Nigerian House Passes FOI Bill Without Opposition

25 February 2011

The Nigerian House of Representatives Feb. 24 passed a freedom of information bill without opposition.

Senate action is still required.

The action by the House, however, was a major step forward after the bill seemed to have stalled in 2010.  FOI legislation has been pending in Nigeria for 11 years and had not been debated in the House for four years. President  Goodluck Jonathan  has indicated his willingness to sign FOI legislation.  Minister of Information Labaran Maku in January urged lawmakers to pass the bill, sparking activity. (See previous report.)

Looking ahead, Nigerian media accounts had limited information about the bill’s chances in the Senate. Emmanuel Ogala, in 234Next, reported:

For the bill to become law, however, the Senate will have to pass its own version. Passage of the bill by the Representatives is expected to put more pressure on the Senate to do likewise. Presently, the Senate’s version of the bill is with its Committee on Information. The House leadership said yesterday that it would send its version of the bill to the Senate for concurrence and harmonization before it is forwarded to the president for assent. Calls and text messages to the spokesperson of the Senate, Ayogu Eze and his deputy, Anthony Manzu, to ask for when the Senate will pass its own version of the bill did not go through.

Pro-transparency groups welcomed the step but cautioned again celebration

The bill would provide Nigerians and non-Nigerians the right to access  records kept by public institutions, or by private bodies carrying out public functions, in whatever form an applicant wants, within seven days. Denials could be appealed in court and three year prison penalties are established for deliberate circumvention of the law. Exemptions provided include the right to refuse to disclose any record which may be “injurious to the conduct of international affairs and the defence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” Pro-active disclosure is mandated for some information, as described in The Nigerian Observer.

The House deleted several clauses, 12 and 18, leaving 32 clauses, according to The Vanguard report.

Clause 12 was deleted because the issue that the section seeks to address is already dealt with by Clauses 11 and 21 of this Bill while Clause 18 was deleted because it relates to information that have not been perfected and no public institution can be held responsible for proposals and decisions not perfected.

The changes were described as minor by one of the House sponsors, Abike Dabiri. A report in The Daily Independent  said:

She however said there is still some hurdles to cross because the Senate has to pass the Bill for concurrence, noting that if the same Bill was not passed in the upper chamber they would have to harmonise.

She said the deleted clauses have no impact on the content of the Bill because the committee worked hand-in-hand with the FoI Bill Coalition Group.

“What we have is a Bill that will make it possible for Nigerians to have the right to information, and it is a major step forward for our democracy”, she said.

The House action was based on a report by a joint committee.

First introduced in 1999, FOI legislation passed the Assembly in 2007, but then President Olusegun Obasanjo refused to sign it into law, citing national security concerns.

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