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FOI Counsel drags Federal Government to Court over Ban on disclosure of public records by MDAs

FOI Counsel a specialized Freedom of Information law litigation and research firm has dragged the Federal Government to Court over the ‘traditional’ closure of public records. The Head of Service on the 20th day of February 2024 directed in a circular with Ref No: HCSF/3065/VI/189 that no civil servant should leak sensitive official records in Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDA) as same is embarrassing the Government and unacceptable. The circular also reinforces the circular on “Unauthorized Circulation of Official Documents/Information On Social Media” Ref. No. HCSF/3065/Vol.1/94, dated 2nd August 2021, and other regulations prohibiting unauthorized disclosure/leakage of official documents.

In the case of FOI Counsel v Attorney General of the Federation (Suit No: FHC/B/CS/24/2024), it seeks a declaration for leave for judicial review of the directive as same is a threat to Section 39 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, Freedom of Information Act of 2011, the Guidelines on implementation of Freedom of Information Act of 2013 and other open government legislations

Nigeria became the fifth African nation with a freedom of information law on May 28, 2011. The emergence of the law beams hope for administrative management of records and punishment for breaches. According to President Aigbokhan co-founder of FOI Counsel ” The Act is primarily to simplify public access to governance and to allow the citizens participation in government decisions. Ironically, the purpose for passing the Act is endangered by the latest Federal Government directive contained in a circular signed by the Head of Service”.

According to President Aigbokhan “Data available already shows MDAs have poor record keeping standard and it inevitably impacted by the traditional official secrecy of public records as directed by the circular. The closure anticipated by the circular which ultimately lead to lawsuits as payments of lawyers to defend FOI requests are topping MDA’s budgets, when litigation ought to be the pill and not the snacks. Records and information are now sent through the throat of the court instead of administrative desks. The circular if not stopped can turn the implementation of the FOIA upside down and we are bothered by it. We desire that this case serves a legal precedent that shields public officers as they discharge their duties and obligations in good faith”

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