of the request. Where a decision to withhold information is taken, the government/relevant authorities must inform the plaintiff of its reason. In respect of the SERAP reliefs on recovered stolen funds since return of democracy in 1999, the government had kept mute. Let me say that they have no such power under the law.
“There is public interest in public authorities and high-profile individuals being accountable for the quality of their decision making. Ensuring that decisions have been made on the basis of quality legal advice is part of accountability.”
“The judiciary has no choice but to enforce compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. There is no doubt that the FOI Act is intended to act as a catalyst for change in the way public authorities approach and manage public resources and records. The judiciary cannot shirk its sacred responsibility to the nation to maintain the rule of law.
“I am of the view and do hold that the action should and does succeed in whole. Documents relating to the receipt or expenditure on recovered stolen funds since return of democracy in 1999 constitute part of the information which a public institution and authority is obligated to publish, disseminate and make available to members of the public. The government has no legally justifiable reason for refusing to provide SERAP with the information requested, and therefore, this Court ought to compel the government to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, as the government is not above the law.
“Examples of cases where there may be a public interest in the disclosure of confidential information include: 1. Information revealing misconduct/mismanagement of public funds. 2. Information which shows that a particular contract is bad value for money. 3. Where the information would correct untrue statements or misleading acts on the part of public authorities or high-profile individuals.
“Freedom of Information Act 2011 is meant to enhance and promote democracy, transparency, justice and development. It is designed to change how government works, because we have all resolved that it will no longer be business as usual. What is done officially must be done in accordance with the law. Although the Freedom of Information Act requires no explicit public interest test, an assessment of public interest must still be made. Therefore, all public institutions and authorities must ensure that they prepare themselves for the effective implementation of the Freedom of Information Act.
“Disclosure of the information will not constitute an actionable breach of confidence if there is a public interest in disclosure which outweighs the public interest in keeping the information confidential. There is a public interest in ensuring public scrutiny of public authorities. If the exemption under the Freedom of Information Act is wrongly applied and information is incorrectly withheld, a public authority may face sanctions under the Act for not complying with the duty to provide information.
” In its letter to Mr Malami said asked him to “you use your good offices and leadership to ensure and facilitate full, effective and timely enforcement and implementation of the judgment by Honourable Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Lagos. The judgment ordered the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to publish up-to-date information on the spending of recovered stolen funds since the return of civilian rule in 1999.”