By Fegor Oghene, Asaba
A state High Court in Delta State has convicted the Commissioner for Lands and Survey, Mr Daniel Okenyi for withholding information under the Freedom of Information Act.
Okenyi was convicted alongside other top officials of the state government by the court for their failure to release relevant land documents to community leaders from Umu-Okpala Omai family of Umusam community in Kwale town.
The community leaders, relying on the FOI act, had written to the ministry and other relevant officials to demand records of land acquired by an oil firm, Midwestern Oil and Gas PLC at Umusadege marginal oil field in OML 56.
But the commissioner along with his Permanent Secretary and others were ordered by the presiding judge, Justice O Jalogho-Williams, to pay the sum of N2.5million.
Justice Jalogho-Williams also ordered the convicts to henceforth provide relevant land records and information to the community leaders in line with the FOI act.
In the judgement obtained on November 01, 2016 Justice Jalogho-Williams agreed with the complainants, represented by Osteen Igbapike Esq., that as a public officer, the commissioner and the ministry acted against the FOI.
He stressed that they were obliged to release the relevant documents to the community leaders and awarded N200,000 as cost of the suit against the commissioner.
Okenyi, who was second respondent in the case and four others, were therefore convicted of “willful denial of requested record/documents/information in the custody of the Ministry of Lands and Survey.”
Legal sources told our reporter that the very high-ranking Delta government might be the biggest public officeholder to be caught in the FOI net since the law was enacted.
Reacting to the judgement, Igbapike told reporters, “The ministry has powers to the documents and they have access to it,” adding that more Nigerians should hold government officials accountant for failure to perform their duties.
He that the FOI act provides that once your request is not answered, it is assumed that it has been denied and commended the judge for doing the right thing.