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Wednesday 11 November 2015

FOI Act: Ebonyi Teaching Hospital fights hard to block disclosure

FOI Act: Ebonyi Teaching Hospital fights hard to block disclosure

Federal Teaching Hospital Abakaliki. Ebonyi
Legal fireworks continued on Tuesday as the case filed by a lawyer, Luke Nkwegu, against the Federal Teaching Hospital Abakaliki and the former Chief Medical Director of the Hospital Paul Ezeonu, reached a new high.

Mr. Nkwegu, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, filed a suit on January 8, 2015, demanding the list of employees in the hospital from 2011 to 2013.

The plaintiff is requesting the court to compel the defendants to make available the list of persons employed between 2011 and 2013, their local government of origin, state of origin and their grade levels.

When the matter, which has suffered many adjournments in the past, came up at Federal High Court Abakaliki Division headed by Justice Maureen Ada Onyetenu, the counsels to the defendant, Victor Okechukwu and Chaka Nweze, filed fresh preliminary objection which among other things challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the matter.

The defence counsels argued that the information sought by the plaintiff contains personal data including local government and state of origin of the personnel of the teaching hospital, which according to them were outside the provisions of FOI Act.

They applied for the withdrawal of earlier filed preliminary objection to substitute same with the fresh and amended preliminary objection.

But the counsel to the plaintiff, Hosea Nwofe, objected to the preliminary objection and asked the court to strike it out as it was a delay tactics.

He argued that he was only served the preliminary objection that morning even when the counsels to the defendants knew the day was meant for definite adoption of processes for ruling on the substantive application.

“My Lord, defendants filed preliminary objection this morning, it should be thrown away because its intention is to stop adoption of processes this morning.

“This same preliminary objection was filed before and later withdrawn and was struck out by this court. It is filed in bad faith, and it constitutes abuse of court process,” he maintained.

But replying, one of the defence counsels, Ms. Nweze, argued that the fresh preliminary objection was an amended version of the previous one withdrawn and struck out, and that it was not on the same grounds as the former.

Justice Onyetenu over-ruled the plaintiff’s counsel’s objection and allowed the defendants to withdraw the previous preliminary objection and to substitute it with a fresh one.

Justice Onyetenu said the court would have acceded to the plaintiff’s counsel’s argument to throw away the preliminary objection if the earlier preliminary objection had been dismissed and not struck out.

She maintained that since the previous preliminary objection was struck out and not dismissed, the defence counsel can file it again more so as the fresh one contains some amendments to the former.

The judge, however, awarded a cost of N10, 000 in favour of the plaintiff, which the defendant must pay before the next date of adjournment.

The matter was adjourned to November 24, 2015 for adoption of processes, which is both the preliminary objection and reply by the plaintiff. After which adoption of processes on substantive application can be taken.

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