The Federal High Court Ikoyi presided over by Justice Saliu Saidu on Thursday adjourned the case by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) against the state Governor, Babatunde Fashola, and the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Ade Ipaye to Wednesday December 10 2014 for arguments.
The applicant is seeking information on the spending of $90 million loan given to the state government by the World Bank to develop the education sector.
At the hearing on Thursday SERAP argued that the government has failed to comply with Order 29 Rule 2 of the Federal High Court Rules of Procedure which requires an applicant challenging the jurisdiction of the court to first file a memorandum of appearance stating clearly that he is appearing conditionally. The Lagos State government has not done this, SERAP observed.
But the court waived this requirement, relying on Order 51 of the Federal High Court Rules of Procedure to grant the motion dated 30 June 2014 by Mr Ipaye to extend the time within which the government would file their preliminary objection and affidavit in support, and written. Order 51 deals with effect of non-compliance with the rules, and grants the court the power to allow any amendment to be made and to make any such order dealing with the proceedings generally as it deems fit.
The judge while adjourning the case asked Mr Ipaye why the government has not provided the information requested by SERAP to which the Attorney General said the government has already widely released the information to the media. The judge then asked why the government has not provided the information directly to SERAP so as to see whether that can bring the case to an end.
Mr Ade Ipaye together with SY Kolawole, Director Civil Litigation and Olamide Ibrahim represented the government. Olukayode Majekodunmi and Oyindamola Musa-Oseni appeared for SERAP.
The government is challenging the court’s jurisdiction to hear the suit, arguing that the FOI does not apply to it because Nigeria is a federation, and that the power to make laws on public records had been concurrently shared between the national assembly and the state houses of assembly in their respective sphere of jurisdiction.
It would be recalled that SERAP had in January sued the government over alleged failure to release information and documents on the spending for the past five years on furniture and other facilities in public schools in Lagos state. The schools over which the governor is being dragged to court include Ewutuntun Grammar School in Mafoluku area of Oshodi; Ikeja Grammar School; Iloro Grammar School in Agege and Fagba Junior Grammar School, Iju Road.
The organisation is also seeking the order of the court for the Lagos State Government to release information on spending of the World Bank loan of $90 million meant to improve education in the 639 public secondary schools in the state, and details of projects carried out to improve infrastructure and facilities across primary and secondary education in Lagos State.
The suit followed a Freedom of Information request to the Executive Governor of Lagos State dated 1st December 2013. The originating summons with suit number FHC/L/CS/57/2014 was brought pursuant to section 4 (a) of the Freedom of Information Act.
The plaintiff is arguing that under the FOI Act, it has “the right to request for or gain access to information which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution regardless of whether they are Federal or State institution.”
According to the plaintiff, “the disclosure of the information requested will give the general public a true picture and a clear understanding of how much the government has spent to improve education in the 639 secondary schools in Lagos State and also promote transparency which the Governor of Lagos State has expressly canvassed.
Among others, the organization is seeking, a declaration that by virtue of the provisions of Section 4 (a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2011, the 1st defendant is under a binding legal obligation to provide the Plaintiff with up to date information as requested in a letter dated 1st of December 2013 addressed to the Governor of Lagos State; an order of mandamus directing and/or compelling the 1st defendant to rescind the suspension of anyone including principals of any of the schools mentioned above for blowing the whistle or allowing journalists to cover the decay infrastructures across primary and secondary schools in Lagos State.