Bamidele Aturu, student leader, physicist, lawyer, social commentator, human rights activist, and patriot, lived his relatively short live with a sense of purpose and urgency. In everything he did until his untimely death last month, July 9, 2014, Aturu acted like he knew that he had only a short time to achieve all the goals he set for himself in his crusade to rescue the nation.
Less than two weeks after the Freedom of Information Bill became Law, Bamidele Aturu lodged the first known FOI request in Nigeria on June 7, 2011 on behalf of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), seeking the names of member of the CDHR alleged by the EFCC to have collected a bribe.
The EFCC had in statement accused the civil society organization of collecting N52 million from some of the suspects being investigated by the commission in order to weaken and campaign against the Commission.
Less than 30 days after he lodged the request and after the EFCC had failed to provide it with the information, Bamidele Aturu launched the first FOI case in Nigeria when in the morning of July 6, he filed Suit No: FHC/L/CS/ 784/2011 on behalf of Olasupo Ojo (for himself and the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights) at the Federal High Court in Lagos, seeking an order of mandamus directing the EFCC to make available to the Applicant details of the information that the leadership of the CDHR collected the sum of N52 Million from an unnamed suspect being investigated by the EFCC.
In a statement he issued on the day he filed the suit, Aturu said the EFCC’s refusal to comply with the request he made on behalf of the CDHR compelled him “to have recourse to section 20 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011” and that his action was “in fulfillment of our promise to use the Act responsibly but unhesitatingly.” Aturu then went on to “encourage all Nigerians to do likewise.”
On July 18, 2011, a Nigerian court heard the first ever FOI case in the country as Aturu, leading Mr. Chukwuyem Atewe and Mr. Ode Abah, argued his ex parte application on behalf of the CDHR for leave to apply for an order of mandamus to compel the EFCC to disclose the information requested.
That same day, Justice Binta Fatima Nyako of the Federal High Court granted the first ever leave under the Freedom of Information Act in the suit.
On March 1, 2011, Aturu won the first FOI case in Nigeria as Justice Nyako granted his application for an order of mandamus to compel the EFCC to disclose to the CDHR:
· The name of the suspect or suspects that gave N52 Million to the leadership of the CDHR; Persons in the leadership of the CDHR to whom the money was given; and
· The manner in which the money was paid, that is, when, where and how.
In another statement he issued that day announcing the victory, Aturu said: “Nigerians must make use of the Act to expose corruption and corrupt or reckless public officials.”
Aturu himself remained an avid user of the FOI Act. For instance, On June 13, 2012, Aturu applied to the Minister of Aviation pursuant to Sections 1, 3 and 4 of the FOI Act, seeking access to the reports of all the air crashes, accidents/and or incidents that occurred within the Nigerian Airspace between November 20, 1969 and June 3, 2012.
Specifically, he requested access to reports concerning the following air incidents or accidents: November 20, 1969: Nigeria Airways BAC VC10; December 1988: Skypower Brandeironte aircraft; June 26, 1991: Okada Air BAC-111; February 24, 1991: British Helicopter; May 21, 1991: A Cessna Citation 550; June 26, 1991: An Okada Air Bac-11; July 11, 1991: Nigeria Airways DC-8-61; September 26, 1992: Nigerian Air Force A C-130; June 24, 1995: Harka Air Services Tupolev 34; November 13, 1995: Nigeria Airways Boeing 737-2F9; November 7, 1996: A Nigerian ADC (Aviation Development Corporation) Airline Boeing 727-231; January 31, 1997: SkyPower Express Airways Embraer 110PIA; September 12, 1997: A NAF Dornier 228-212; January 5, 2000: SkyPower Express Airways Bandeirante 110P1A; October 26, 2000: Dornier aircraft; May 4, 2002: EAS Airlines’ BAC 1-11-500; November 30, 2003, a Cargo aircraft; March 6, 2004: An aenail spray aircraft with registration number 5NBEF; July 26, 2004: Pan African Airlines’ helicopter; December 29, 2004: A Boeing 727 of Chanchangi Airlines; December 29, 2004: A Kenya Airlines aircraft; January 28, 2005: A Nigeria Air Force fighter plane; February 25, 2005: ADC’s B73 aircraft; March 27, 2005: A Boeing 737 of Bellview; June 11/12, 2005: Lagos: a Boeing 727-200 aircraft; June 24, 2005: A Russian aircraft belonging to Harka Air July 6, 2005, Port Harcourt: an Air France A330 plane; July 23, 2005, a Lufthansa aircraft; October 22, 2005: A Bellview Airlines Boeing 737; December 10, 2005: A Sosoliso Airlines DC-; September 17, 2006: A 18-seater Dornier 228 Air Force transport plane; October 29, 2006: Aviation Development Corporation Airline Boeing 737; November 10, 2006: OAS Service Helicopter; August 2, 2007: Bristow-owned helicopter; March 15, 2008: Beechcraft 1900D plane; March 14, 2012: A Helicopter belonging to the Joint Task Force (JTF) and the June 3, 2012- DANA Aircraft crash, if available.
Following the failure of the Minister to provide the information, Aturu filed a suit against the Minister and the Aviation Ministry on June 22, 2012, at the Federal High Court in Abuja, seeking an order of mandamus to compel them to make the information available to him.
Again, on December 31, 2012, Aturu made an FOI request on behalf of another lawyer, Anthony Itedjere, to the Governor of the Central Bank, seeking from him the following information:
a. How much is your total remuneration (that is salary plus allowances) per month?
b. b. Do you charge the Bank or the Federal Government of Nigeria any fee outside your monthly remuneration? If so, state any such fee you have received since becoming the Governor of the bank.
c. Do you travel business class or economy within Nigeria?
d. Do you travel first class, business class or economy when travelling out of Nigeria?
e. e. Have you ever used chartered plane for any of your travels within and outside Nigeria?
f. f. If your answer to 1e above is in the affirmative, kindly list all such instances specifying the dates, the airline(s), the cost and the duration of the charter?
g. g. Does the Bank own an aircraft? If so, what is the cost of the craft and the cost of its servicing and maintenance?
h. How many drivers are attached to your office by the bank?
i. How many cleaners are attached to your office by the bank?
j. How many drivers are attached to your house by the bank?
k. How many cleaners are attached to your house by the bank?
l. How much is your monthly imprest?
m. When you travel within Nigeria, how much is your allowance?
n. When you travel outside Nigeria, how much is your allowance?
o. o. When last did you spend your personal money on purchasing fuel since you became the Governor of the bank?
The Central Bank partially responded to the request on February 1, 2013, providing only some of the information requested.
Aturu was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1995 after completing his LLB programme from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1994 and his studies at the Nigerian Law School in Lagos. He then proceeded to the University of Lagos, where he did his postgraduate studies and obtained his LLM in 1996.
Born on October 16, 1964, Aturu attended Adeyemi College of Education in Ondo, where he studied Physics graduating with a First Class degree. He was the student union president at Adeyemi College of Education. He had a brief stint as a classroom teacher before he went to study Law. While at the University of Ife, he was Vice President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS).
Aturu first came to limelight in 1988 when, during the passing-out parade of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), he refused to shake hands with Colonel Lawan Gwadabe, the then Military Governor of Niger State, because, according to him, it was the military had caused great harm to the democratic aspirations of Nigerians.
He was a member of the Democratic Alternative (DA) which later metamorphosed into a political party through which he sought to pursue the institution of democratic principles in Nigeria. He was a founding member of Youths Against Misguided Youths (YAMY) that opposed the government-sponsored Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha (YEAA) group led by Daniel Kalu, which organized the infamous one million man march in support of the then military dictator, the late Gen. Sani Abacha.
Aturu was a staunch supporter of the campaign for the enactment of the Freedom of Information Bill into Law.
He wrote a number of books including “A Handbook of Nigerian Labour Laws” and “Nigerian Labour Laws and Elections and the Law.” He was also a columnist with various newspapers in at different times.
The Nigerian Freedom of Information Community salutes Aturu for his contribution to the advancement of the Law and the development of Nigeria.
Culled from Freedom of Information Newsletter, Volume 1, No. 3 of August 2014.