February 19, 2014.
By: Ibrahim Olalekan
Following three separate suits filed on May 15, 2014 by Human Development Initiatives (HDI) against Oshimili South, Ika South and Oshimili North Local Government Councils in Delta State, a Federal High Court in Asaba has issued an order of mandamus compelling two of the three Local Government councils – Oshimili South and Ika South Local Government Areas, to disclose their budgets from 2012 to 2014 and the projects duly approved for implementation in 2013.
The court’s decision was the result of a nine-month long litigation by HDI following the refusal of the Local Government Councils to grant its request made under the Freedom of Information Act on February 24, 2014.
During the litigation period, her lordship, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun-Isola had earlier granted HDI leave on May 21, 2014 to apply for:
- A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by the Councils to disclose and make available to HDI the information sought in its letters of request dated February 24, 2014 amounts to a violation of HDI’s right of access to information as guaranteed by section 1(1) and section 4(a) of the Freedom of information Act, 2011.
- A declaration that the failure and/or refusal by the Councils to give HDI a written notice that access to all or part of the information requested would not be granted and stating reasons for the denial and the section of the Freedom of information Act upon which the Councils relied to deny HDI access to the information requested in its letters dated February 24, 2014 amounts to a flagrant violation of section 4(b), 7(1), (2) and (3) of Act and is therefore wrongful.
- An order of mandamus compelling the Councils to disclose and make available to HDI as requested in its letters of February 24, 2014 the Councils’ budgets for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014; documents detailing all projects duly approved for implementation in 2013; the locations of the projects; and the actual cost of each of the projects approved and/or implemented by the Councils in 2013.
While addressing the court at the last proceedings, Mr Andy Ogbolu, legal counsel for HDI argued that it was the duty of the courts and every person in the country to hold governments accountable, arguing that ordinary citizens would be discouraged from using the FOI Act to hold governments accountable if judicial processes were unduly prolonged.
In a brief ruling preceded by the adoption of Mr Ogbolu’s address before the court, Justice Olatoregun-Isola granted all the prayers sought against Oshimili South and Ika South Local Government Councils. She however noted that in the suit against Oshimili North Local Government Area, the lawyer representing the Council had raised a preliminary objection, saying she would prefer to hear from him before proceeding further on that case.
The judge therefore adjourned the third case to February 26, 2015 for hearing and ordered that the lawyer to the Council should be issued with a hearing notice advising him of the new date.
Reacting to this development, the Executive Director of Human Development Initiatives, Prof Bolaji Owasanoye said that the decision is a welcome development and will boost efforts to bring transparency and accountability to governance at the local level.
He noted further that lack of transparency at the Local Government level is one of the reasons many people are cynical about Local Government being one of the levels of growth and development in our society, a factor that might have contributed to the non-acceptance of autonomy for Local Government at the just concluded constitution reform process. “The advocacy for Local Government autonomy must continue and be intensified” he said.