Nigerian President Signs Freedom of Information Bill

3 June 2011

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has signed a freedom information bill.

The president’s signature May 28 came 11 years after a FoI bill was first submitted to Nigeria’s 4th National Assembly in 1999. A bill was passed by both chambers in the first quarter of 2007, but was vetoed by President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The newly enacted Freedom of Information Act:

*        Guarantees the right of access to information held by public institutions, irrespective of the form in which it is kept and is applicable to private institutions where they utilize public funds, perform public functions or provide public services.

*        Requires all institutions to proactively disclose basic information about their structure and processes and mandates them to build the capacity of their staff to effectively implement and comply with the provisions of the Act

*        Provides protection for whistleblowers.

*        Makes adequate provision for the information needs of illiterate and disabled applicants;

*        Recognizes a range of legitimate exemptions and limitations to the public’s right to know, but it makes these exemptions subject to a public interest test that, in deserving cases, may override such exemptions.

*        Creates reporting obligations on compliance with the law for all institutions affected by it. These reports are to be provided annually to the Federal Attorney General’s office, which will in turn make them available to both the National Assembly and the public.

*        Requires the Federal Attorney-General to oversee the effective implementation of the Act and report on execution of this duty to Parliament annually.

Supporters Praise New Law

“With the new law, Nigerians finally have vital tools to uncover facts, fight corruption and hold officials and institutions accountable,” said Ene Enonche, Coordinator of the Right to Know initiative, said.

 “The new law will profoundly change how government works in Nigeria . Now we can use the oxygen of information and knowledge to breathe life into governance. It will no longer be business as usual”,” said Maxwell Kadiri,  Associate Legal Officer, Open Society Justice Initiative .

Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda said: “The signing of the FoI Bill into law is the clearest demonstration ever of the power of civil society working together to influence public policy and initiate reform. We are committed to continuing our concerted efforts to ensure that the new law achieves its ultimate objective of making government work for the people.”

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