Nigerian Senate Passes Modified FOI Legislation

16 March 2011

The Nigerian Senate March 16 passed a freedom of information bill considered weaker than the House bill and a “harmonization conference committee” has been appointed to resolve the differences.

During debate March 15, the Senate amended the bill to eliminate a provision that would have required requesters to demonstrate “the need” for disclosure of the requested  information.

That proviso, which was added by a Senate committee, was criticized during the debate, and voted out, as reported in The Vanguard.

Also controversial was a provision that was criticized by Senator Lee Meaba (PDP, Rivers), who warned, according to a report in ThisDayLive that “unless section 39(3) of the constitution is amended, the FOI would be impotent.

The section states:”Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society -(a) For the purpose of preventing the disclosure. of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films; or(b) Imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or of a State, members of the armed forces of the Federation or members of the Nigeria Police Force or other Government security services or agencies established by law.”

It was unclear from media reports if this clause was altered during the Senate debate.

To resolve the differences between the House and Senate bills, a six-person Harmonisation Conference Committee headed by Information and Media Committee Chairman, Ayogu Eze, was formed.

For media reports on the Senate action, see The Nation, The Independent, and The Daily Champion.

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