How pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions deny Nige­ri­ans right to in­for­ma­tion

Daily Trust - - HEALTH - By John Chuks Azu

As a le­gal prac­ti­tioner, Hamid Aji­bola Ji­moh thought it would be easy to ob­tain in­for­ma­tion from a pub­lic agency on an is­sue that mat­ters to him. But af­ter sev­eral cor­re­spon­dents, his re­quest was not obliged.

Dis­ap­pointed by the devel­op­ment and the fact that many agen­cies don’t pub­lish ad­e­quate in­for­ma­tion on their web­site, he filed a suit be­fore a Fed­eral High Court in Abuja chal­leng­ing ac­tion of the agency.

The crux of his suit is that the court should com­pel them to pro­vide the rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion both in copy and on­line, that is their of­fi­cial web­site.

Ji­moh’s ex­pe­ri­ence is not iso­lated. Civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions, jour­nal­ists and NGOs have at var­i­ous times been de­nied right to ac­cess in­for­ma­tion from pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions un­der the FOI Act.

Since the en­act­ment of the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion (FOI) Act in 2011, com­pli­ance has been ob­served in the breach by those re­spon­si­ble, thereby be­tray­ing the pur­pose.

The le­gal right to in­for­ma­tion helps the pub­lic hold au­thor­i­ties ac­count­able for their ac­tions and al­lows pub­lic de­bate to be bet­ter in­formed and more pro­duc­tive. It in­fuses an in­clu­sive gov­er­nance and demo­cratic cul­ture.

So far, only few in­sti­tu­tions are known to be in ap­pre­cia­ble com­pli­ance with the pro­vi­sions of the FOI Act. They in­clude: Bureau Pub­lic Ser­vice Re­forms (BPSR) and the Na­tional Ex­trac­tive In­dus­tries Trans­parency Ini­tia­tive (NEITI).

Others are: Fed­eral Min­istry of Jus­tice, Akanu Ibiam Fed­eral Poly, Debt Man­age­ment Of­fice, the Min­istry of Bud­get and Na­tional Plan­ning, the Fed­eral Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Nige­rian Chris­tian Pil­grims Com­mis­sion (NCPC), Nige­rian Ex­port Pro­mo­tion Coun­cil (NEPC), Na­tional In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy Devel­op­ment Agency (NITDA), and the Fed­eral Air­port Au­thor­ity of Nige­ria (NPA).

While Sec­tion 1 of the FOI Act es­tab­lishes the right to ac­cess any in­for­ma­tion from pub­lic of­fi­cial, agency or in­sti­tu­tion, about 10 other sec­tions made ex­press pro­vi­sions for de­nial of such of in­for­ma­tion. These sec­tions are: 7, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 26.

Also the pre-em­i­nence of of­fi­cials ori­ented un­der the Of­fi­cial Se­crets Act, Sta­tis­tics Act, Ev­i­dence Act, Crim­i­nal Code, among others, have con­sti­tuted bot­tle­necks to the smooth en­force­ment of the FOI Act.

But Abuja-based lawyer, Max Ogar said ac­ces­si­bil­ity of in­for­ma­tion un­der the FOI Act is not ab­so­lute as in­for­ma­tion that could breach na­tional se­cu­rity or the pri­vacy of an­other in­di­vid­ual may be with­held by pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions as pro­vided un­der the Act.

He main­tained that by the pro­vi­sions of the Act, ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion can be found un­der Chap­ter two of the Con­sti­tu­tion, which are not en­force­able, and can­not be viewed as a fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights as pro­vided un­der Chap­ter 4 of the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Ji­moh how­ever said such rights can be jus­ti­cia­ble if there are Acts of gov­ern­ment es­tab­lish­ing them.

The of­fice of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral of the Fed­er­a­tion and Min­istry of Jus­tice has ex­pressed de­ter­mi­na­tion to mon­i­tor, pro­mote and pro­tect the right to ac­cess in­for­ma­tion from pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions.

Speak­ing dur­ing the in­au­gu­ra­tion of the web­site and FOI Por­tal of the min­istry in part­ner­ship with the Right to Know (R2K) on Thurs­day in Abuja, The AGF, Abubakar Malami (SAN) said Sec­tion 29 (1) of the FOI Act has em­pow­ered the of­fice as an over­sight or­gan for mon­i­tor­ing, pro­mot­ing and pro­tect­ing the right to ac­cess records and in­for­ma­tion.

Malami ex­plained that the pro­vi­sions of the Act en­cour­age pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions to com­ply with Proac­tive Dis­clo­sure obli­ga­tions un­der Sec­tion 2 of the Act.

Also speak­ing, Ene Nwankpa, the co­or­di­na­tor of Right to Know (R2K), which part­nered with the min­istry to build the FOI por­tal, com­mended Act­ing Pres­i­dent Yemi Os­in­bajo for is­su­ing “ex­ec­u­tive or­ders all of which tak­ing to­gether is aimed at open­ing up gov­ern­ment and pro­mot­ing ac­count­abil­ity and ef­fi­ciency in do­ing busi­ness with gov­ern­ment of­fi­cers and of­fices.”

She there­fore called on stake­hold­ers to harness the ben­e­fits of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy to ad­vance ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion “with the FOI Act now op­er­a­tionally strength­ened by the ex­ec­u­tive or­ders.”

Abubakar Malami (SAN)

Act­ing Pres­i­dent Yemi Os­in­bajo

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