By Mumini AbdulKareem
A civil right group, Brain Builders International (BBI) has finally dragged the Kwara State government to court over allege refusal to provide information regarding its fourth quarter budget implementation performance.
BBI is a leading CSO in Nigeria with global appeal and special emphasises on good governance, transparency, accountability, youth development and SDGs.
The group had threatened to institute legal action against the state government over the issue in June.
Empowered by the Freedom of Information Act 2011, BBI had in a letter to the Kwara State Ministry of Finance and Planning, dated February 18, 2020 requested for details of breakdown (line by line) of how N8.889bn was spent on the health sector during the last quarter of the year, breakdown of how Governor’s office gulped N2.451bn and breakdown of Ministry of Works’ N1.195bn.
Other demands of BBI include detailed explanation of how personnel cost (including salaries of political office holders) in the 3rd quarter was far higher than the figure obtained in the 4th quarter report (taking into cognizance that political office holders such as commissioners and SAs were appointed in the fourth quarter of 2019), detailed explanation of total receipts from FAAC in the last quarter – October, November and December-adding that it acknowledged N3.5bn (Oct), N3.5bn (Nov) and N3.2bn (Dec) totalling N10.2bn against N13.161bn quoted in the report according to online record at its disposal and seeking clarification.
Further explanations sought by BBI were why nothing was “provided as regards the spending of the Kwara State House of Assembly (Capital and Recurrent Expenditure). Could they have been taking loans to run the affairs of the House or legislative immunity is now effective in Kwara? Kindly explain.
“We would appreciate if explicit responses are given to each of these questions above and within 7 days as stipulated in the Freedom of Information Act 2011. Kindly note that refusal to respond is subject to prosecution under law”, it added.
According National Pilot findings on the matter, the case (KWS/74m/20) between Incorporated Trustees of Brain Builders Vs Attorney General of Kwara State & 1or was slated for hearing penultimate Tuesday at the High Court to be presided by Justice Sikiru Oyinloye but was stalled by the second round of lockdown imposed by the government on the judiciary.
Speaking on the issue, the State Coordinator of BBI, Olauspo Abideen told this medium that the goal of his organisation is to ensure there is value for money adding that transparency is beyond the words of mouth.
“What we are doing is working to ensure there is value for money and guarantee transparency and accountability as the government assured during swearing -in. There won’t be any transparency and accountability if budget line items and clarifications are shrouded in secrecy and that is the reason why we have been making this demand.
“We have trust in the judiciary that we are going to get justice. We can’t wait for the pandemic to be over so that we get to serve Kwara State officially. We want the government to walk the talk; it is beyond just the word of mouth. There is the need to open up the state to citizens and coming up to give relevant data as at when needed”, he added.
Expounding further on the issue, counsel to BBI (applicant), Bar Adedayo Zulqarnain said “The problem we have is that the Chief Justice has passed a directive that judicial staff below level 14 should stay at home and since then court has not been sitting except cases that are for judgment and ruling. Since then, we have not been communicated to come to have date to hear our application
“We applied to the court on July 29th to seek for an order of mandamus to mandate the government to comply with the FOI act which we are hopeful will be granted as the court has done in some other states. Our fillings are within the timeframe and we look forward to their response when we serve them”, he added.
Recall that BBI and the Ministry of Finance had exchange correspondences over the development in June when the ministry in a latte reportedly signed by one Idowu Oluwatosin Opeyemi, on behalf of the Commissioner, Oyeyemi Olasumbo Florence, declined the NGO’s request, stating that the information it sought was protected from disclosure under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
But Abideen in a letter by its legal team urged the ministry to grant its request within 7 working days or face legal action.
The letter read: “We refer to your letter dated 5th June, 2020 with reference No: F115/S.65/VOL.T2/44 in response to our request to the Ministry, via email dated 18th February, 2020 on the above subject.
“Respectfully, your letter under reference denied our request on the ground that the information we requested for are protected from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act 2011 (“the Act”), without specific reference to any provisions of the Act for which our request was denied, as required under section 4(b) of the Act.
“Respectfully, however, after a thorough review of our request and your letter, viz-a-viz the relevant provisions of the Act, we state categorically that all the information we had requested for do not fall within the information protected from disclosure under the Act.
“Therefore, we once again appeal to your good offices to grant our request as contained in the referenced email, within a period of 7 working days upon the receipt of this letter.
“TAKE NOTICE that, should the Ministry refuse to grant our request despite this appeal, within the above-stipulated ultimatum, we shall not hesitate to approach the Federal High Court to seek appropriate reliefs against the Ministry, having regards to Sections 2 (6), 20 and 25 of the Act.”