Three Nigerian States Advancing Openness Reforms

11 February 2011

By Toby McIntosh

Frustrated with lack of action on freedom of information legislation at the national level, three states in Nigeria are taking steps to bring more transparency to the state level.

Three states are considering action – Ekiti, Lagos and Rivers, according to Nigerian activists and media accounts.  

The state efforts are occurring in the face of continuing inaction at the national level, where FOI bills have been pending for eleven years.  Dispairing of federal action, activists turned their attention to the state level.

This week some signs of life for the national FOI bill have emerged. (See related Freedominfo.org report.)

Efforts in Ekiti, Rivers, Lagos

But at the state level, promising movement toward more transparency has surfaced in three of Nigeria’s 36 states.

In  January, Ekiti Governor Kayode Fayemi said he had forwarded a FOI bill to the House of Assembly. 

He announced his plan in a television interview on his 100th day in office, according to a report in The Vanguard. A copy is not yet available. In November, Ekiti Deputy Governor Sikiru Tae Lawal endorsed national FOI legislation during a speech on journalism.

Rivers: Administration Action Pledged

Governor Rotimi Amechi of Rivers State last year said that open government “is the key factor that will turn Rivers State around” and pledged to support an open government initiative. He spoke at a September summit entitled “Public Communication a Tool for Good Governance: A Case for Open Government.” His pledge won praise from r2knigeria, a leading group promoting FOI legislation.

No bill has been proposed, but activists are working with the governor on a policy which would contain the basic ingredients of a FOI bill.  This could be implemented without legislation and possibly ease the path for eventual action by the state assembly.

Lagos: Movement Promised

A FOI bill has been introduced in the Lagos Assembly, which on Dec. 22 announced that it would pass the bill in January, according to a 234Next report.  This timetable has been delayed, however, and there is some concern that electoral activity could slow progress.

When the commitment to act was made, 234Next said:

Sponsored by the Majority Leader of the Assembly, Kolawole Taiwo, the bill has passed through its first reading. It is expected that the lawmakers will accelerate work on it and invite memoranda from the public, through a public hearing, before the end of the month.

We are not serious about democracy or the entrenchment of sound democratic principles if we do not take the freedom of information serious,” said Speaker Adeyemi Ikuforiji, during the first reading of the bill. “If the government continues to hide necessary information that can aid development from the people, then we cannot say we are in a democratic setting.”

Another article, in huhuonline.com, quoted the chairman of the House Committee on Information and Strategy, Ipoola Omisore, as saying that with the FOI bill, the Lagos Assembly would set the pace for other state assemblies. He said:

The bill is popular among the lawmakers in the Lagos Assembly. As progressive lawmakers, we want Nigeria to be free of fraud; championing the freedom of information is a good way to do this and to entrench good governance. The National Assembly should have passed the bill a long time ago; its members are foot-dragging, the same way they have refused to list in the Constitution the additional 37 local government councils created by the Lagos State Government. Passing the bill into law will serve as a catalyst to other state assemblies; we expect them to follow suit. By the time two-thirds of the state assemblies in Nigeria pass the bill, we hope the National Assembly will feel challenged.

The 234Next  report  quoted Abigail Ogwezzy, a professor of Mass Communications at the University of Lagos, as stating:

If Lagos State can pass it, it would project the state as a state complying with some international obligations and treaties on access to information laws for its citizens. So, if we can’t achieve this at the national level, we can start from the state. It would help the nation if Lagos State can blaze the trail and show the way, so that others can follow.

State Efforts Win Praise

Lawyers in The Media (LIM) in early February commended “the bold steps” of the governors of Lagos and Ekiti in forwarding FOI bills to their respective assemblies, The Daily Independent reported Feb. 9.

LIM chairman Gbolahan  Gbadamosi said in a statement that “the progressive step of both governors was in line with its insistence that information is not an item on exclusive legislative list hence the National Assembly do not have the  monopoly to legislate on it.”

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