Ndubuisi Francis in Abuja
A civil society organisation–Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has dragged the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Abubakar Bawa Bwari to court for failing to provide information on the establishment of the Environmental Protection and Rehabilitation Fund as stipulated in Section 121 of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act, 2017.
Latching on the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, CSJ had on March 3, 2019 written the minister specifically seeking information on a number of questions, including: “whether the Fund has been established and if the answer is in the affirmative, the date of its establishment; the name of the trustees or fund managers administering the Fund and the date of their appointment.
“The terms of their appointment and documents evidencing the terms; (d) the names of Mineral Title Holders so far contributing to the Fund and the amounts they have contributed and whether the amounts contributed are less than their assessed contributions. CSJ also sought information on the names of mineral title holders who are yet to start contributions to the Fund, evidence of any demands to start contributions made to the mineral title holder who are yet to start contributions for the Fund.”
Also sought by CSJ was the total amount of money so far accrued to the Fund, and the details of any disbursements from the Fund; and the list of beneficiaries and projects so far remedied from the proceeds of the Fund.
CSJ’s request to the minister was against the backdrop of the continued demand and allocation to the Ministry of Mines and Steel, large amounts of money for environmental remediation on a yearly basis.
The non-governmental organisation’s poser was to establish the reason for government’s continued funding of remediation which the law places as a duty on extractive companies.
In a statement made available to THISDAY and endorsed by its Lead Director, Eze Onyekpere and Legal Officer, Kingsley Nnajiaka, CSJ pointed out that the sum of N450 million was budgeted for this in 2018 and the same amount proposed in the 2019 federal budget
Explaining why it resorted to dragging the minister to court, the organisation said it did so after the expiration of the statutory period provided by the FoI Act for the minster to respond elapsed without him providing the information, “CSJ has now filed a suit at the Federal High Court in suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/390/2019 in the matter of Centre for Social Justice vs the Honourable Minister of Mines and Steel Development asking for the following reliefs:
Among the reliefs is a declaration that
denying the Applicant access to information on the Environmental Protection and Rehabilitation Fund without explanation constitutes an infringement of the Applicant’s right guaranteed and protected by section 1 (1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2011.
*A declaration that the continued refusal of the Respondent to grant to the Applicant access to information on the Environmental Protection and Rehabilitation Funddespite Applicant’s demand violates Section 4 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
*A declaration that the continued refusal of the Respondent to grant the Applicant access to information on the Environmental Protection and Rehabilitation Fundwithout explanation constitutes an infringement of the Applicant’s right guaranteed and protected by Section 48 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007
*An Order of Mandamus compelling the Respondent to grant to the Applicant access to information on the Environmental Protection and Rehabilitation Fund. specifically for the following information.
*An order compelling the Respondent to pay to the Applicant the dum of N500, 000 (Five Hundred Thousand Naira) as damages for denying the Applicant access to information.
The case has been assigned to Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo of the Federal High Court, No. 10 in Abuja, and will come up on May 23, 2019.