Nigerian Legislator Blames Media for Holding Up FOI Bill

3 September 2010

A key Nigerian legislator has indicated that passage of a Freedom of Information bill is conditional on the inclusion of provisions concerning media responsibility.

His position drew a rebuttal from groups supporting the long-stalled FOI bill.

Iyiola Omisore, chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, “has blamed journalists for the delay of the passage of the Freedom of Information bill,” according to an account Aug. 31 in Next by Jide Jegede. The story continued:

The former Osun State deputy governor, who featured
at the guest forum of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Oyo
State council, on Monday, noted that supporters of the bill were not
ready to agree with the responsibilities that go with free access to

According to him, the nation’s legislative arm could
not pass the bill after several months of its proposal because media
leaders were not ready to allow inclusion of clauses for penalties for
publishing inaccurate information and falsehood.

 “We want freedom of information. To every freedom,
there must be responsibility. What we attached to it (FoI Bill) you
people do not want to take it. We invited the NUJ people to come and
speak with us that if you do this, this is your penalty.

“You are free to write anything, but if you write
what is not true, you go to jail. I was in detention for three years
for the lies published by Tempo magazine against me. And immediately I was arrested, they folded up,” he said.

Groups Protest Position

The conditionality suggested by the senator was rejected by three groups supporting a Nigerian FOI law, who urged the legislature to act. The letter to Senate President David Mark on Sept. 2 was sent by the Africa Freedom of Information Centre, Kampala Uganda, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, and the Coalition on the Right to Information, Ghana.

The letter says that Nigerian citizens “have a right to information in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights  both of which Nigeria has ratified.” It also says that the right to freedom of expression and information is guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution.

“We would like to remind the leadership and legislators in Nigeria that they have a duty to expeditiously debate and adopt a law to facilitate citizens enjoy their right to information without any conditions,” the letter says, continuing:

We also would like to bring it to the attention of legislators that freedom of information goes beyond journalists or any particular segment of the population and is a matter for every citizen irrespective of social status, gender, colour or race.

AFIC expresses deep concern over the delays and lack of progress on this important bill whose passing and implementation will positively impact on the quality of governance as much as the quality of life through improved service delivery in such areas as health, education, employment and social security.

The bill’s prospects have recently been called grim by supporters.

Another legislator told reporters July 6 that passage this year was not guaranteed but that lawmakers were working on various “grey areas.”  (See previous article)

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