COMMUNIQUE ISSUED AT THE END OF A ONE-DAY ROUNDTABLE WITH MDAS AND CSOS ON FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT IMPLEMENTATION AND CHALLENGES IN NIGERIA ORGANISED BY CITIZENS VOICE AGAINST CORRUPTION (CIVAC) IN COLLABORATION WITH THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATON COALITION, NIGERIA (FOICIN) HELD AT IMMACULATE HOTEL, ABUJA ON 4TH FEBRUARY, 2021
Nigeria is among more than ninety countries in the world and among the eleven countries in Africa that passed the Freedom of information act. The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act was signed on the 28th of May 2011 by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. The Act grants citizens legal right to access information, records and documents held by government agencies and related entities carrying out public functions.
The Act was intended to make government agencies and partner private entities to function with more transparency and accountability so that the public could easily identify problems in government functions and demand government officials to address them.
It is believed that an informed public is vital for proper operation of a democracy and the FOI Act provides a means for citizens to access, evaluate and criticize decisions taken by government agencies which will go a long way in promoting the democracy we practice as a form of government.
Citizens Voice against Corruption (CIVAC) in collaboration with The Freedom of Information Coalition, Nigeria (FOICN) organized aone-day roundtable with MDAs and CSOs on Freedom of Information implementation. The roundtable aimed at engaging MDAs, CSOs and Media on FOI Implementation, compliance and misuse in Nigeria and how the FOIA can be used to effectively bring about openness, transparency and accountability in governance. The meeting is also aimed at facilitating establishment of National Monitoring Team on FOI.
After participants constructively and exhaustively discussed challenges, misuse and poor compliance issues, the following observations and recommendations were made:
- There have been poor Implementation and compliance by the MDAs to the FOI Act to ensure openness, transparency and accountability in governance.
- The FOI Act is been ‘misused’ to generate stories that betray the greater truth. Certain actor’s especially unscrupulous civil society organizations and individuals in the society have been abusing this right, by accessing vital state information and using it in such a manner to misguide the public or blackmail government officials, institutions and private business entities.
- If FOIA is properly implemented and complied with, corruption will be reduced to the barest minimum.
- The Nigerian citizens’ usage of the FOI Act to get information has been very poor due to the ignorance of the provisions of the Act.
- Some MDAs officials are not aware or pretend not to be aware that the provisions of FOIA outlaw the oath of Secret Act except as enshrined in the exclusion and exemption section of the FOI Act.
- Poor record keeping, lack of knowledge of the Act and its provisions are some of the reasons for the poor response from the MDAs.
- The capacity gap on the FOIA within the MDAs, CSOs and citizens is still very low.
- The Nigerian citizens are yet to own the anti-corruption war, that is why corruption is still much thriving.
- That the lack of strong institution in Nigeria is another major barrier and a great set back to the effective fight against corruption in Nigeria.
- That the establishment of desk offices for FOI in some MDAs have not been effected till date.
- The office of the AGF should establish non-state actors monitoring team to support in overseeing the implementation of the FOI Act to ensure its effective implementation and compliance by MDAs.
- That the Attorney General of the Federation and Minster of Justice, being the recipient of FOI annual performance report to look into the criminal element of filing the FOI request to ensure that those with criminal intents are brought to justice, so as to build the confidence of legitimate information seekers and providers.
- That there is the need to review the FOI Act to include punishment for applicant who uses the law for criminal purposes, bribery and extortion.
- Sensitize government agencies on proper compliance with FOI request in accordance with the Act.
- There is need to continuously train and build capacity of members of the MDAs to understand the FOIA, its effective implementation and compliance.
- There is urgent need for continuous sensitization and awareness creation to the general public through several medium of engagement for them to understand the FOIA, its provisions, importance and usage for the purpose of promoting openness, transparency and accountability in governance and not for any dubious means.
- That there is the need for government and civil society to use the Open Government Partnership (OGP) framework to ensure smooth implementation of FOI Act in Nigeria.
- There is urgent need to establish desk offices for the FOI in all MDAs where there is none.
Abdulrazaq Alkali Dr. Walter Duru
Lead Convener, Chairman, Board of Governors,
Citizens Voice Against Corruption (CIVAC) FOI Coalition, Nigeria.