…Calls for Better Implementation …Only 73 Out of Over 900 Public Institutions Complied With Law…Reps Leading media advocacy group, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), says Nigerians now know more about government activities because of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act but stressed that better implementation is necessary for the Law to achieve its ultimate objectives
…Calls for Better Implementation
…Only 73 Out of Over 900 Public Institutions Complied With Law…Reps
Leading media advocacy group, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), says Nigerians now know more about government activities because of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act but stressed that better implementation is necessary for the Law to achieve its ultimate objectives of making government transparent, accountable and responsive to the needs of citizens.
This is coming amid revelation by the House of Representatives that only 73 of the over 900 public institutions in the country have complied with the provision of the Freedom of Information Act on the disclosure of information
In a statement in Lagos on Friday, to commemorate the 10th year anniversary of the signing of the Freedom of Information Bill into Law by then President Goodluck Jonathan on May 28, 2011, MRA noted that a study conducted by the organization on the implementation of the Act over the last 10 years showed that it had yielded a treasure-trove of information for scores of citizens, civil society organizations, journalists and media organizations, as well as other groups within the society who, as a result, definitely now know more about various actions and policies of governments at Federal and State levels.
The organization observed, however, that the Act was still a long way from achieving its full objectives as a result of its poor implementation by the Federal Government and various government ministries, departments and agencies as well as many State governments who continue to resist the application of the Law to them so that they can continue to run secretive governments.
MRA’s Project Director, Mr. Segun Fatuase, said in the statement that: “The Federal Government has had neither bark nor bite in the implementation of the FOI Act in the last 10 years as there has been no concerted effort to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Act by public institutions under its authority and control.”
According to Mr. Fatuase, “There is now an urgent need for those charged with oversight functions with regards to the FOI Act to do more to ensure its effective implementation while the Federal Government itself, if it is serious about combating corruption, must demonstrate greater commitment to this piece of legislation that is designed to enthrone an open, transparent and accountable governance and thereby impede corrupt practices.”
He stressed that the Attorney-General of the Federation and the National Assembly, who have primary responsibility for overseeing the implementation of the Act, must live up to their statutory responsibilities in order to improve the level of compliance by public institutions with the Act in different critical areas.
Mr. Fatuase noted that MRA’s research findings showed “a particularly worrying low level of compliance in the submission of annual reports by public institutions, with hundreds of public institutions failing to submit their implementation reports annually and facing absolutely no consequence for their wilful and contemptuous disregard for the Law, not even a reprimand from any authority of the government.”
He also cited the latest Annual Report of the Attorney-General of the Federation on the implementation of the Act submitted to the National Assembly which reported that only 73 public institutions submitted reports in 2020, out of over 500 public institutions to which the FOI Act applies at the Federal level.
Mr. Fatuase also decried “the lack of responsiveness by most public institutions to requests for information from members of the public; their refusal to publish the categories of information that they are required to proactively disclose under the Act; the low number of public institutions that have designated FOI Desk Officers, and the painfully slow adjudication and resolution of cases arising under the Act by courts across the country.”
He advised the Attorney-General of the Federation, pursuant to the powers and responsibility conferred on him under section 29(6) of the Act, to adopt and implement a regime of administrative sanctions to be applied against public institutions and officials who fail to comply with the provisions of the Act, neglect to perform their duties and obligations under the Act or in any way violate the provisions of the Law.
Chairman, House Committee on Freedom of Information, House of Representatives, Cornelius Nnaji who revealed that only 73 of the over 900 public institutions in the country have complied with the provision of FOI Act on the disclosure of information, said the Official Secrets Act (OSA) of 1962 has continued to impede the implementation of the FOIA as it has continued to dominate the thinking and practice within the public service.
He also, informed that public officials have remained unwilling to adhere to the information structure, established under the FOIA, despite amendment of the OSA of 1962 by FOIA, disclosing that 90% of MDAs are not aware of the existence of the Act or committed to its implementation, a situation that calls for intensive broad-based awareness creation by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and other stakeholders on the right to access information through the mass media to reverse this ugly trend.
Describing the Freedom of Information as the ‘oxygen of democracy’ by Article 19 of the Global Campaign for Free Expression, Nnaji said this “implies that, without access to information and adequate disclosure within a democratic setting, quality delivery of goods and services as well as democracy dividends will always be a mirage to citizens.”
“The FOIA seeks to enable the public to access information in the custody of public institutions and relevant private bodies with a view to entrenching the culture of transparency and accountable leadership.
“The aim of the Act is to make public records and information more freely available to the public, while also, protecting certain public records and information to the extent that consistent with overriding public interest and protecting serving public officers from adverse consequences for disclosing certain kinds of information without authorization.
FOIA requires public institutions to proactively publish about 44 categories of information as outlined in (Section 2) for information produced by, or in relation to such bodies with present timelines in accordance with Section 7 of the Act, he stated.
He suggested that Freedom of Information units in all government agencies should be well resourced so that they would have the requisite capacity to execute their proactive mandate.
Naji further suggested that a service-wide circular should be promptly issued by both the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Head of Service of the Federation directing all public institutions to henceforth take concrete steps to prioritize compliance with their proactive disclosure obligations under the FOIA.
“The Head of Service should also encourage public institutions to digitalize their records which would make them preservable and easily accessible, while Government should ensure that capacity-building training on the Act takes place on a routine basis as opposed to an ad-hoc basis while ensuring that there are adequate funds provided.
“There is the need to encourage all institutions to embrace both statutory obligation of ensuring proactive disclosure of information and also responding to request for information as essential steps for promoting culture of transparency and accountability.
“Organizations should ensure that Freedom of Information activities are mainstreamed in their core business mandate/activities, to leverage on already available funds for various Freedom of Information activities as a matter of course.
“The Attorney General of the Federation should ensure effective realization of the objectives of the Act, by virtue of Section 29 should ensure that all institutions to which the Act applies and comply with the provisions of the Act.
“While the FOIA offer some sort of protection for whistle-blowers, there was the need for job security and protection of the families and funds of whistle-blowers,” he said, adding that, “Nigeria should learn from African countries such as Ghana, Uganda and South Africa which have enacted whistle-blowing legislations.”