NNPC The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has filed an objection to a suit filed at the Federal High Court Abuja by the Civil Society Network against Corruption (CSNAC) seeking a court order to compel the cooperation to release information on the beneficiaries of N15bn disbursed for guarding oil pipelines in the Niger Delta. In its notice of preliminary objection filed on June 14 2014 by its counsel, Augustine Alegeh (SAN), NNPC claimed that CSNAC has no locus standi to file the court action, and that the corporation was not given a one month notice of the suit before it was filed as required by the NNPC Act.
 
CSNAC had in September 2013 sent a FOI letter to NNPC requesting information on the beneficiaries of N15bn approved and disbursed by it for securing oil pipelines in the Niger Delta. CSNAC has stressed in the letter of request that the information was required for its planned monitoring of the initiative to avoid a repeat of past failed efforts by government. Having failed to provide the requested information, CSNAC through its counsel Mr. Chino Obiagwu, filed an origination summons in court for an order under Section 20 of the FOI Act compelling NNPC to release the requested information. Under the FOI Act, no further notice of action is required to be given to a public institution before an applicant whose request for information was refused or ignored could go to court to seek court order for the requested information.
 
“By filing a preliminary objection to the suit on such flimsy technical excuses, NNPC has demonstrated that it is an unrepentant corrupt institution that is not willing to open itself up to civil society scrutiny. It choose to hire and pay huge legal fees to a senior advocate of  Nigeria to delay the suit or frustrate it, rather than provide the simple information requested from it. This is really very unfortunate” said Mr. Lanre Suraj, the Chairman of CSNAC and a co-plaintiff in the suit.
 
Under Section 1 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, CSNAC has the right to the information requested. As a body created to serve the public’s interest, the NNPC is obligated to provide CSNAC with the requested information within 7 days of receipt of the request failure of which the organization can sue in court within 30 days for order to release the information sought.
 
It will be recalled that NNPC has been recently marred with several allegations of corruption and poor accountability, including allegation by the former Central Bank of Nigeria governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanisi concerning the missing NGN20bn from the corporation accounts. Rather than clear its name and improve on its accountability and integrity, NNPC has continued to hide information about its operations from the public.
 
The NNPC’s blatant disregard for the right to information as guaranteed by the Freedom of Information Act raised serious concern of deep corruption in the corporation. “What does the NNPC have to hide in respect of the requested information? Civil society must continue to engage NNPC and similar corrupt institutions as a way to fight corruption and abuse of office in public institutions in Nigeria” said Ms Melissa Omene, legal officer with LEDAP and a counsel in the suit.
 
Contemporaries of NNPC, such as PETRONAS and Statoil, have developed themselves through prudent operations and accountable investments to become renowned players in the global petroleum industry. NNPC has continued to rely on patronage of government and remains a cesspit of corruption in Nigeria.
 
The case is coming up for hearing of the preliminary objection on July 7 2014 at the Federal High court Abuja
 
Chino Obiagwu
National Coordinator, LEDAP

 

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