A group of organisations sent a Freedom of Information Request to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) asking it for details of the consultancy contract awarded to LEVICK, a Washington DC based Public Relations firm which was hired in the aftermath of the kidnap of over 200 school girls in Chibok, Borno State.
The organisations got an interesting response from NAN. NAN told them that the information they want is domiciled with the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA). NAN however did not explain why details of a PR contract are in the office of the NSA.
The three organisations which made the Freedom Of Information (FOI) request to NAN on the 18th of July 2014 are the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), BudgIT and Connected Development (CODE).
The groups wanted NAN which signed the contract on behalf of the Federal government, to provide information on the budgetary appropriation where the contract was included as a line item, copies of procurement plans including needs assessment documents, evidence of advertisements, copies of standard bidding documents issued to all bidders, a list of all bids tendered from the period of the advertisement till the closure of the bid advertisement, letter of notification of contract award, final contract documents and documentation showing schedule of payment.
The organisations requested that the documents be made available within 7 days in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
When The News Agency of Nigeria response came, it was a shocking one. The information, according to NAN, is domiciled with the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and in accordance with Section 5 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, the request has been forwarded to the ONSA.
The FOI request by the three organisations was prompted by information being spread through social media networks of a contract between LEVICK communications, LLC (LEVICK) and the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) for a contract of sum of One Million Five hundred thousand Dollars (1,500,000 USD) to assist with a range of government affairs and public relations matters to the Government of Nigeria.
According to the contract document which was also obtained online, “LEVICK will provide government affairs and communications counsel with the primary objective of changing the international and local media narrative related to the Government of Nigeria’s efforts to find and safely return the more than 200 girls abducted by the terrorist organization, Boko Haram in the Borno state of Nigeria, assisting the government’s efforts to mobilize international support in fighting Boko Haram as part of the greater global war on terror, communicating the President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration’s past, present and future priority to foster transparency, democracy, the rule of law throughout Nigeria.”
The contract document further stated that the professional fees of LEVICK staff will be billed at the rate of One Hundred Thousand Naira Dollars (100,000 USD) monthly and the engagement would begin on the 16th of June, 2014 for an initial term of 12 months, bringing the amount of professional fees to One Million and two hundred thousand Dollars only (1,200,000 USD).
In addition to the 1,200,000 USD, the contract agreement stated the engagement of Jared Genser of Perseus Strategies for a separate sum of 25,000 USD monthly which sums up to 300,000 USD for the initial period of 12 months. As a well-known international human rights lawyer the contract agreed that Jared shall be hired to assist primarily in the objectives to promote transparency, democracy and the rule of law throughout Nigeria bringing the total contract figure to 1.5 million USD for 12 months.
The 1.5 million USD contract excluded the monthly sum of 4,500 USD (4.5% of the monthly cost of 100,000 USD) to cover recurring costs such as in-house copying, faxing, scanning, printing, or postage, local communications costs and costs for access to on-line media technology and digital services.
The 1.5 million USD contract also excluded the cost for travel related expenses estimated to average 22,500USD per professional, per trip and any costs to relocate a LEVICK professional to Nigeria for a period.
The contract was signed by the Managing Director of NAN, Ima Niboro.
By their response letter which was signed by Barrister Stella Benjamin on behalf of the Managing Director, NAN confirmed that the information being sought is in existence and for a reason which is yet unclear; it is domiciled with the Office of the National Security Adviser.
Given the fees to be paid to a foreign public relations firm from public resources, the groups felt that it was pertinent to seek clarity on the rationale for this expense and the benefits to be gained from engaging LEVICK and this led to the FOI request that was made.
The ONSA holds no statutory duties relating to managing and archiving procurement-related information on behalf of other public institutions; least of all for a Public Relations contract whose information cannot be construed to fall under any of the exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
Consequently, the groups have directed their FOI request to the Office of the National Security Adviser for more information as regards this contract and also to News Agency of Nigeria on the rationale for situating a Public Relations procurement and contracting records with the NSA.