-Story Melody Akinjiyan and Victor Osungboun- The issue was ‘the use of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by media and civil society’ to promote transparency in governance. The setting was the conference hall of the International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos-Nigeria in Ogba area of Lagos while the event was a media tweet conference organized by IPC
-Story Melody Akinjiyan and Victor Osungboun-
The issue was ‘the use of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by media and civil society’ to promote transparency in governance.
The setting was the conference hall of the International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos-Nigeria in Ogba area of Lagos while the event was a media tweet conference organized by IPC in collaboration with the Public Affairs Section of the U.S Consulate General in Lagos under a media and transparency watch project funded by the latter.
On hand to serve as the lead speaker was Deputy Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Olukayode Majekodunmi who kick started by asserting that attaining a democratic dispensation that guarantees good governance is a function of transparent governance systems and institutions.
Mr. Majekodunmi thereafter proceeded to assess the state of usage of the law which came into existence in the year 2011.
According to the SERAP Executive Director, the assessment of the state of usage of the FOI act indicates that over 90 % of public institutions violate Section 29 of the FOI Act that mandates submission of annual report by February of each year, with the National Assembly, EFCC, NNPC and the security agencies among the worst culprits.
Majekodunmi decried the fact that the FOI Act does not have sanctions for non-compliant agencies adding also that the short time limit for granting or refusing of requests affects the implementation of the FOIA. His words: “Understanding the full impact of the Act is a challenge and getting the Judiciary on the same wavelength is a limitation”. He equally frowned at the excessive number of exempt clauses in the Act.
In order to overcome the challenges, he suggested that the Freedom of Information Act should be reviewed so that about 10 sections of the law which dwell on non-disclosure of information will be looked into.
He also said there was the need for more public enlightenment on the usage of the Act while there should be constructive engagement with the Judiciary to facilitate the smooth implementation of the Act.
Contributing to the discourse, Kabir Alabi Garba, Art/Media Editor, The Guardian newspaper noted that since information is central to living, Journalists have a critical role to play in ensuring transparency in information dissemination emphasizing that the purpose of information is the purpose of journalism.
He added that the FOIA guarantees the right of the public in any society to access information held by government officials and institutions, thereby promoting transparency, openness and accountability, which are the variables of growth and development, couched in democratic parlance as good governance.
“Media and civil society organizations need to close ranks and work together as it was in the beginning of the struggle in 1993, which was sustained until the Bill was passed in 2011”, he admonished.
“Although there is need for systematic study to assess how well the law has changed the landscape, the general assumption is that CSOs have been more active, while the media has been passive both as practitioners who seek to access public information and records as well as public institutions responding to FOI requests”, he said, urging all and sundry to be more responsive in the use of the provision of the FOI to advance the promotion of transparency in government.
In his remarks, Lanre Arogundade, Director, IPC lamented that despite the existence of FOI Act, it was quite worrisome that a wall of darkness still envelopes the true earnings of our elected leaders; be it in the legislature or the executive as well as equally worrisome that transactions in the oil sector are still shrouded in secrecy based on the under belly of wide spread corruption.
“It should be noted that the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) revealed recently, that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has continued to fail to neither make full disclosure of its entire earnings nor pay into government coffers the full income it is generating”, he stated.
“There is also the embarrassing controversy over the 2016 budget in terms of what constitutes the original version, the true version, the mutilated version, the un-mutilated version, etc. Yet we have in place the three-year old FOI Act whose enactment was believed would pave the way to greater accountability and transparency by those who exercise public authority on behalf of the people”, he added.
“The big questions that have arisen therefore are: what has happened or what is happening to the FOI Act? How effectively has the media been able to use it in the course of fulfilling its constitutional obligation to monitor governance and hold government accountable to the people? How effectively has the civil society been able to use the FOI Act in the performance of their oversight functions in the areas of accountability, transparency and good governance; and what are the challenges being faced by the media and the civil society in their attempt to use the FOI Act to promote transparency and accountability?”, Arogundade queried.
The event which attracted a cross section of journalists and civil society actors is the 2nd in the series of the media and transparency tweet-a-thons organized by IPC.