Freedom of Information Bill Scales
Second Reading in the Senate
By Osaro Odemwingie
Coordinator, Freedom of Information Coalition
ABUJA, TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2005: The Freedom of
Information Bill scaled a major hurdle today at the Senate as it sailed
through the second reading with strong support from most senators. The
Senate, which concluded debates on the Bill, passed it for the second
reading and referred it to the Senate Committee on Information to conduct
a more detailed examination of the Bill and report back to the full house
in three weeks.
Unlike last Thursday’s proceedings where sharp differences
characterized the comments on the Bill, most of the senators who spoke
during today’s discussions described it as a Bill whose time has come and
stressed that it must be passed by the Senate.
Last Thursday, the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Dalhatu
Tafida, who introduced the Bill on the floor of the Senate had cautioned
the Senate against passing the bill, arguing that it could open the
country to a national security crisis.
Ironically, a majority of the Senators who spoke at today’s
session called for further strengthening of the Bill and a reduction of
the number of exemptions in it.
Among contributors to the debate today were Senator Uche
Chukwumerije (Abia North), Senator Olusola Ogunbanjo (Ogun East), Senator
Victor Ndoma-Egbe (Cross River Central), Senator Usman Umar (Kano South),
Senator Yushau Anka (Zamfara West), Senator David Mark (Benue South) and
Senator Ken Nnamani (Enugu East).
Kicking off the debate, Senator Chukwumerije noted that the
Bill is an important legislation which will enhance democracy.
He said: “Information is the harbinger of knowledge and
without knowledge a nation will perish,” arguing that he was particularly
supportive of the Bill because it will expand the freedom of individual
citizens to insist on a clearer demarcation of official rights and as well
enhance the voting rights of citizens.
The Senator added that the bill will also help to instill
self-discipline in public officers. He, however, identified a number of
sections which had typographical errors and some that need strengthening,
including some of the sections were grounds of exemptions are listed.
Senator Ogunbanjo spoke in similar vein. He noted that
while in other countries access to public information is considered a
legal right, the reverse is the case in Nigeria where he said it is
considered an affront.
He noted that passing the Bill “will renew our faith in
democracy” and disagreed with the position held by Senator Tafida, saying
“such views are among some faulty assumptions that people keep promoting
Alluding to the GSM services, he noted that some top
government officials in Nigeria had promoted that view that such a
development was not possible in Nigeria but added that they have been
Senator Ndoma-Egbe, in his contribution, noted that the
Bill is “well-intentioned, timely, of far reaching implications,
revolutionary and has very significant impact on the polity.”
He said the Bill will free information hitherto locked away
under bureaucracy and the Official Secrets Act and that this would lead to
a more informed public. This, he added, will enable members of the public
to make more informed contributions to national debate and reduce
instances of rumor and cynicism by members of the public against
Senator Ndoma-Egbe argued that Chapter 2 of the 1999
Constitution of Nigeria makes it a constitutional obligation on the Senate
to pass the Bill, adding that only three categories of persons should not
be accountable, namely God, madmen and children.
Senator Umaru, however differed, arguing that a balance
must be struck between the need to have a Freedom of Information law and
the need to protect national security. Senator Anka supported Senator
But Senate President, Senator Adolphus Wabara, told them
that “the fear of death should not deter us from going on a justified
Reinforcing the point by the Senate President, Senator Mark
noted: “The fact that women go through labour pain at birth does not stop
men from impregnating them.” Amid laughter from senators, he added that
the Bill is deserving of the passage by the Senate.
Rounding off the debate, Senator Nnamani praised the
initiators of the Bill for their foresight and said it would enhance
He, however, observed that the exemptions clauses were too
many, pointing in particular to the list and types of personal information
exempted from the general right of access under Section 16 of the Bill
The Senate President subsequently put the issue to a voice
vote and the senators overwhelmingly voted for it, resulting in its
passage through the second reading.
The Senate then referred the Bill to the Committee on
Information and directed it to report back to the full house in three
When the Bill returns from the Information Committee, it
will go through the third and final reading at the Senate, during which it
may be passed or rejected. If passed at the third reading, the Bill will
be sent to the President for assent, after which it will become Law.