By Funmi Falobi.
Nigerian citizens have been urged to familiarise themselves with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in order to access public information and promote transparency in the country.
This was the outcome by experts at a tweet a-thon entitled “The Use of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by Media and Civil Society in the Quest for Transparency in Nigeria” organised by the International Press Centre (IPC) with support of Public Affairs Section, U.S. Consulate General, Lagos.
The FOIA , according to discussants at the forum can be used to curb corruption and entrench transparency in Nigeria if Nigerians including professionals make use of it as it was revealed that over 90 percent of public institutions violates Section 29 that mandates submission of Report on every February 1 with National Assembly, Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and security agencies being worst culprits.
According to the lead speaker, Olukayode Majekodunmi, Deputy Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP): “It is important for the citizens including the media to use the Act as the only way to make Nigerian government accountable is through the FOIA.”
He noted that to bring the Act to public domain, there is need for more public enlightenment on the usage of the Act and the judiciary should be more engaged to help in its implementation.
On the challenges of the Act, Majekodunmi said sanctions are not provided for non-compliant agencies. He therefore called for the review of the act saying “The Freedom of Information Act needs to be reviewed so that about 10 sections of the law which dwell on non-disclosure of information will be looked into.”
On his part, Kabir Garba, Editor, Art/Media, The Guardian newspaper said journalists have role to play if the Act must succeed. While declaring that there are still challenges facing the act five years after its passage, he stated that the civil society organisations have been more active while the media have been passive in the usage of the FOIA.
“The media was active in agitating for the law and now that it has been passed we seem to go to bed. If not for the CSOs the success recorded so far would not have been there. There is need for media and CSOs to collaborate as it was in the beginning of the struggle in 1993, which was sustained until the Bill was passed in 2011,” he said.
He declared that journalists should elevate discussion on FOiA: “So far, the war against corruption in Nigeria are still government led and not media led and is not good for democracy because they will give us what they want us to hear”, he noted.
In his speech, IPC Director, Lanre Arogundade said decision to focus on the use of the Freedom of Information Act by the media and the civil society was based on recent happenings in the country which shows that the journey towards transparency in Nigeria could take longer than anticipated despite the change of government a year ago.
“It is quite worrisome that a wall of darkness envelopes the true earnings of our elected leaders; be it in the legislature or the executive. It is equally worrisome that transactions in the oil sector are still shrouded in secrecy based on the under belly of wide spread corruption. It is “Also worrisome that there have been so many corruption allegations that have left members of the public wondering whether this cankerworm can actually be terminated or whether it is fighting back and defeating the nation.
There is also the embarrassing controversy over the 2016 budget in terms of what constitutes the original version, the true version, the mutilated version, the un-mutilated version, etc.
Yet we have in place the three-year old FOI Act whose enactment was believed would pave the way to greater accountability and transparency by those who exercise public authority on behalf of the people,” he said.