INEC to Fully Adhere to FOI Act in New Communication Policy

INEC to Fully Adhere to FOI Act in New Communication Policy

…Says it is Designed to Enhance Transparency, Accountability, Integrity, Credibility Highlights of a new communication policy recently adopted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), is the resolve to fully comply with the provisions of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, to further enhance its transparency and accountability, while also reinforcing its public image of

…Says it is Designed to Enhance Transparency, Accountability, Integrity, Credibility

Highlights of a new communication policy recently adopted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), is the resolve to fully comply with the provisions of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, to further enhance its transparency and accountability, while also reinforcing its public image of integrity and credibility as well as strengthening public trust and confidence in the Commission.

Signed into law on May 28th, 2011, by President Goodluck Jonathan, the Freedom of Information Act grants every person, including all Nigerians, the right to access information held by public institutions. However many public agencies have complied to the Act in the breach, making the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) which spearheaded the push for the FOI Act, to put the defaulting agencies in its black book.   

“As such, all public institutions have a legally binding duty to comply with its provisions and can be compelled to do so. Government or public institutions to which the Act applies are defined in three separate provisions in the FOI Act, namely in sections 2 (7), 29 (9)(a) and 31. It is quite clear from these definitions that the FOI Act applies to INEC and that the Commission is under a legal obligation to comply with the Law and fully implement it,” INEC says, adding that, “The framework for the disclosure of information to members of the public under the FOI Act will therefore form an integral part of the Communication Policy of the Commission.”

The FOI Act places two major obligations on INEC as a public institution. The first obligation is to publish certain types of information proactively and routinely, even without any request from anyone for the information. The list of information, documents and records to be published proactively are contained in Section 2(3)(a) to (f) of the Act.

INEC, like other public institutions, is required to ensure that the information referred to in this section is widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic and online sources, and at the offices of such public institutions.

INEC says it will use its website and various publications to publish and disseminate these information, documents and records as may be suitable and appropriate.

“As a matter of policy, INEC will also grow and increase the number of documents and information that it discloses proactively beyond the requirements of the Law, so as to make such documents and information automatically available to the public and thereby reduce the number of requests for information it receives from the public and consequently, the burden on its personnel in processing individual requests for information.”

The second obligation on public institutions is to respond speedily, not later than seven days, to requests for information from members of the public.

In compliance with Section 2(3)(f) of the FOI Act and the Guidelines on the Implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, Revised Edition 2013, issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, INEC says it will set up a Freedom of Information Unit and designate a senior official, of at least Assistant Director level, as the head of the Unit.

The Unit will have direct responsibility for reviewing or considering applications for information from members of the public and determining what records, documents or information should be disclosed as well as generally ensuring compliance with the provisions of the Act through the adoption of institutional best practices.

The Unit will undertake a periodic review of record keeping and maintenance procedures within INEC; report to and liaise with the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation; prepare a record map or chart for INEC; and ensure compliance with the proactive disclosure obligations of INEC.

In the light of Section 13 of the Act, which specifically provides that: “Every government or public institution must ensure the provision of appropriate training for its officials on the public’s right to access to information or records held by government or public institutions, as provided for in this Act and for the effective implementation of this Act”, INEC will ensure the provision of appropriate training for its officials in order to:

• Properly sensitize them on the public’s right of access to information or records held by the Commission; and

• Equip the relevant officials within the Freedom of Information Unit with the knowledge, skills and ability to effectively implement the Act.

The Freedom of Information Unit, under the supervision of the Chairman of the Commission, will be responsible for ensuring regular training and re-training of INEC staff and officials, both within and outside the Unit, on their Freedom of Information Act related obligations.

INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu says for the Commission “to succeed in discharging its constitutional responsibilities, it is necessary for it to have an efficient and effective communication strategy within the Commission itself and with its outside publics. This necessity is underscored by the size, scope and variety of these publics, aka (also known as) stakeholders.”

“These stakeholders include, first and foremost, the country’s voting population which currently stands at 84, 004, 084 (Eighty-Four million, Four Thousand and Eighty-Four). Other stakeholders are our robust mainstream and social media, civil society organisations, youth service corps members whose role as election-day officials has since become virtually indispensable, our overseas development partners, the security services, notably the Nigerian Police, and last but by no means the least, the political parties of which there are presently 91 – and counting.

“The need to communicate clearly and precisely within the over 16,000-staff strength of the Commission itself, and with its huge and varied outside stakeholders in carrying out its mandate was of such great importance that INEC included it among its five strategic objectives, the first time it took the decision to have a Communication Policy five years ago.

“Since then, much has changed in the politics and socio-economics of the country. Accordingly, the Commission took a decision to revise its Communication Policy to take into account these changes. To this end, the revised policy contained in this document has incorporated new techniques, multiple platforms and monitoring templates for the attainment of the objectives contained in the Commission’s Strategic Plan,” the INEC chairman says..

The communication policy/strategy is informed by the following general principles:

• The need for the Commission to earn and sustain public trust;

• The need for the Commission to be visible, accessible and accountable to the public;

• The need for the Commission to comply with legislations requiring transparency and proactive disclosure of information;

• The need for the Commission to have an integrated approach to information dissemination that is both traditional and IT driven; and

• The need for staff to use information technology and communication facilities responsibly and professionally.

The communication policy/strategy seeks to attain the following objectives:

• To enhance INEC’s transparency, credibility and integrity as well as to strengthen and sustain public trust and confidence in the Commission;

• To ensure INEC’s visibility, accessibility and accountability, using a variety of communication channels/languages and targeting diverse stakeholders;

• To provide the public with timely and accurate information about the Commission’s policies, programs, services and initiatives;

• To promote mass participation in the registration and voting processes;

• To provide information that would enable the public make informed electoral choices and have sufficient knowledge about institutional mechanisms for seeking redress; and

• To foster partnerships with stakeholders towards achieving the goals of the policy.

A facility that will play a major role in INEC’s public communication with some of its critical stakeholders is its Citizen Contact Centre (ICCC), which will be domiciled in the Voter Education and Publicity department to be headed by an officer not below the rank of assistant director.

The ICCC is designed as a modified Situation Room and a channel for continuous communication and exchange of information principally with voters, but also with other stakeholders in the electoral process. It will operate during official working hours from Monday to Friday, between 9am and 5pm. However, during elections, the operations of the ICCC will be escalated to 24 hours.

The ICCC will primarily utilize new communication technologies and social media platforms as well as create linkages between radio and new media to reach out to voters who will then be provided with incident reporting tools and channels. The ICCC will target all Nigerian citizens and utilize different social media platforms to reach out to them and create feedback mechanisms. The use of social media within the framework of the ICCC will provide a vehicle for the unprecedented mobilisation of an emergent and active generation of youths in the political process at very little cost.

INEC also intends strengthening its internal communication process averring that, “Effective internal communication is the foundation upon which every institution is based. It is critical for the seamless coordination of the management and staff of any organization, especially in a big one like INEC, with such a large number of permanent staff and an even larger number of ad hoc staff who are engaged during periods of elections.”

“It is necessary for building greater cohesion within the Commission and fostering a sense of belonging among all members. It also helps everyone to have a common understanding of the organization’s philosophy and vision. With good internal communication systems and processes, staff will be better integrated into the work of the organization and properly motivated,” it says.

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