• Monday, December 04, 2023
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U.S. court blocks request for release of Tinubu’s records

Can Nigeria survive Tinubu?

The United States District Court of the District of Columbia has rejected Aaron Greenspan’s request to compel US security agencies to promptly release information and documents related to President Bola Tinubu.

The ruling was handed down by Judge Beryl A. Howell, who cited Greenspan’s failure to meet the necessary conditions for such a request for temporary relief, as outlined in the emergency hearing motion he submitted the previous Friday.

In June of this year, Greenspan filed a civil suit (case number: 23 – 1816) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) against several government agencies, including the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA), Department of State (DOS), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

He alleged that these agencies violated the FOIA by not meeting statutory deadlines, failing to conduct reasonable searches for records, and not producing records responsive to his FOIA requests.

One of Greenspan’s FOIA requests to the EOUSA sought records related to charging decisions for individuals, including Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the President of Nigeria as of February 2023, and Mueez Adegboyega Akande, who was deceased as of November 16, 2022. The EOUSA denied his request, citing FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7, which protect personal privacy and information compiled for law enforcement purposes.

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A hearing was initially scheduled for October 31 for the defendants to present their responses. However, Greenspan returned to the court on Friday with an emergency motion.

He argued that the Nigerian Supreme Court would hear appeals related to the presidential election and President Tinubu’s victory on October 23, 2023. Greenspan argued that the timing of the Nigerian Supreme Court’s hearing was designed to render his case before the U.S. court ineffective, as the requested documents would likely be relevant to the proceedings in Nigeria.

In her ruling on Monday, Judge Howell determined that Greenspan had not established a likelihood of success on the merits, the possibility of suffering irreparable harm without the preliminary relief, or that the balance of equities favoured his request.

She also noted that Greenspan had not proven that the documents he sought actually existed, particularly given the sensitive and private nature of the requested information. The judge said that in such cases, the burden falls on the plaintiff to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits, which Greenspan failed to do.

Judge Howell said, “In plaintiff’s underlying FOIA request and complaint, he seeks documents relating to purported federal investigations into the President of Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

“As previously noted, EOUSA originally denied the plaintiff’s FOIA request, invoking FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(c), which protect information that would constitute unwarranted invasions of personal privacy and information compiled for law enforcement purposes that may constitute an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of a third party.

“Plaintiff has failed even to attempt to argue how his request may overcome those exemptions and achieve a likelihood of success on the merits. This failure to address this important factor in his emergency motion weighs strongly in favour of denying his motion.”

Furthermore, Judge Howell found that Greenspan had not shown concrete, actual threats of irreparable injury if his request was not granted, as opposed to possible harm.

Granting his emergency motion would have allowed him to jump ahead of other FOIA requests, which would not be fair under FOIA’s expedition standards.

Finally, Greenspan had not demonstrated that the balance of equities favoured him or that granting his motion would serve the public interest.

“Plaintiff has not made any representation to the court that the balance of equities tips in his favour or that the granting of his motion would further the public interest. For the foregoing reasons, it is hereby ordered that the plaintiff’s emergency motion for a hearing to compel immediate document production is denied,” the Judge concluded.

As a result, the judge denied Greenspan’s emergency motion for a hearing to compel immediate document production. Meanwhile, President Tinubu’s legal team filed a motion to be made a party to the suit in order to defend the President’s interests.