By Ikenna Asomba
Poised to building a vanguard of youths to help in sensitising Nigerians on their rights to assessing information from public institutions, as well as private institutions that offer public services, the Lagos State chapter of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), yesterday, inaugurated a new Community Development Service (CDS) group, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Club, at its Surulere secretariat.
The Director-General of the NYSC, Brig-Gen. Johnson Olawunmi, had at a workshop organised for Desk Officers in Abuja, in August 2015, announced approval for the formation of the FOIA Club vanguards of corps members by all states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) secretariat.
Olawunmi had directed that corps members who are in various communities be engaged as FOIA vanguards, basically to sensitise members of the host communities on FOIA principles.
The NYSC Lagos, having sensitised interested corps members of the 2015 Batch ‘A’ and 2015 Batch ‘B’ Streams I and II, at the orientation camp, inaugurated 13 of them at the state Secretariat, yesterday.
Speaking at the event, the NYSC Lagos Coordinator, Mr. Cyril Akhaneme said: “The Freedom of Information Act has been introduced to the NYSC and we want corps members who will be in the vanguard of sensitization for the FOI Act. We have discovered that so many people don’t know about the Act. So in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Justice, we are equipping corps members who have volunteered to be in the Club, to go out there to organise workshops and seminars, enlightening the populace about the FOIA, which is a very important Act of the National Assembly.
“This FOI Act is one that will enable the Nigerian people to derive full disclosure from their government. Whatever policies government is embarking on, the people need to know. This FOI Act brings transparency in government business. The people of this country need to know what their government is doing. If they are not aware that they can actually demand information from government, then, they will be very ignorant of what the government is doing.
“There is no hiding place for any government policy right now, and with this corps members intelligent enough and fully mobilised, they will go to the populace to tell them that there is an Act of the National Assembly that they should know about. So, the NYSC will work with the Federal Ministry of Justice which will provide the sensitization materials and enabling environment for these corps members to go out there on a sensitization exercise for national interest.”
Similarly, the Assistant Director, CDS, NYSC Lagos, Mrs. Winifred Shokpeka stated that the FOIA Club, is a CDS group which will be in the vanguard of enlightenment and advocacy.
Shokpeka said: “Corps members in Lagos have been trained to run any race and they run it well. We expect these volunteers to organise seminars and enlightenment programmes to push the understanding of this Act to the public, as well as to get them know what their rights are pertaining to the FOI Act.”
Speaking earlier, the Desk Officer of the NYSC Lagos, FOIA Club, Mrs. Florence Takon, who recalled that it took over 17years of advocacy before the FoI Bill was assented to by former President Goodluck Jonathan on May 28, 2011, said the NYSC embraced the Act a year after.
Takon said: “Sequel to a careful review of the Freedom of Information Act operations generally, the NYSC discovered that not many Nigerians are aware of the rights conferred on them by the Act and so don’t apply or request for records or information held by public institutions especially.
“Against this backdrop, the Director-General of the NYSC, Brig-Gen. Johnson Olawunmi, at a workshop organised for Desk Officers in Abuja, in August 2015, announced the approval for formation of the FOIA Club vanguards of corps members by all states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Secretariat.
“Consequently, the NYSC management sought approval for engagement of corps members who are in various communities as FOIA vanguards, basically to sensitise members of the host communities on FOIA principles. Already sensitised at the orientation camp are serious corps members of the 2015 Batch ‘A’ and 2015 Batch ‘B’ Streams I and II. We therefore expect them to live up to the billing when they go out there to pursue national interest.”
On his part, the President of the newly inaugurated NYSC Lagos FOIA Club, Kabir Alawaye said: “We aim at enlightening the Nigerian masses on their rights to assess information in public and private enterprises. This CDS Group is pertinent now particularly at a time when Nigeria is fighting corruption.
“But we must understand that we don’t just fight corruption by arraigning those allegedly corrupt in court. The present government need to be proactive in this fight against corruption by enforcing the FOI Act. By enforcing the Act, it should compel all government ministries, parastatals and agencies to publicly disclose their information, rather that waiting till the public make requests.
“However, if these public institutions don’t release information on how they run, it’s our duty as corps members to go out there to enlighten the public that they have the right to demand for such information. This is going to be a continuous process. Even, when we leave the scheme, the next set of corps members coming in would continue from where we stopped.”