The University of Port Harcourt has declined a Freedom of Information, FOI, request for the doctorate degree records of President Goodluck Jonathan.
In a response to the Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, a Rivers State-based civil society organization, the university said a request for President Jonathan’s academic records did not fall within the provisions of the FOI law. “The Management of the University has carefully considered your request vis-a-vis the FOI Act,” the university stated in their letter dated 26th February, 2015, and signed by Eric Loveday Osuo Abonemi, the institution’s Legal Officer.
“It is my instructions to inform you that your request does not come within the relevant provisions of the FOI Act for its practicability or for the University to provide such details as requested.
“Details of the Ph.D Degree of President Goodluck Jonathan in the University of Port Harcourt cannot therefore be made available to you.”
The Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law had filed an FOI request, three weeks ago, to the university seeking relevant details of Mr. Jonathan’s doctorate qualifications.
The letter requested the following information relating to the president’s doctorate qualification, citing the provisions of Sections 2 and 4 of the FOI Act, 2011:
1. The title of the president’s doctorate dissertation
2. Year of registration as a doctorate candidate
3. Name of his doctorate supervisor(s)
4. Name of his external examiner(s)
5. Comments/reports of the external examiner of the dissertation/thesis
6. Photocopy of the dissertation/thesis
7. Date of graduation from the university
The organization said it was willing to bear any cost the university might incur in making photocopies of the requested documents and for posting them.
President Jonathan was admitted into the Department of Zoology (now renamed Animal and Environmental Biology), University of Port Harcourt, in 1977, where he graduated with Second Class Honours (Upper Division).
In 1985, Mr. Jonathan obtained a Master of Science degree in Hydrobiology and Fisheries, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Zoology 10 years later.
Both degrees were also from the University of Port Harcourt.
Lately, Mr. Jonathan’s academic qualifications have come under increased scrutiny ahead of the forthcoming general elections. Critics have accused the president of failing to complete his doctorate programme. In a response to an enquiry by Punch Newspaper in January, the university dismissed such claims as having “neither legs nor grounds to stand on”.
The university had also told any person or organization seeking additional information on Mr. Jonathan’s qualifications to contact the school authorities.
“We have absolutely nothing to hide as an institution that has a statutory mandate to advance the frontiers of knowledge,” William Wodi, the university’s Deputy Registrar (Information), had told the newspaper.
It is unclear why the university declined to release Mr. Jonathan’s academic qualifications to the civil society organization after giving that commitment.
Jiti Ogunye, a Lagos-based lawyer, said the president’s academic records ought to be freely available in the university and not be “opaque or hidden”.
“The FOI is applicable to the academic records of a public officer whose academic records are being requested by a Nigerian citizen or a nongovernmental organization duly registered in Nigeria with a view to promoting accountability and transparency in government,” Mr. Ogunye said.
“The academic records of the president are not the medical records of the president in which case a medical officer can say the FOI is exempted, or the records between a lawyer and his client which are covered by the confidentiality rule.”
WHAT THE FOI ACT SAYS
According to Section 14(1) of the FOI ACT, subject to subsection (2), a public institution must deny an application for information that contains personal information and information exempted under this subsection includes:
(a) files and personal information maintained with respect to clients, patients, residents, students, or other individuals receiving social, medical, educational, vocation, financial, supervisory or custodial care or services directly or indirectly from public institutions;…
(2) A public institution shall disclose any information that contains personal information if –
(a) the individual to whom it relates consents to the disclosure; or
(b) the information is publicly available
(3) Where disclosure of any information referred to in this section would be in the public interest, and if the public interest in the disclosure of such information clearly outweighs the protection of the privacy of the individual to whom such information relates, the public institution to whom request for disclosure is made shall disclose such information subject to Section 14(2) of this Act.
Mr. Ogunye said that an institution might attempt to hide under Section 14(1)(a) to decline disclosure of information.
“My argument is, this information is publicly available and ought to be disclosed. The president has said he obtained his Ph.D in that institution, so it’s publicly available,” Mr. Ogunye said.
“So why will an institution refuse to disclose an information that is publicly available? The university has acted wrongly and can be compelled by the suit of the non-governmental organization concerned to disclose the information.”