Right to request Information
The Freedom of Information Act 2011 gives everyone the right to request information, whether or not contained in any written form, which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution howsoever described. The person requesting the information does not need to show any specific interest in the information or justify his/her reasons for making the request.
What information can be requested?
The Freedom of Information Act provides that individuals have a right to request any recorded information held by a public authority. Recorded information isn’t restricted to information that is in written form, but also information or records that does not exist in print but can by regulation be produced from a machine
Who can you make a request to?
You may request the information or record from any public official, agency or institution.
This means any legislative, executive, judicial, administrative or advisory body of the government, including boards, bureau, committees or commissions of the State, and any subsidiary body of those bodies including but not limited to committees and subcommittees which are supported in whole or in part by public fund or which expends public fund.
It also covers all corporations established by law and all companies in which the government has a controlling interest, and private companies utilizing public funds, providing public services or performing public functions.
How can you make a request?
- Orally- An applicant may make an oral request to an authorised official of a government or public institution, who must then reduce the application into writing and provide a copy of the written application to the applicant
- In writing
- Through a 3rd party – Illiterate or disabled applicants who by virtue of their illiteracy or disability are unable to make an application for access to information or, may make that application through a third party
Is a request free of charge?
The only charges for a request are limited to standard charges for document duplication and fees for transcription where necessary.
What happens after a request is made?
The law provides that the public institution must make the information available within 7 days of receiving the request. Failure to give access to the information requested for, within the timelines provided by the Act is deemed as a refusal of access. These are the potential outcomes:
- Information provided – The public institution provides the requested information to the applicant within 7 days.
- Extension – The public institution may extend the timeline for a response for a further time not exceeding 7 further days, where:
- The application is for a large number of records and meeting the original time limit would unreasonably interfere with the operations of the public institution;
- Consultations are necessary to comply with the application that cannot reasonably be completed within the original time limit,
- Request Transferred – The institution may transfer the request to another department or agency, if it is of the view that another public institution has greater interest in the information, this may be done within 3 days but not later than 7 days after the application is received. Once this is done, the institution must then give written notice of the transfer to the applicant.
- Part Disclosure – The institution may disclose part of the information requested if the other part is exempted from being disclosed by virtue of provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
- Rejection – The institution may refuse to give access to a record or information applied for. When this occurs, the institution shall state in the notice given to the applicant the grounds for the refusal, and the specific provision of this Act that it relates to. Also the refusal must state:
- Whether the information or record exists
- The names, designation and signature, of each person responsible for the denial of such application.
It should be noted here that the applicant has a right to have any of the decisions reviewed by the Court, whether it’s an extension, a transfer, or a rejection.
When can my application be refused?
A refusal can only be valid in any of a number of instances. There are quite a number of them, so we decided to list it in this post – Grounds for Refusal of a Freedom of Information Request.
However, an application for information shall not be denied where the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs whatever injury that disclosure would cause.
What happens if my request is refused?
Any applicant, who has been denied access to information, or a part thereof, may apply to the Court for a review of the matter within 30 days after the public institution denies or is deemed to have denied the application.
The applications to the court are heard summarily. This is to ensure the prompt and expeditious disposal of the case.
If the court finds that the request should not have been denied, the defaulting officer or institution commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N500, 000. Further, the court will order that the information be released as per the request.
It should also be noted that it is a criminal offence punishable on conviction by the Court with a minimum of 1 year imprisonment for any officer or head of any government or public institution to which this Act applies to wilfully destroy any records kept in his custody or attempt to doctor or otherwise alter same before releasing the information.
Template for written request
If you would like to make a Freedom of Information request from any public institution in Nigeria, you may use the template which we at LawPàdí created – FOI Request Template
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We hope you have found this information helpful. Please note that this information is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. No lawyer-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. This answer is not intended to substitute for the advice of a qualified lawyer. If you require legal advice, please consult with a qualified lawyer. If you would like to find out more about a consultation, you may click on the button below.