Tag Archives: Transparency

Benue: When Floods Occur

By Laz Mom

Floods occur in Benue routinely. Between the years 2000 and 2017, five cycles of flood have occurred with grievous effects.

When flooding comes, its usually with sorrows, tears and blood. The floods often leave in their wake, monumental losses in billions of naira and the displacement of hundreds, sometimes, thousands of families.  Most families never really recover their losses. For example, most of the victims of the 2012 floods have not yet recovered and might never do so.

The recent floods have reportedly destroyed properties and farms worth over 15 billion naira and displaced over 120,000 families across 6 local government areas with Makurdi being the worst hit. As at the time of writing this piece, there are over 15,000 families taking refuge in various camps set up by the Benue State Emergency Management Agency.

Floods occur in Benue especially Makurdi, the State Capital due to several factors. Some of these include, the city’s topography, the river that runs through the town, poor drainage facilities, the release of Lagdo Dam from Cameroun which flows into the River Benue, climate change and many more.

However, the recurrent decimal resulting in these continued disasters would seem to be Government’s failure to institute preemptive measures against the ravages of the floods. Over the 5 cycles of massive floods that have overrun several parts of the state in general, and the state capital in particular, there appears to be no tangible efforts by the Government to build a drainage system that channels waters from streams, culverts and other sources into the river. Perhaps this absence of an effective drainage system could be singled out as the most damning reason why Makurdi continues to play the hapless victim of terrible floods year in, year out.

Following the floods of 2012, it was widely reported in some quarters that, a contract was awarded for the construction of just such a facility to channel waters from various sources across Makurdi into the River Benue. This contract was said to have been valued at 1.4 billion naira and paid up at the time of award.  Five years after, there is no drainage system in place, no cessation to the damage caused by floods.

When floods occur, Government establishes camps for the Internally Displaced victims to take refuge in. These camps become a Mecca of sorts for many, including those hitching a ride on the predicament of others to make a quick buck. Philanthropists, charity organizations, both local and international, as well as various government organizations and even the entertainment industry make haste to identify with the victims. Bags of rice, blankets, toiletries, detergents and other commodities worth billions are bought and distributed to the IDPs. All these acts of charity and concern for the vulnerable by Government are at best media hype and at worst some macabre window dressing. The handouts do not actually fill the long-term needs of those who have lost, perhaps, all their earthly belongings in one fell swoop.


Mini Estate In Makurdi

So now the question begging for answers is: what is the solution to the problem of perennial flooding in Makurdi?

True concern would be for the state government to ensure that the damage caused by floods in the state are reduced to the barest minimum. This, we believe, could partly be achieved by ensuring that a proper drainage system is constructed in Makurdi which happens to be perched on the river banks. If reports making the rounds that the award of a contract for the construction of a drainage system is true, then it behooves the Government to hold the contractor(s) responsible for the project to account for the monies collected as a matter of urgency. If however, this claim is spurious, then the state Government should commence the design and construction of a drainage system in earnest.

Secondly, Makurdi is situated in a valley on the banks of a major River. This means the town is ordinarily water logged and swampy. The town’s master plan has clearly mapped out waterways and channels and red flagged such areas against residential buildings. The Ministry of Lands and Survey, the government agency in charge of allotting plots to citizens has been most flagrant in allotting plots in these red flagged zones. Currently, residential homes have been built on water ways and channels regardless. These structures not only obstruct the natural course of water channels, but also mark the residents out for victimhood once floods occur. New residential areas like Nyiman Layout, BIPC Quarters, Kucha Utebe/Judges Quarters axis, etc. are amongst the areas where most of these infractions have occurred.

Thirdly, the effect of the global climate change and the consequent distortion of the natural order of things, occasioned by excessive rainfall, heat, and overflow of Rivers etc. must also be taken into account.  The campaign for preparedness against the effects of climate change has still not sunk into the consciousness of either the Federal or Benue State Governments resulting in knee jerk reactions in the face of disasters such as this. There is need for a proper scientific approach which will also involve some form of public awareness creation to sensitize people about their own responsibilities to protecting the environment as well as the attendant consequences of neglect.

The following short-term strategies might also be beneficial in the long run:

  • Culverts and gutters constructed along all streets and lanes that will ultimately connect to the central drainage system thereby channeling waters from various sources directly into the river.
  • Early warnings from meteorologists and emergency agencies should be taken serious and adequate preventive measures put in place.
  • The dredging of the River Benue should be carried out with every sense of urgency
  • Proper documentation and compensation of flood victims to enable them pick the pieces of their lives up especially Women.
  • Proper environmental impact assessment carried out

If all the above recommendations are properly implemented besides the construction of a drainage system in Makurdi and Benue State in general, when floods do come, the toll they take could be less grievous.

……. Laz Mom is a Program Director with Lawyers Alert



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Posted by on October 15, 2017 in Governanace, Human Rights


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Enforcing Rights Using The Freedom Of Information Act, 2011-Legal Perspective

 Written by Okoi Obono-Obla

The Freedom of Information Act (FOI), 2011 is a revolutionary piece of legislation that came into force on the 31st May, 2011 when President Jonathan signed into law, the Freedom of Information Bill as required by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  The FOI Act is revolutionary in the sense that it has made public records, information more free available

and provide for public access to public records and information consistent with public interest.

It has also made provision for the protection personal privacy, protect serving public officers from adverse consequences for disclosing certain kinds of official information without authorisation and establish procedures for achievement of those purposes.

With the coming into force of the law, there is no more a veil or curtain of secrecy that hitherto the management of the affairs of both public and private sectors in the country.

I make bold to say that the FOI Act is the greatest weapon for the fighting corruption, exposing fraud and bringing about a clean, transparent and accountable government and even private companies that deals with governments in the country.  
The greatest innovation introduced into the legal system by the FOI Act is the liberalisation of the concept of locus standi-the right to sue by an individual, especially in the area of public interest litigation.

Previously it was difficult (if not impossible) to make public officials to account for their action because to successfully maintain an action against government or public institutions you must be able to establish that the right you want to enforce in court is peculiar to you not the one you share with the rest of the members of the society or community.  

Enforcement Procedures Under The Foi Act
However Section 1 (1) of FOI Act has unequivocally conferred the right on every Nigerian to have access to public records and information.

Sections 1 (2) of the FOI Act specifically confer locus standi on every Nigerian to apply for access to public information and record.

“An Applicant under this Act needs not demonstrate any specific interest in the information being applied for
Section 1 (3) of the FOI Act provides that any person entitled to the right to information under the Act shall have the right to institute proceedings in the Court to compel any public institution to comply with the provisions of the Act.
Section 2 (1) & (2) of the FOI Act makes it mandatory for a public institution records and keeps information about all its activities, operations and businesses.   

Section 2 (6) of the FOI Act stipulates further that a person entitle to the right of access conferred by the Act shall have the right to institute proceedings in the Court to compel any public institutions to comply with the provisions of this section. 
 So the first step towards enforcing the right vested on you or your organization to have unfettered access to public information and record is to avail yourself of the provisions of Section 3 (1) of the FOI Act that provides thus: 
“An application for access to a record or information under this Act shall be made in accordance with Section 1 of this Act”.

Form Of Application For Access To Information
The application for access to information must not be in any prescribed form or format. However the application for access to information must be clear and unambiguous on the type of information or record the applicant is requesting from the public institution.

The application must be dated and signed. It must be addressed to the public institution or official concerned.

Need For Proper Service Of An Application For Access To Information
The application must be properly or duly served on the public institution from whom the record or information is requested from.

It is advisable to serve such public institution or official with the application by means of courier service or you take the application to the High Court or Magistrate get it assess and pay a fee so that the Court Bailiff can help you to serve it on the public institution or official. 

This is to enable you have proof or acknowledgment of the service of your application otherwise the public institution or official concerned may deny service of your application for access to information.

So service of the application is fundamental or vital in the event that the public institution or official fails to allow you access to the information and you are compelled to challenge such refusal in a Court of Law.

I had such experience when i filed a case against a Local Government Area Council in Cross River State known as Yakurr in the High Court to allow me have access to documents concerning allocation from the Federation Accounts from 2008-2011. 
The Local Government Council came to Court to deny that it was served with the application but I had to produce a document given to me by DHL courier Company showing that the Local Government was served. 

Also in Major-General India Garba (rtd.) versus Special Adviser, Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Benue State of Nigeria pending in the High Court No. 5 , Makurdi, the defendant denied in Court that it was ever served with the application by the Plaintiff for access  to information about allocations to Vandeikya Local Government Area Council of Benue State after the Defendant had replied to the application saying that it would not allow the Plaintiff access to the information on ground that under the Official Secret Act it would be criminal to accede to the Plaintiffs application.

The Right Of An Applicant To Be Allowed Access To Information Within Seven Days Of Application By A Public Institution
Section 4 of FOI Act provides that a public institution to which an application is made shall subject to section 6, 7 & 8 of the Act within 7 days after the application is received take the following steps thus: 
(a) make the information available to the applicant;

(b) where the public institution considers that the application should be denied, the institution shall give written notice to the applicant that access to all or part of the information will not be granted, stating reasons for the denial, and the section of this Act under which the denial is made.

Extension Of Time For Access To Information By A Public Institution
A public institution can extend the seven days prescribed in Section 5 or Section 6 in respect of an application for a time not exceeding 7 days if- 
(a) The application is a large number of records and meeting the original time would reasonably interfere with the operations of the public institution; or 
(b) Where consultations are necessary to comply with the application.

Notice Of Refusal To Allow Access To Information By A Public Institution
Section 7 (1) of the Act stipulates that where the government or public institution refuses to give access to a record or information applied or a part thereof, the institution shall state in the notice given to the applicant the grounds for his refusal, the specific provision of the Act that relates to and that the applicant has a right to challenge the decision refusing access and have it reviewed by a Court.

Where the government or public institution fails to give access to information on record applied for under the Act or part thereof within the time limit set out in the Act, the institution shall for the purpose of the Act deemed to have refused to give access.  See section 7 (4) of the Act.

Payment Of A Fine Of N500, 000 By A Public Institution For Denial Of Access To Information
Where a case of wrongful denial of access is established, the defaulting Officer or institution commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N500, 000.00. See Section 7 (5) of the Act.

In the case of General Garba vs. Vandeikya LGAC, the High Court, Vandeikya awarded cost of N500, 000.00 against Vandeikya Local Government Area Council for wrongful denial of access to information to the Plaintiff. 

Under Section 15 (1) (a) (b) & (c) of the Act, certain third party information can be exempted such as trade secret and commercial or financial information; information that would reasonably interfere with the contractual or other negotiations of a third party and proposals and bids for any contract, grants, or agreements, including information which if it were disclosed would frustrate procurement or give an advantage to any person.

Under section 16, public institution may deny an application that is subject to the following privileges-
(a) Legal practitioner-client privilege;
(b) Health works-client privilege;
(c) Journalism confidentiality privileges; and
(d) Any other professional privileges conferred by an Act.

The Right To Go To Court To Challenge Failure By A Public Institution To Alllow Access To Public Information

Under Section 20 of the Act, 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, or within such further as the Court may either before or after the expiration of the 30 days fix or allow. 

The FOI Act as I had previously pointed out is a revolutionary piece of legislation that is capable of bring about a culture of openness, accountability and transparency in our country that has the unenviable reputation of being one of the most corrupt countries in the world by international rating.
I therefore urge each and every one of us to avail ourselves of its provisions in the fight against corruption and graft in Nigeria.

Obono-Obla is Public Interest Lawyer

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Posted by on March 27, 2014 in Uncategorized


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