The Court of Appeal sitting in Akure has ruled that states in the country has no powers to reject requests filed under the Freedom of Information, FoI, Act.
The appellate court, in a March 27 judgment, ruled that the requests for information, especially around public expenditure, under the FoI, are made in public interest and should be honoured by all states.
The decision came in an appeal filed by a journalist, Martins Alo, against the Speaker of Ondo State House of Assembly and Auditor-General of Ondo State.
The journalist had demanded the audited report of Ondo State Government between 2012 and 2014 to properly access how public funds are utilised in the state. But the request was rejected, prompting him to seek judicial redress.
Earlier in a verdict delivered in 2016, Akure Division of Ondo State High Court held that Alo had no right to demand how the state was spending money, saying the FoI Act was not applicable to states and the request was not in public interest to begin with.
The judge, Williams Akintoroye, also said Alo should pay a damage of N10,000 for wasting time and resources of the state.
But the journalist’s lawyer, Femi Emodamori, appealed the ruling, arguing that Akintoroye erred in his judgment and that his client was acting in public interest.
At the Court of Appeal, a three-member panel rejected Akintoroye’s ruling and agreed with the appellant that the FoI law was applicable to states and it was in public interest for the state government to release its audited report.
The Court of Appeal judges who sat on the matter included Uzo Ndukwe-Anyanwu, Obande Ogbuinya and Ridwan Abdullahi.
Ndukwe-Anyanwu, who wrote the lead judgment, stated that Alo has a right to act on behalf of the public to obtain the information from state authorities. He also quashed the N10,000 fine imposed by the lower court.
Ogbuinya, in his concurring opinion, “In a democratic dispensation, such as the Nigeria’s, the citizens have been proclaimed the owners of sovereignty and mandates that place leaders in the saddle”.
The citizens have a right to know details of “expenditure of public funds generated from their taxes,” Ogbuinya added.