Access to Public Information
Company Doe v. Public Citizen
Closed Expands Expression
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The Federal High Court of Nigeria ordered the Clerk of the National Assembly of Nigeria to disclose details of the salaries of the Members of Parliament on the grounds that they did not constitute personal information under the Freedom of Information Act 2011 (FOIA).
The Court reasoned that the information requested related to what was paid to Members of Parliament from the public fund while they were in service and therefore did not come within the personal information exception from disclosure. Further, the Court noted that, under section 14(3), personal information can still be disclosed if the public interest in disclosure outweighs the privacy of the individual to which the information relates. “The Act clearly [places public interest above all else, including the personal interest of the individuals,” the Court said.
This case analysis was contributed by Right2Info.org.
The Legal Defence & Assistance Project (LEDAP) is a registered non-governmental organization that aims to promote “good governance, public accountability, and the rule of law in Nigeria”. On July 6 2011, LEDAP applied to the National Assembly of Nigeria (NAN) for information “on details of salaries, emolument, and allowances paid to the Honourable Members of Representatives and Distinguished Senators, both of the 6th Assembly, from June 2007 to May 2011”. The Assembly did not respond to the request, prompting LEDAP to bring suit in the High Court.
The NAN argued that the applicant did not file within the time limit set down in Section 20 of the FOIA, that it would be “prejudicial” to pending cases to grant LEDAP’s request, and that the information constituted personal information that was exempted under Section 14 of the Act.
The Court rejected the Respondent’s argument regarding late filing of the claim, agreeing with LEDAP that Section 20 of the Act granted the Court discretion to extend the time limitation for filing suit.
Before looking into the exemptions from disclosure, the Court emphasized that “the onus . . . is on the denying authority to show that it is justified by the Act to deny the information requested”.
With respect to the “prejudicial” argument, the Court found that the NAN’s explanation for “what interest . . . will be prejudiced” had to do with a jurisdictional issue that was irrelevant to the present proceedings. Since the Court could not “speculate” as to the actual relevance, the NAN’s rationale was “not justified by the Act”.
Finally, the Court rejected NAN’s Section 14 argument, namely that the information requested was exempt because it was personal information. After reviewing the wording of the relevant provision, the Court concluded that LEDAP “did not request any of the personal information relating to the Honourable Members, but simply what was paid to them while they were in service from the public fund,” and that such information was “not among those exempted” under Section 14(1) of the Act.
The Court went further noting that, under section 14(3), personal information can still be disclosed if the public interest in disclosure outweighs the privacy of he individual to which the information relates. “The Act clearly [places public interest above all else, including the personal interest of the individuals,” the Court said.
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