Nigeria FOI Advocates Seek More Training of Judges

5 February 2015

Nigerian Freedom of Information advocates on Feb. 2 called for “the sensitization of judges” about the Freedom of Information Act because many of them are issuing “decisions that are inconsistent with the spirit and letters of the Law.”

In a communiqué at the end of their three-day Freedom of Information Implementers Strategy Meeting, held in Abuja from Jan. 27 to 29, 2015, the 120 participants pointed out that cases “are routinely taking more than one year to resolve in the courts of first instance despite the requirement in the Act that FOI cases should be dealt with summarily.”

The communiqué states that “if the Act is going to be effective, the Bar and the Bench must play a more positive role in its implementation and that effective strategies should be put in place for addressing the legal and judicial challenges.”

Measures should be taken to sensitize judges about the act. The involvement of the National Judicial Institute and the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies was suggested.

The meeting was organized by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Democratic Governance for Development (DGD) II Project. The participants were addressed by the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Augustine Alegeh (SAN), the keynote Speaker; and Kelechi Nwosu, President of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN).

Improvements Seen

The communiqué also referenced “tremendous improvements in the implementation of the FOI Act in recent times” and “a significant increase in the level of usage of the Act by different people.”

The level of usage, however, remains “far too low.” The communiqué expressed dissatisfaction “with the current situation where it is impossible to tell how many people are actually using the Act, what categories of people use it, or what types of information are being requested, saying that there is a need to collaboratively develop a mechanism for tracking all FOI requests across the country so as to provide reliable data and statistics about the usage of the Law.”

The communiqué commends “the efforts of lawyers providing free legal assistance to individuals and organizations to vindicate their rights of access to information whenever they are wrongfully denied information and called on other legal practitioners to join such efforts.” It urged the Nigerian Bar Association to device ways to provide litigation assistance.

Coalition Reorganized

The meeting restructured the Freedom of Information Coalition to reposition it from its original advocacy role to an implementation coordination role and elected a Board of Governors to manage the affairs of the Coalition with a Secretariat to be hosted by Media Rights Agenda until it is able to set up an independent office.

Members of the Board of Governors are: Yusuf Yakub Arrigasiyyu from the Muslim League for Accountability (MULAC) in Kaduna;  Isah Garba from the Bauchi State Coalition for the Improvement of Public Expenditure Management (BACIPEM) in Bauchi;  Terna Yanayka of the Centre for Public Opinion and Media Research (CePOMeR) in Abuja; Bob Dum Lezina Amegua, a legal practitioner with Karibi-Whyte & Co (Coronation Chambers) in Port Harcourt;  Walter Duru of the Media Initiative Against Injustice Violence and Corruption (MIIVOC) in Owerri; Motunrayo Alaka of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) in Lagos;  Jennifer Onyejekwe of Media Rights Agenda (MRA) in Lagos.

Also see a report on the event, with photos, by Dotun Roy, an article in The Independent on the speech by the president of the Nigerian Bar Association, an article in Daily Trust.


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