NGE, NGOs, lawmakers, others hail passage
BY EMMANUEL AZIKEN, INNOCENT ANABA, DANIEL IDONOR, BEN AGANDE and ABDULWAHAB ABDULAH
ABUJA— President Goodluck Jonathan has after several tortures attempts, finally signed into law, the Freedom of Information Bill, FoI, as promised.
The signing of the bill into law raises Nigeria’s integrity in the comity of nations.
Meanwhile, notable Nigerians and groups have applauded the President for signing the bill into law.
A Deputy Director of Information in the Office of the Special Adviser, Mr. Justus Abuah, in a statement, in Abuja, yesterday, said, “President Jonathan has signed the Freedom of Information Bill, 2011 into law. The bill, which was passed by the outgoing National Assembly, was conveyed to the Presidency on Friday, May 27, 2011. President Jonathan assented to it on Saturday, May 28.”
“The objective of the Act is to make public records and information more freely available and to also protect public records and information to the extent consistent with the public interest and the protection of personal privacy.
”The Freedom of Information Act also seeks to protect serving public officers from any adverse consequences of disclosing certain kinds of official information without authorization, and to establish procedures for the achievement of these purposes”, the statement said.
Reacting, Nigerian Guild of Editors, said it “received the news of the assent of President to the Freedom of Information bill with gratitude to a president, who has kept his words.”
The guild, in a statement by its President, Mr Gbenga Adefaye, who is also the Editor-in-Chief of Vanguard Newspapers, said “President Jonathan had, during the last Presidential debate, made a public commitment to sign the FOI bill into law once presented to him by the National Assembly as a personal commitment to openness, transparency, accountability and good governance. President Jonathan has really started well with this sign-post for good governance.
“By signing the FOI bill into law, the President has more than anyone else, empowered the citizens to participate in the governance of their own affairs. The people can now legitimately seek public information, corroborate their facts and make useful suggestions towards achieving greater good for the majority. With access to information, citizens can fight corruption and closet government and confront the few who misappropriate our resources to themselves alone.
“For the media, the signing of the FOI law has expanded the frontiers of press freedom for Africa’s most vibrant press. No more will it be permitted for the journalists to hurry to press with half-truth and misinformation when they can officially verify their facts. While the NGE congratulates every Nigerian for this all important citizen’s law and commend the out-going National Assembly for freeing the democratic space for citizens’ involvement in our democratic adventure, we call on everyone to use the law,” he added.
Lawmakers hail passage
Former journalists in the National Assembly, yesterday, reacted with joy to the news that President had given his assent to the Freedom of Information Act.
Senator Smart Adeyemi (PDP, Kogi West), Senator Chris Anyanwu (APGA, Imo West) and Rep. Abike Dabiri-Erewa (ACN, Ikorodu) who was the main sponsor in the House of Representatives in separate reactions said the FOI should now be used as platform for the enthronement of probity in governance.
Mr. Victor Ogene, a member-elect to represent Ogbaru Federal Constituency in Anambra State on the platform of ACN and himself also a former journalist also reacted to the development yesterday.
Adeyemi, a former President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, in his reaction called on the administration to push ahead by establishing special courts to try corruption cases and violations of the Act.
“I join other well-meaning Nigerians to commend Mr President for signing the bill into law. It will ensure good governance and help in the protection of human rights. It will expose corruption and other negative vices that hinder our socio-economic development in our society.
”Government should consolidate on this by creating special courts to try corruption and other negative vices. I commend the President and he will go down in history on account of this as one President that has helped to transform Nigeria,” Adeyemi said.
Senator Anyanwu said “Now we must learn to use and not abuse the FOI.”
Rep. Dabiri-Erewa, who was the main sponsor of the bill in the House of Representatives, said, “Nigerians should now expect better accountability and transparency in governance. It is a major step that will deepen our democracy. I am glad that despite the challenges I faced as the main sponsor in the House and despite the hostility from some quarters that FOI is now a reality. It is a revolutionary bill that will change a lot of things for good.”
Ogene said: “It is a welcome development because secrecy is a major incubator of corruption,” but said that the new law is not only for the media but for the whole society.
Mr. Emeka Ngige, SAN, said: “The signing of the Freedom of Information Bill into law by the President is commendable and a major step in curbing corruption in the country.
”However, I implore the incoming members of the National Assembly to make amendment into the grey areas. We understand unlike what is applicability in other parts of the world, the bill was extremely watered down. However, I believed that there is always room for improvement. I also quite believe that the lawmakers can improve on the law. So, I want them to take it upon themselves and ensure that the law is reformed to be in line with what is applicable around the world.”
Also, the Human Rights Nigeria, HRN, has commended President Jonathan for its signing into law, saying that “this gesture signposts his commitment to tackle corruption in the country.”
NRN, a network of over 120 civil society and non- governmental organizations, working on human rights in Nigeria, in a statement by its Secretary, Mrs. Itoro Eze-Anaba, also commended the National Assembly for passing the FoI bill despite pressure from several political quarters to frustrate the passage of the bill.
The group also commended journalists, media groups, Media Rights Agenda, the Freedom of Information Coalition, and other partners who worked assidiously since 1999 when the bill was first presented to the National Assembly to date, to ensure the promulgation of the bill.
It called on the Federal Ministry of Justice that has the responsibility to ensure compliance by public and concerned private bodies with demands for information made under the Act, to take immediate steps to set up the necessary machinery for the full implementation of the bill.
”All heads of MDAs must educate their officials on the contents of the new law.” HRN also called on the judiciary to effectively ensure that applications challenging refusal for information made under the new law are expeditiously determined.’
Similarly, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, commended the President for signing the bill into law, describing it as a “turning point in the fight against high level official corruption and an important step to ending the impunity of perpetrators in the country.”
SERAP’s Executive Director, Mr Adetokunbo Mumuni, in a statement, said “we applaud and welcome the news that President Jonathan has finally signed into law the Freedom of Information Act. Surely, it will no longer be business as usual, and with the new Freedom of Information Act, the fight against corruption has surely entered into a new era. This is an important step to ending impunity for high level official corruption, which has contributed to serious violations of human rights, including economic and social rights for many years.”
National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, commended the President, saying that he will go down history as the only president who had the courage to sign this bill even as it assumed a controversial nature.
Executive Secretary of the Commission, Mr. Roland Ewubare noted that the bill had gone tortuous journey having been the longest in the National Assembly, as democracy entails openness, transparency and accountability and these he said are remarkable features of the FOIB .
The Freedom of Information Act he added will provide sunshine on some activities of government which in the past is shrouded in mystery, even as he congratulated the Nigerian journalists as principal beneficiaries of the FOIA and urged them to seize the opportunity provided by the Act to further carry their roles of holding governments at all levels accountable to the people.