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Controversy as Senate begins clause by clause passage of FOI Bill

By BEN AGANDE, INALEGWU SHAIBU &  TORDUE SALEM
ABUJA – AFTER several years of delay, the Senate, yesterday, began the final process for the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill amid allegations that the final copy of the bill has been watered down by the Senate Committee on Information which worked on it.

This came just as the Senate suspended consideration of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, following protests from university students.

No sooner had Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information, Senator Ayogu Eze, submitted the report than some senators began to query some of the provisions contained in the final version of the document submitted to the Senate for passage.

Senator Smart Adeyemi noted that the Bill “is adulterated and is not in consonance with the spirit and concept of the original Bill” submitted to the National Assembly by its proponents.

Senator Ayogu Eze who submitted the report for yesterday’ session noted that the Bill whose short title was changed from ‘Right of Access to Information or Records’ to ‘Right of Access to Records’ was intended to increase the availability of public records and information to citizens of the country in order to participate more effectively in the making and administration of laws and policies, and to promote accountability of public affairs.

He noted that if standards were not set on how information is got, unregulated access to information was capable of setting the country in turmoil.

But the consideration of the first clause of the Bill sparked off heated debates from some members of the Senate who opined that it was not a representation of the original Bill.

Senate President David Mark who presided over the session queried why the second clause of the Bill was coined in such a way as to make it impossible for anybody to obtain information in the first place.

The committee in its recommendation on the second clause of the bill which is Right to Access to Records recommended that “Every Citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, has a legally enforceable right to, and shall, on application be given access to any information or record  under the control of a government or public institution or private companies performing public functions, provided the disclosure of such information or release of such record(s) shall not compromise national security and that the applicant  shall have satisfied a state or federal High Court of the need for the disclosure of such information or release of such record(s).”

Senator Ahmed Lawan noted that “if one has to go to court to justify his request for information, then there is no freedom again.” He queried what would constitute national security and who or which authority would determine what constitute national security.

Senator Nkechi Nwogu warned that the provision of the Bill as submitted to the Senate by the committee contained provisions that amounted to “a road to bobby trapping the bill’ and warned that it should not be passed as submitted.

After much argument, the Senate amended the contentious clause 2 to read: “Every Citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, has a legally enforceable right to, and shall, on application be given access to any information or record under the control of a government or public institution or private companies performing public functions, provided the disclosure of such information or release of such record(s) shall not compromise national security.”

Consideration of other clauses and possible passage of the bill continues today.

PIB: Senate suspends consideration indefinitely

Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday deferred consideration of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, indefinitely and insisted that it will not succumb to text messages from protesters pushing for the passage of the bill.

Senator Mark while reacting to student protesters from University of Benin, Delta State University and University of Port Harcourt after the introduction of the bill at plenary by Senate Leader, Teslim Folarin warned that no amount of protest will stampede the Senate into passing PIB.

He stressed that the Senate will pass the bill at its own time, and reminded the PIB protesters that they are not more patriotic than the Senators.

Leader of the protesters, Rev. David Ugolor described the decision of the Senate as a slap on the face of President Goodluck Jonathan, after his promise in Turkey that the Senate will pass the bill. He said:  “We are not discouraged by the decision of the Senate to stand down the PIB. This development will only strengthen our commitment to this struggle to ensure that PIB is passed into law. They have shamed the President because when he visited Turkey, he said the bill will be passed before May 29. It is also a disgrace to the PDP because they constitute most of the members of the National Assembly, so if the bill fails to scale through, it is a disgrace to them.”

House of Reps considers PIB today

The House of Representatives on its part may pass the Petroleum Industry Bill today and also lay a report on the 2011 Appropriation Bill.

After it received the 340_page PIB report put together by its joint committees on petroleum resources, (Upstream and Down stream), Gas and Justice, yesterday, the House promised to take the bill.

Chairman, Gas Resources committee, Rep. Igo Aguma while laying the PIB report on behalf of Rep.Bassey Otu of the Committee on Petroleum (Upstream) urged the House to receive it for further consideration.

After laying the report, Speaker Dimeji Bankole directed that the summary copies of the report be circulated to members before close of work to allow for perusal by lawmakers ahead of today’s consideration.


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