September 28, 2009

Editors, group move for enforcement of Nigerian laws

By Innocent Anaba
AS the world today celebrates the World Right to Know Day, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and Right to Know Movement in Nigeria (R2K Nigeria) have launch a campaign to enforce Nigerian laws, which contain guarantees of access to publicly-held information.

The organisations identified no fewer than  six federal Acts and official policy documents that guarantee the public’s right of access to publicly-held documents, including Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution; Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (1990); the Archives Act; the Environmental Impact Assessment Act (1992); the Fiscal Responsibility Act (2007), the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency (NEITI) Act, 2007; and the SERVICOM Charter.

On the reasons for the campaign, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye, NGE President and Editor-in-Chief, Vanguard Newspapers, said: “a government elected by citizens has nothing to gain from secrecy. Failure to enforce the access to information provisions in our laws is at the heart of the current rot, decay, high level corruption and misappropriation of public funds currently plaguing our country.

“These call for all of us to be eternally vigilant in demanding the protection of our right to information under these existing laws. Failure to do is no longer an option on our part,” said Adefaye.

Meanwhile, NGE and R2K Nigeria, in unveiling the campaign, called on the  Federal Ministry of Environment to respond favourably to the request by the Niger Delta Communities to fully disclose the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Report on the Dredging of the Lower River Niger.

Launched in September 2009, the Lower River Niger Dredging Project covers 572 Kilometers and runs through 152 Communities in 31 local governments in eight states, including Anambra, Imo, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Kogi, Niger and Rivers states. The Cost of the project is N36billion and several requests by affected communities for the disclosure of this report have not been acknowledged by government

Mr Maxwell Kadiri, Associate Legal Officer of the Open Society Justice Initiative, in his contribution said, “a government committed to the rule of law cannot decide which laws it finds convenient to obey. The Lower River Niger Dredging project is one of the most expensive public works projects by the government. The Federal Government has chosen to ignore the EIA Act in launching this project that affects the lives of millions of Nigerians in eight different States covering three different and delicate geo-political regions of the country. This is both insensitive and unlawful.”

Ene Enonche, Co-ordinator of R2K-Nigeria called on the National Assembly to pass the FoI Bill, which is now in its 10th legislative year. “The importance of this all embracing access to information legislation cannot be over-emphasised. It reinforces the right to information in existing laws and signals that the National Assembly takes the business of establishing an open and democtratic Nigeria seriously indeed. Our legislators cannot afford to be left behind in this project.”

Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, was recently quoted in the media as saying that the Senate would pass the FoI Bill before the expiration of the tenure of the current National Assembly.  The NGE and R2K Nigeria re-emphasise the need for the Senate not to hurriedly endorse the report of Senate Committee on Information led by Senator Ayogu  as doing so would amount to taking Nigerians back to the dark ages by actually denying them the right to information which the United Nations in its Resolution 59(1) of 1946, recognized as the bedrock of all Freedoms.

September 28 , has been globally set aside as the World Right to Know day to promote and enhance the right to information as the basis of open and democratic government.