A two day National Summit on the Freedom of Information Act was held at the NICON Luxury Hotel in Abuja last week attracting a total of 164 participants, from various sectors and interest groups. They came from the National Assembly, the Presidency, institutions and agencies of the Executive at Federal, State and Local Government levels; the Judiciary, anti-corruption agencies, regulatory and other oversight bodies; civil society, the media, the private sector, public corporations and state-owned enterprises, as well as the general public.
Organised by the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and sponsored by Pact Nigeria, the objective of the summit was to engage in broad-based consultations among representatives of key stakeholders with outcomes that should feed into a variety of ongoing processes to develop strategies and action plans for effective implementation of the FOI Act.
The opening ceremony last Monday attracted government functionaries such as the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, who declared it open; while the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), represented by his Special Adviser, Professor Deji Adekunle, delivered the Keynote Address. Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of the Sokoto Diocese presided over the opening ceremony.
Key personalities that spoke at the Summit included the Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who was represented by the Attorney-General of Ekiti State, Mr. Dayo Adelaja; Mr. Mobolaji Adebiyi, Special Assistant (Media) to President Goodluck Jonathan; Mr. Ehi E. Okoyomon, Managing Director and CEO of the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company Plc.; Dr. Sam Amadi, Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission; Hon. Matthew Omegara, the Chair of the House of Representatives Committee on the Freedom of Information Act; Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chair of the House of Representatives Committee on the Diaspora; Mrs. Ayo Obe, former President of the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO); Dr. Bassey I. Etim-Ikang, Director of Research, Planning and Statistics in the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation; Hon. Kehinde Bamgbetan, Chairman of Ejigbo Local Government Council of Lagos State; and Mr. Gbenga Sesan, ICT expert and Project Director of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN).
During the plenary session, it was observed that the right of access to information held by governments and government bodies at all levels is a fundamental right, which every Nigerian is entitled to enjoy. The 6th National Assembly was therefore commended for finally passing the Freedom of Information Bill in 2011 in recognition of this right. Also commended was President Goodluck Jonathan for his bold and courageous move in signing the Bill into Law.
The summit noted and fully endorsed President Jonathan’s statement of firm belief upon the signing the FOI Bill into Law that the Act would “strengthen all institutions to ensure greater transparency, probity and accountability.”
Commended also were those local government councils that have indicated their readiness to be bound by the Federal Freedom of Information Act and are taking steps to implement the Law with regards to their records and information. The summit however acknowledged the challenges, which confront local governments in the implementation of the Act, particularly those arising from inadequate resources and capacity.
Participants appreciated efforts so far made by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to provide guidance to all ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government on their duties and responsibilities under the FOI Act as well as how to implement the Law. It was however noted that the minister’s implementation and reporting guidelines need to be disseminated much more widely to public institutions and other stakeholders than is presently the case.
While endorsing the advice of the Attorney-General of the Federation to public institutions to use modern technology to inform citizens about the activities of government and the information it holds, participants emphasised the injunction of the Attorney-General that “agencies should readily and systematically post information online in advance of any public request.”
They agreed with the broad outlines of the Roadmap developed by the Federal Government for the implementation of the FOI Act and called for the wide dissemination of the detailed roadmap and its urgent implementation.
Moreover, concern was expressed about the low level of public awareness about the FOI Act, its provisions and how to use it as it is clear that most of the prime beneficiaries of the Act are yet to fully appreciate the enormous benefits that they can derive from more active application of the Law.
Participants therefore recommended as follows:
The right of access to information being a fundamental right, the Summit calls on all states which are yet to implement the Freedom of Information Act 2011, including those states that have declared their intention to enact their own Laws, to do so in the earliest time possible as their continued delay in implementing the Act or enacting their own Laws amounts to violation of the rights of Nigerians, particularly those residents in such states, to access information held by the respective states.