Identifies Presidency, National Assembly as major culprits
As the world marks the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) today (September 28), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has expressed worry about the magnitude in which the federal government agencies, ministries and other institutions tolerate the deep-rooted order of secrecy in accessing and management of public information.
While accusing federal government agencies and ministries of not living up to their obligations – imposed on them by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the NGE expressed sadness over “deliberate and sustained’’ efforts on the part of many federal government agencies and ministries to undermine the implementation of the legislation.
It said that identifying the significance of access to information, the 74th UN General Assembly had proclaimed September 28 as the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) at the UN level in October 2019.
The day, according to the Guild, had been proclaimed by the UNESCO General Conference in 2015, following the adoption of the 38 C/Resolution 57 declaring September 28 of every year as International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI).
It said the theme of the 2021 International Day for Universal Access to Information is to highlight the role of access to information laws and their implementation in order to ‘’build back strong institutions’’ for the public good and sustainable development, as well as to strengthen the right to information and international cooperation in the field of implementing this human right.
In a press statement issued on Monday to mark the day and signed by the NGE’s President, Mustapha Isah and the General Secretary, Iyobosa Uwugiaren, the editors said that in spite of the existence of the Act, which was signed into law 10 years ago by former President Goodluck Jonathan, to ensure that Nigerians have access to public information and hold government accountable, there were still contentious issues over the implementation of the law.
According to the Guild, ‘’Many citizens and institutions that have sought public information from public offices, in line with the law, without any positive response, have openly protested about their difficulties. Many citizens and institutions have also expressed concerns over the issues surrounding the effective implementation of the law.
‘’We wonder why a government that said to be fighting corruption is working very hard to frustrate a law that is designed to stimulate accountability of public officers to the citizenry and transparency in the conduct of public business.’’
Recalling that the demand by citizens for access to information law arose from great instances of public disenchantment with the government at all levels, essentially on the grounds of corruption in the public service, the Guild particularly identified the National Assembly as a major culprit in the frustration of implementation of the Act.
“The editors body said: ’The National Assembly is a major culprit in frustrating the implementation of FIOA. The institution has consistently failed/refused to comply with FOIA. It has failed to offer any information, as requested by citizens, media houses and members of the civil society organisations. It has failed to submit an annual report on its implementation of the Act – even for one year, in line with the provisions of the Act.
‘’The National Assembly has not taken its responsibilities as provided for under the Act, more earnestly and has failed to work towards compliance with the Act, including reporting on its implementation.”
The Guild also noted that the Oath of Secrecy being administered on public servants by the presidency, as seen recently, has become a strong factor against the implementation of FOI Act.
The professional group said forcing public servants to take an oath of allegiance and secrecy before assumption of office, with the sole purpose of securing loyalty from them, had led to headstrong darkness in the administration of government as virtually all expenditures, procurements and other activities are carried out in highest secrecy.
Advising the federal government agencies and ministries to take their obligations regarding FOIA seriously, the editors said that with over 120 countries, including Nigeria, having the laws that give unfettered access to information, the conversations over the legislations globally, suggest that attention is now shifting from passing the laws to its effective and successful implementation.
Suggesting ways to enhance the implementation of the Act, NGE advised citizens, civil society groups, journalists and other media organisations that lobbied for the passage of the law, to continue to monitor and test the system and put more pressure on government agencies and institutions to comply with the provisions of the FIOA.
Noting that the office of Attorney-General of the Federation/Minister of Justices is entrusted with oversight of the Act, the editors said the office has huge responsibilities in ensuring effective implementation of the FOI Act.
‘’The office needs to step up its game, building capacity for senior government officials, especially the FOI Desk officers of public institutions; and stop providing legal services to agencies dragged to courts for refusing to comply with the provisions of the Act’’, the NGE added.
The professional organisation called for sanctions for bad behaviours by government agencies in order to make public institutions and officials to act in accordance with their obligations under the FOI Act, particularly the proactive publication obligations and the responsibility to submit annual implementation reports.