FOI: Delta commissioner convicted for withholding information
The Delta State Commissioner for Lands and Survey, Mr Daniel Okenyi and other top officials of the state government have been convicted for withholding information under the Freedom of Information Act.
They were convicted by a Kwale High Court of Justice for failure to release relevant land documents to community leaders from Umu-Okpala Omai family of Umusam community in Kwale.
The community leaders, relying on the FOI act, had written to the ministry and other relevant officials to demand records of land acquired by an oil firm, Midwestern Oil and Gas PLC at Umusadege marginal oil field in OML 56.
The commissioner, Mr Daniel Okenyi, along with his ministry, Permanent Secretary in the ministry and others were ordered by the presiding judge, Honourable Justice O Jalogho-Williams, to pay N2.5million.
They were also ordered to henceforth provide relevant land records and information to the community leaders in line with the FOI act.
In the judgement dated November 01, 2016 a copy of which was obtained by The Nation, Justice Jalogho-Williams agreed with the complainants, represented by Osteen Igbapike Esq., that as a public officer, the commissioner and the ministry acted against the FOI.
He stressed that they were obliged to release the relevant documents to the community leaders and awarded N200, 000 as cost of the suit against the commissioner.
Okenyi, who was second respondent in the case and four others, were therefore convicted of “willful denial of requested record/documents/information in the custody of the Ministry of Lands and Survey.”
Legal sources told our reporter that the very high-ranking Delta government might be the biggest public officeholder to be caught in the FOI net since the law was enacted.
The Nation gathered that the conviction followed a legal action instituted against the MLSUD by Pa Moses Okpala, Benedict Okweye, Sunday Ndubuishi, Nwaizemeka Fredrick and Okweye Sunday against the commissioner and the ministry for failure to release documents relating to the acquisition of a parcel of land for oil exploration activities by the oil firm.
It was learnt that they applied to the ministry to provide vital documents as to the acquisition of the land eight years.
Reacting to the judgement, Igbapike told our reporter, “The ministry has powers to the documents and they have access to it,” adding that more Nigerians should hold government officials accountant for failure to perform their duties.
He said that the FOI act provides that once your request is not answered, it is assumed that it has been denied and commended the judge for doing the right thing.
Meanwhile, attempts to get reaction of the commissioner and his ministry to the judgment were futile, although it was gathered that Okenyi and the other respondents failed to appear in court, respond or send representatives.
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