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Education fund: Fashola to file fresh objection against FoI suit

Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State has indicated to file a fresh objection against a suit seeking an order to compel him to release information relating to how government spent the $90m loan obtained for improving public schools in the state.

The state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Ade Ipaye, said this on Wednesday before Justice Saliu Saidu, who is hearing the matter at a Federal High Court, Lagos.

Ipaye’s intention to file a preliminary objection followed a counter-affidavit he earlier filed in opposition to the suit.

A rights group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, had sued the governor and the Attorney-General over the loan allegedly obtained from the World Bank.

SERAP had stated that it resorted to suing the governor and the Attorney-General after they refused to honour its letter dated December 1, 2013, requesting for the information under the Freedom of Information Act 2011.

But Ipaye had, in a counter-affidavit, opposed the suit, arguing that the FoI Act was not applicable to Lagos State because the law was a federal legislation.

At the Wednesday’s proceedings when the matter ought to come up for hearing, Ipaye sought an adjournment to enable him to file the objection within seven days.

SERAP’s lawyer, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, did not oppose the application for an adjournment.

The judge adjourned the matter till June 4 with a directive that the court would hear both the preliminary objection and the substantive application together at its next sitting.

Ipaye, who is the second defendant in the suit, argued in the defendants’ counter-affidavit that since the FoI Act was a federal legislation, it was only applicable in relation to public records of government of the federation and not of the states.

The state government submitted that the power to make laws on public records had been concurrently shared between the National Assembly and the states Houses of Assembly in their respective sphere of jurisdiction.

It added that the FoI Act was not applicable to the records of states in the federation in so far the states had not enacted same as laws through heir respective Houses of Assembly.

The counter-affidavit reads, “The public records of Lagos State Government are generated and kept by various ministries, departments, agencies and personnel of the state government in execution of their functions and responsibility in the service of the state.

“Such state government agencies and personnel are statutorily created or regulated by laws of the state House of Assembly and the handling of public records has serious security implications which are routinely handled by rules established by the state government.”

Among other demands, SERAP wants the court to compel the Lagos State Government to release to it is information relating to how the government spent the $90m loan it allegedly obtained from the World Bank to improve education in the state’s public secondary schools.

It also seeks an order of mandamus, compelling Governor Fashola “to rescind the suspension of anyone, including principals of any of the schools for blowing the whistle or allowing journalists to cover the decayed infrastructure across primary and secondary schools in Lagos State.”

The plaintiff, through its counsel, Ms Oyindamola Musa, had stated in the affidavit in support of the suit that it resorted to filing the legal action following the refusal of the defendants to honour its letter dated December 1, 2013, requesting the information.

It asks the court to determine “Whether by virtue of the provision of section 4(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2011, the first defendant (the governor) is under any obligation to provide the plaintiff with the information requested for?”

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