Benue State Emergency Managemnet Agency BSEMA today filed its reply in the suit brought against it by Rommy Mom Esq, President of Lawyers Alert.
In the suit Mom is requesting for detailed information on the expenditure of the assistance (money) to flood victims by the federal government of Nigeria and several bodies totaling about N700m. It will be recalled the the North Central State of Nigeria was flooded about 9 months ago.
When the matter came up in Court on last week, Lawyer to BSEMA asked for time to meet with BSEMA towards obtaining information to enable him take an informed position on the issue.
In a Counter affidavit filed today however, BSEMA outrightly stated that the Benue State Government did not give it any of the money and they are only operating as an advisory body regarding flood victims.
In their defense, they asserted they have no knowledge whatsoever of how the Benue State Government is spending the money. They urged the Court to direct Lawyers Alert to look elsewhere for the information since they cannot give what they do not have.
Part of their defense reads thus:
“(a) That the State Emergency Management Agency has not collected any monies from the Federal Government, State Government, Local Government, Private Organisation and Donor Agencies as and to flood victims as result of last year’s flooding in the State.
(b) That the Relief Committee has not operated account for the purpose and is yet to incur direct expenditure.
(c) That the 1st Respondent only makes recommendations to the State Government concerning approval and release of relief to victims of flood and other natural disasters.
(d) That the Respondent is not in custody or control of the information/sought by the Applicant via his letter dated 27th March, 2013, hence their lack of response thereto”
The Freedom of Information Law however in such circumstances takes a different view.
It states that where an application is made for information, even where the body it is directed to has no such information, it should send the application to the necessary government office and inform the Applicant of this within 7 days. This BSEMA obviously did not do, but choose to simply say the Suswam administration did not pass the money to them.
By the Freedom of Information Act, BSEMA ought to and should have done more than that.
See Section 5 of the FOI Law 2011
5.(1)Where a public institution receives an application for access to information, and the institution is of the view that another public institution has greater interest in the information, the institution to which the application is made may within 3 days but not later than 7 days after the application is received, transfer the application, and if necessary, the information, to the other public institution, in which case, the institution transferring the application shall give written notice of the transfer to the applicant, which notice shall contain a statement informing the applicant that such decision to transfer the application can be reviewed by the Court.
(2)Where an application is transferred under subsection (1), the application shall be deemed to have been made to the public institution to which it was transferred on the day the public institution received it.
With the posture adopted by BSEMA, given its mandate, one is tempted to wonder, is the Government hiding something?
Thankfully our day in Court is 22nd May 2013.