Nigerian Group Urges More Commitment to FOI Law

1 October 2012

The Right to Know coalition in Nigeria has called “for greater commitment” by the government to the provisions of the new freedom of information law.

“R2K notes with great concern that 18 months after the enactment of the FOI Act there is no official gazetted copy of the Law. Worse still, public institutions are yet to reach acceptable levels of compliance with the FOI Act as regards to responding within 7 days to FOI requests for access to information,” according to the Sept. 28 statement.

The release continues: “Observing that majority of FOI requests end up in courts and most public institutions are compelled by the courts to release information. So far no public institution in the country has complied with the proactive disclosure provisions mandated by the Act and only 23 public institutions submitted the mandatory annual compliance report to the Attorney-General of the Federation.”

The group also released a report on implementation as part of its activities to celebrate International Right to Know Day. Among other things, the review of activity since the law’s passage in 2011 says the lack of responsiveness to requests is “pervasive.”

Ene Enonche, the R2K’s National Coordinator stated: “While the testing of the FOI Act in our courts is good for precedence and interpretation of the law, it seems to make more sense for public institutions to develop the will to comply with the clear provisions of the Act. Open and transparent governance is not enhanced when citizens feel that they need to resort to the long and arduous path of litigation before they are able to obtain information from public institutions. Apart from the length of time it would take for litigations and appeals, there is also the considerable expense of the entire legal process, beyond the reach of many ordinary Nigerians.”

Separately, in an interview, Rep Matthew M. Omegara, the chairman of the House committee on reform of government institutions and the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, says the law is a success and has strong words for the media.

“I have consistently accused the press of subverting the FOI Act, the press is the enemy of itself, and they only come out and name the FOI Act when they are arrested or molested. As soon as that goes down, they forget about it,” he stated in the interview.

He also said:

The committee on reforms of government institutions is principally set up to implement the FOI Law which is about letting Nigerians know that they have the right to know certain things about their government. There are institutions that are lying moribund, when they are brought to our notice, we will be able to take it up at the National Assembly and advice the executive. Ours is to make the laws and then the executive would merge them where they have become irrelevant and continued to be a drain pipe to the Nigerian economy.

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