Abuja journalist sues newspaper for allegedly defaming Buratai, seeks compliance with FOIA
An Abuja-based journalist/publisher, Isah Bello, has sued Peoples Gazette newspaper for allegedly defaming Nigeria’s Ambassador to Benin Republic, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, in its online publication, titled: “ICPC recovers multi-billion naira cash, Rolex watches stockpiled in ex-Army chief Buratai’s Abuja residence.”
Bello, in the suit before a Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Abuja, is among others, urging the court to declare that the seeming neglect of the defendant (Peoples Gazette Ltd.) to respond to his letter on the alleged publication was a violation of some portions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
He wants the court to prevail on the defendant to supply the information requested in his letter. Filed by Osuagwu Ugochukwu, the publisher prays the court to declare that refusal by Peoples Gazette to release the information as requested by him in his letter, dated June 28, 2022, amounts to violation of Section 4 (a) of FOIA.
The lawsuit reads in part: “The plaintiff claims against the defendant as follows: A declaration that the refusal, failure and or neglect by the defendant to release the information requested by the plaintiff in his letter, dated June 28, 2022, amounts to violation of Section 4 (a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2011, and therefore is wrongful and illegal.
“An order directing the defendant, including her servants, agents, privies, officials and or cohorts to furnish the plaintiff’s with detailed information as stated in plaintiff’s letter, dated June 28 2022, until judgment is delivered in this case within 14 days of the delivery of judgment.”
The affidavit in support says partly: “I, Isah Bello, male, Muslim, publisher and Nigerian citizen of No 6A Muhammadu Buhari Way, Abuja, hereby makes an oath and states as follows: “That I am the deponent herein.
“That I am a publisher and have personal knowledge of the facts deposed herein.”He continued: “That I know as a fact as follows: “That the Federal Government of Nigeria has enacted the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
“That in the pursuit of her rights and pursuant to the right of access to information guaranteed by the Freedom of Information Act 2011, the plaintiff, by letter dated June 28, 2022.” asked the defendant to furnish him with certain information in her custody relating to its June 23, 2022 online publication entitled ‘ICPC RECOVERS MULTI BILLION-NAIRA
CASH, ROLEX WATCHES STOCKPILED IN EX-ARMY CHIEF BURATAI’S ABUJA RESIDENCE’ now produced and marked Exhibit A, a copy which was sent to the defendant and proof of receipt.
“That the June 28, 2022 letter of the plaintiff requested the following response from the defendant viz:
“Did you verify the allegations contained in your write-up with ICPC before publishing? This is because the ICPC press release of June 24, 2022 states to the contrary that Buratai owns the house in Wuse II, Abuja or has links with the K Salam Construction Company Nigeria Limited.
“Did you check with the Corporate Affairs Commission as to who the owners of the K Salam Construction Company Nigeria limited are? And perhaps whether Buratai’s name appears on the company’s directorship?”
“You claimed you called Buratai during the ICPC raid on the Wuse 2 house. At what time and day did you call Ambassador Buratai? What number did you use in calling him? And which of the Buratai’s lines did you call?”
“But surprisingly and since the receipt of the request/application letter, and up till the filing of this suit, the defendant has so far failed, refused and /or neglected to provide the plaintiff with details of the information requested for.”
Bello went on: “That I know as a fact by being a Publisher/ Journalist that: “By virtue of Section 1 (1) of the FOI Act 2011, a plaintiff is entitled as of right to request for or gain access to information, which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution.
“The information requested for by the plaintiff relates to corruption allegations against the former Army chief and facts supposedly held by the defendant, but has shied from giving truth to the allegations.
“The information requested for by the plaintiff does not come within the purview of the type of information exempted from disclosure by the provisions of FOI Act.
Up till the time of filing this action, the defendant has failed, neglected and refused to make available the information requested by the plaintiff, giving the impression that the defendant merely wanted to tarnish the image of the former Army chief, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai (rtd).
“The defendant has no reason whatsoever to deny the plaintiff access to the information sought for. The information requested is not exempted from disclosure under the FOI Act.
“That the information the plaintiff requested for is not privileged in any way or manner.
“That the information the plaintiff requested for do not concern any research material.
“That the information the plaintiff requested for is not in respect of a scientific material, or matter kept in the national museum or library.” The publisher added: “That it is in the interest of the public that the information be released.
“That I verily believe that in view of the above actions by the defendant, the plaintiff has been denied access to the information requested for
“That unless the reliefs sought herein are granted, the defendant will continue to be in breach of the Freedom of Information Act and the image of Lt.-Gen. Buratal (rtd) will be in question.
“That it is in the interest of justice to grant this application as the defendant has nothing to lose if the reliefs are granted.
“That I make this declaration in good faith.”