Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has dragged the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) before the Federal High Court in Lagos asking the court to compel it to explain if the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun obtained any Exemption Certificate from the NYSC.
The civil society organisation is specifically seeking an order for leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus directing and/or compelling the NYSC to urgently provide specific documents and information on Adeosun’s application to the NYSC for Exemption.
SERAP’s suit following a Freedom of Information request dated August 2, 2018, in which it gave the organisation seven days to provide “information on specific details and documents on the Exemption Certificate applied for and obtained by Mrs Adeosun; clarify whether the NYSC actually granted her the Exemption Certificate and if it did, the circumstances and the provisions of the NYSC Act under which the Exemption Certificate was granted.”
In the suit in which, the director-general of the NYSC, Brigadier-General Sule Kazaure is a respondent, SERAP is asking the court for a declaration that the failure of the Respondents to provide the Applicant with specific documents and information on Adeosun’s application to it for NYSC Exemption, is unlawful and amounts to a breach of the Respondents’ responsibility/obligation under the Freedom of Information Act 2011.
It is also seeking an order of mandamus directing and/or compelling the Respondents to urgently provide the Applicant with specific documents and information on Adeosun’s application to it for National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Exemption and to publish widely including on a dedicated and on the NYSC website, any such information.
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its counsel, Ms. Bamisope Adeyanju reads in part: “Suspicions of obtaining unauthorised certificate involving a senior member of the government if not urgently and satisfactorily addressed would weaken public trust in the government’s oft-expressed commitment to transparency and accountability.
“By the combined provisions of section 104(1) of the Evidence Act, 2011 and sections 14(2)(b) 14(3) and 19(2) of the Freedom of Information Act, the NYSC, being the public institution in charge of issuing exemption certificates from the compulsory NYSC Programme, and having publicly declared that Mrs. Adeosun applied for exemption, has a duty to provide SERAP with details and documents containing the application for exemption and the exemption certificate itself, if it was granted.
“Mandamus lies to secure the performance of a public duty in the performance which SERAP has a sufficient legal interest. SERAP has shown that it has demanded the performance of the duty by the NYSC in this case, and that performance has been refused by the Director-General of the NYSC obliged to discharge it.
“The right of access to information should be subject to a narrow, carefully tailored system of exceptions. Exceptions should apply only where there is a risk of substantial harm to the protected interest and where that harm is greater than the overriding public interest in having access to the information.
“SERAP requested the NYSC to provide the information within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of the letter. But since the receipt of the letter by the NYSC and up till the filing of this suit, the NYSC has failed, refused and/or neglected to respond to or grant SERAP’s request.
“This matter is of utmost national importance and public interest, because it borders on allegations of circumvention of the law, brought against a high public officer of Nigeria, who has sworn on oath to uphold the laws of the nation; including the NYSC Act. The grant of this application will help reveal the truth about the authenticity of the Exemption Certificate granted to Mrs Adeosun.
“By the combined provisions of Sections 1; 2; 3(4); 4; 7(1)&(5); 9; 14(2)(b)&3; 19(2); and 20 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, the right of access to information is guaranteed and there is a statutory obligation on the NYSC being a public institution, to proactively keep, organise and maintain all information or records about their operations, personnel, activities and other relevant or related information or records in a manner that facilitates public access to such information or record.
“The NYSC has no reason whatsoever not to comply with the demands by SERAP. There is compelling public interest in the disclosure of the information sought by SERAP, which concerns whether a high-ranking Minister had circumvented or disobeyed the law. The public interest in this case outweighs any private interest that the NYSC may be protecting. By the provision of Section 20 of the Freedom of Information Act, SERAP is entitled to apply to this Court for a review of the action of the NYSC. Unless the reliefs sought by SERAP are granted, the NYSC will not provide SERAP with the documents and information requested and will continue to be in breach of the Freedom of Information Act.
“SERAP is entitled as of right to request for or gain access to information, including information on the Exemption allegedly applied for by Mrs Adeosun,” the civil society organisation argued. No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.