Sunday, 27 August 2017

Freedom of Information Act: we are all saying the same the thing John Gaul tells Baba Isa

Ukorebi Esien|27th August, 2017|The speaker Cross River State House of Assembly Rt. Hon. John Gaul Lebo has come out to say that there is no difference in what he said about the freedom of information act and First Baba Isa’s explanations of the act.
The speaker who made this known in a statement signed by his chief press secretary Mr.  Azogor Ideba, went further to commend Baba Isa for shedding more light on the Freedom of Information Act.

Recall that First Baba Isa, a Cross River State born foremost lawyer, life Coach and human right activist had faulted the speaker for saying that “They created the Freedom of Information Act but they did not repeal the Official Secret Act.”
Baba Isa had taken to his facebook handle to express his displeasure of the speaker’s statement and went ahead to give a stunning explanation of what the Freedom of Information act is and how it relates with the Official Secret Act.

His statement reads in parts:
“I was invited to be a panelist in the last Agba Jalingo's Quarterly Town Hall Meeting which held on the 14th of August, 2017 in Calabar. Sadly, I missed my flight from Abuja to Calabar and thus missed the event.

However, it has been reported that in that event the Speaker of the CRSHA, said among other things that having a website in 2017 is "reverse engineering". I don't claim to know what that means, maybe those who know can reply him on this. I am just left to wonder whether parliaments and governments of countries like the US, Canada, Australia, etc who have websites are in "reverse engineering". Let me leave this one and talk about what I know a little: law.

The Speaker was also reported to have said that:
“They created the Freedom of Information Act, I was one of those persons who said that they had done nothing. Legally speaking, nothing was done.”
He made this submission because according to him: “They created the Freedom of Information Act but they did not repeal the Official Secret Act.”

Respectfully, this is not true.
The Freedom of Information Act is applicable in every state of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Any argument to the contrary is clearly legal hocus-pocus and deft deployment of administrative and judicial obscurantism. Some persons have argued that the Act needs domestication in states of the Federation for it to be effective and that such domestication is being hindered by the Official Secret Act. Such an argument is untenable in the face of recent judicial decisions…”

“…Another argument being put forward by opponents of the FOIA is that it did not expressly annul the Official Secrets Act. This argument is lame. Section 28 of the FOIA, supra, encapsulates the Official Secrets Act and explains it in capsule. Reading Section 28 of the FOIA and the provisions of the Official Secrets Act together, you will see that both seek to complement each other. None needs the permission of the other to function. Any attempt to use the Official Secrets Act to asphyxiate the operation of the FOIA is a crystal case of blissful ignorance or deliberate mischief.”

Reacting to this, the speaker through his Chief press secretary issued a press statement to clear the air on what he actually meant when he said those words.
The Speaker’s statement reads in full:


First Baba Isa, while commending you for shedding more light on the Freedom of Information Act, I wish to state that your submission does not substantially differ from the Speaker’s position. The slight difference is in your dexterous deployment of verbose vocabulary.

“…Be that as it may, Section 28 of the FOIA deals squarely with this. It says: “(1) The fact that any information in the custody of a public institution is kept by that institution under security classification or is classified document within the meaning of the Official Secrets Act does not preclude it from being disclosed pursuant to an application for disclosure thereof under the provisions of this Act, but in every case the public institution to which the application is made shall decide whether such information is of a type referred to in Sections 11,12,14,15,16,17,19,20 or 21 of this Act. (2) If the public institution to which the application in subsection (1) is made decides that such information is not a type mentioned in the sections referred to in subsection (1), access to such information shall be given to the applicant. (3) If the public institution, to which the application mentioned in subsection (1) is made, decides that such information is of a type mentioned in sections referred to in subsection (1), it shall give notice to the applicant.

“The worst case scenario deducible from section 28 of the FOIA, supra, is that a public institution can write back to an applicant explaining why the said information cannot be released, then the matter will become a question for the courts to decide”.
The above statements were culled from your response and it shows clearly that the FOIA does not expressly guarantee freedom of information especially the fact that the Act recognizes the Official Secret Act and still gives it room to thrive via sections 11, 12, 14, 15,17,19,20 and 21 of the FOIA.

With these sections highlighted above, can one say that there is unrestricted access to information?

Does the fact that the FOIA acknowledges that the OSA under specific circumstances should deny an individual certain information if found contrary to sections 11,12,14,15,17,19,20 or 21 not a denial of freedom to know? Does this not obstruct the freedom of information as it were?

To the extent that an applicant will have to go to court in order to enforce release of public information or access information is itself a ‘clog in the wheels’ and thus a kerb on the FOIA. The court should not be approached to enforce access to information but to try defaulting institutions if the Official Secret Act was repealed.

Succinctly, there is freedom of information Act in theory but what we have in practice is ‘freedom of some information Act’ and the subsisting Official Secret Act explains why?

This is the base of the Speaker’s postulation and what he tried to infer with the statements credited to him on the FOIA at the last AgbaJalingo's Quarterly Town Hall Meeting which held on the 14th of August, 2017 in Calabar.

CPS to Hon Speaker, CRSHA